Gardening: a herbal garden on the windowsill can spice up your kitchen

All you need is a good light, a few potted herbs, and a little know-how.

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Watching cooking shows recently? The on-screen chef may ask you to grab a few sprigs of thyme or chop some fresh oregano. I get it – dried herbs stored too long in the cupboard can taste like nothing. But fresh herbs from the grocery store are expensive.

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If it’s someone like Jamie Oliver, he’ll casually walk over to his large greenhouse kitchen window and cut out whatever he needs for the soup, stew, or whatever fancy dish he’s making. Like anyone could do that? Well you can, actually.

All you need is a good light, a few potted herbs, and a little know-how.

Light and temperature:

Most herbs require full sun or at least very bright light for at least six hours a day. If you don’t have a window that can provide this, then indoor grow lights (fluorescent or LED) will do. However, artificial lights should be close to the plants, a few centimeters (1 to 2 inches) from the tops of the plants, and turned on 10 hours a day to compensate for the low light intensity.

If you’re growing in a window, keep the pot and plant away from the glass to avoid cold and frost damage in winter (even if you have triple-glazed windows). Otherwise, normal room temperature (21 C) is suitable.

Pots:

You can grow a few herbs together in a long, narrow container or each type in its own pot. The pots should be at least 15 centimeters (6 inches) deep and wide to give you enough plant material to harvest regularly.

Media:

Use a sterilized, well-drained, soil-free substrate such as a cactus mix.

Plants:

Repot healthy, vigorous plants into a pot that is 2 to 5 centimeters (1 to 2 inches) in diameter larger if they are tied to the roots.

Seed herbs:

Growing from seeds is quite easy. If no seeds are available at your local garden center, you can order online or from mail order seed companies (if it’s not too late in the year, you may be able to even buy small plants).

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Start by filling your jar with media. Water well, letting the soil drain completely. Sprinkle a few seeds on top, cover with a thin layer of media and spray lightly to moisten. Cover the pot with a clear bag to maintain high humidity and prevent the top from drying out.

Place the pot in a bright place. Remove the bag as soon as small green seedlings appear. Spray the surface of the substrate regularly to prevent drying out until the roots of the seedlings are more established. If the soil becomes too dry, water from the bottom (soak the pot in 3 centimeters / 1 inch of water until the surface is wet) and allow it to drain completely. Never let the pots sit in water for extended periods of time.

Maintenance:

After the seedling stage, water the pots only when the soil is dry. Herbs prefer to be kept dry and will sulk (and possibly die) if too wet. Fertilize once a month with a complete half-strength fertilizer solution (eg 20-20-20 + micronutrients) or use a long-lasting, controlled release granular fertilizer at half the recommended rate.

As the plants become established, cut off the top centimeter or two (0.5 to 1 inch) to encourage them to come out. Remove long, thin stems and old yellowing leaves.

Harvest:

You can start harvesting when the stems are about 15 centimeters (6 inches) long. Take no more than a third of your potted weed to avoid causing too much stress and weakening the plant.

Herbal options:

Start with herbs you would normally cook with, such as basil, chives, cilantro, dill, oregano, parsley, sage, and thyme. Be more adventurous as you gain more experience.

Refresh:

Replace or reseed any grasses that have become long, woody, unproductive, or gone to seed. Some herbs are annual anyway (oregano, parsley, cilantro) and have a short lifespan (4-6 months).

Erl gardens in Saskatoon and tweets about it occasionally @ErlSv. This column is courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; [email protected]). Visit our website (saskperennial.ca) or our Facebook page (facebook.com/saskperennial). All Saskatchewan Perennial Society events are on hold until further notice.


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Terri S. Tomasini