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Herbs: It’s Time To DIY!

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Just as our last Sustainable Saturdays post suggested, growing your own food ingredients is not only healthy, it’s cost effective and a sustainable practice. Also, when you can go right in your backyard, on your balcony or window seal, talk about “going local.” It doesn’t get any more local than that.

Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about starting an indoor herb garden. For one, I cook often and I use lots of herbs for seasoning. The right herb is an invaluable, flavorful addition to any dish, at least in my opinion.  And for two, I’m sick of paying nearly $4 for small containers of dried herbs or having to run to the grocery store every time I run out. I figured I’d learn to grow my own and save time and money in the process.

From my research, it doesn’t seem extremely hard to start an herb garden. If you’re like me, a novice who is interested in herb gardening (indoors) but lacks a green thumb, follow the tips below to get started.

  • Planning is most important.

Start off slow and choose two to three herbs that you use most often. Then, as you hone your gardening skills add more herbs.

  • Seeds vs. Starter Plants

Decide if you want to start with seeds, which are cheaper, or starter plants, which will be full-grown much faster. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but I recommend starting with seeds. Why not learn the process from scratch?

  • Choose Containers

Buying new containers is not necessary. You can use spare pots or containers around the house, but they must have drainage holes; herb plants left in standing water encourages pathogens, which cause roots to rot. Also, it helps if the pots/containers are at least one gallon or more. At minimum herbs must not be grown in pots or containers smaller than 6 inches in diameter.

  • Light and Soil Requirements

Light and soil are two of the most important aspects of growing strong, healthy herbs. Herbs should be grown in richly fertilized and well-draining soil, which can be purchased; be sure to look for light soil-less potting mix. One way to ensure proper drainage is to layer the bottom of the container/pot with gravel before adding the soil.

Light is an absolute must. For good measure, herb plants should get at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight per day to stay healthy. More often than not, south-facing windows are the best location for growing herbs indoors, as it provides the best source of light throughout the day. If you still find there is a lack of sunlight, additional fluorescent lights can be used. Also, it is strongly recommended that containers/pots be rotated to ensure the entire plant gets adequate sunlight exposure.

  • Herb Water Maintenance

Herbs hate soggy soil, so they must receive the right amount of water. Too much water will deprive the herb plants of oxygen, damage the roots and ruin the leaves. Please note, you cannot actually tell if the plant needs watering just by looking at the soil. The visible soil could be very dry, but the deeper layers of soil may still have plenty of water. One easy way to determine if your plants need watering is to use the finger test. Stick your finger into the soil near the plant up to the second knuckle. If the soil near your fingertip is dry it’s time to water. If you can’t really tell, pull your finger out. If there is soil stuck to the tip of your finger then it is still pretty moist down there.

In general, you should plan on watering your herbs about once every two weeks, which allows the container or pot to dry sufficiently. This forces the herb roots to fortify in search of water.

  • Harvesting

For harvesting purposes, when the plant reaches at least 6-8″ tall, simply cut off about 1/3 of the branches. By cutting close to a leaf intersection, your plants will re-grow very quickly. Trimming the tops or the leaves of your herb plants frequently will stimulate growth.

  • Use Your Herbs

Don’t be afraid to use your homegrown herbs. Throw them in soups and salads, make pesto and dressings, flavor meat dishes or wash and freeze them for up to six months.

This is just a basic outline of how to start an indoor herb garden. Check out the cited resources below for more information and be sure to share your experience with us. Let us know how your garden is doing by tweeting us photos @foodem or leaving us comments below.

(Photo Sources 1)

(Additional Resources 1, 2, 3, 4)

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