Beat the winter blues with a little green

Our herb garden lives in the kids' play room
Our herb garden lives in the kids' play room

I may still have a little chard, carrots, oregano, and rosemary alive in the garden, but my garlic’s planted, my horseradish is harvested, and outdoor gardening season ’09 is pretty much officially done. Although Seeds of Change has apparently lost its mind and started sending spring seed catalogs in November (!!), it’s early, even by my insane gardening standards, to begin plans for next year’s garden. So what’s a bored gardener to do to beat the winter blues?

Well, last weekend, I got a great deal on some end-of-season herbs from the last Farmer’s Market of the season (sniff, sniff) and planted an indoor herb garden to keep the kids and I occupied until we can reasonably start planning next year’s garden and starting seedlings in January. All it took was some leftover pots, a little potting soil, and a sunny window.

Some herbs are easier to grow than others, so if this is your first indoor herb-growing experience, you might want to avoid thyme, rosemary and bay, and stick to easier varieties like mint, basil, parsley, or chives. I start a pot of rosemary each winter and tend to kill it by either watering it too much or I think keeping it too warm, so we’ll see if I have better luck this year.

PICT5469A few tips for growing herbs indoors:

  • Get the soil evenly wet before you begin or else let the pots soak in some water for a little while after planting (you can use your kids’ water table if you have a warm day!). What you don’t want to have happen is for the dry potting soil to suck all the water out of the roots of your plant–that will make the transplant shock even worse than usual!
  • Consistent watering is the key. You don’t want the plants to be drowning in water, but you don’t want them to be bone-dry either. Choose pots with drainage in the bottom and water them a bit at a time until all the soil is moist and a little water is coming out the bottom. If you dump tons of water on all at once, it might run down the inside of the pot and come out the bottom even though the soil around the roots is still dry. Try putting 1/4 c of water in each pot, letting it soak in for a minute, then putting another 1/4 c on each one until water starts coming out the bottom. This is a great way to keep the kids entertained too!
  • Choose a sunny window for your herb garden. We’re in the darkest days of the year about now, so if you put the herbs in a north-facing window, they’re probably only going to get a couple of hours of sunlight, which is not enough. Mine are in our sun room, aptly named since it’s got windows along two entire walls, facing south-east and south-south-west, which means they get natural light from dawn to mid-afternoon. However, it also means they’re in one of the warmest rooms of the house, so the rosemary especially may go crispy before it’s warm enough to move it back outside.
  • Feed the babies.  Indoor plants rely on you to feed them because even Miracle Grow-type potting soil doesn’t have enough food in it to last the winter. Don’t make the mistake I made last winter and try feeding them with fish emulsion–man does that stuff stink! Instead, try a seaweed-based natural fertilizer and dilute it quite a bit. Follow the package instructions, but you’ll probably want to feed them at least once a month, especially if you want to be able to harvest some of the herbs for cooking or if your children, like mine, tend to graze on them!

If you’re looking for a plastic-free, zero waste gift for that special green friend, herbs also make really nice holiday gifts, especially if you can buy some inexpensive (or second-hand) terra cotta pots and decorate them with paint, glitter, yarn, or beads.