If you like to cook, there’s really nothing like walking out into the garden and snipping a bit of fresh basil and oregano to add to your spaghetti sauce. But even if your gardening space is limited to a few sunny window ledges, there are still plenty of tasty things you can grow indoors.
Most herbs do well when planted in containers and grown in a spot (preferably a south- or west-facing window) that gets at least six hours of sun. You can start herbs from seed. It’s easier, though a bit more costly, to buy small plants from a garden center or your local co-op. Buy the smallest herbs they have, usually the two-inch pots, and transplant them into larger pots that have drainage holes. (Always use potting soil. Top soil is too heavy and nearly turns into cement in containers.)
Use your finger to check soil moisture. If it’s dry, water. You don’t want your herbs to get so thirsty they wilt. Moisture-loving herbs like basil, parsley and cilantro may need watering twice each week. Others, including rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives and sage will likely need only a weekly drink. Water until you see some running out the bottom but not so much that you fill the dish the container is sitting in.
Most herbs can be harvested over and over, but cilantro will go to seed, or “bolt” after a few rounds of cutting. Once this happens, the leaves won’t taste as good so throw the plant away and start a new seedling. Feed herbs sparingly. If you’re using good quality potting soil, adding some diluted organic fertilizer (like fish emulsion) to your water twice each month should be sufficient.
If you’re looking for a healthy snack to grow indoors, try sprouts. The first thing to do is buy some good quality, organic seeds. Popular types include mung bean sprouts, alfalfa and clover. But there are lots of others to choose from.
While there are lots of different sprouting trays out there, you can easily grow them in potting soil using any shallow container. Soak the seeds in lukewarm water for 8-10 hours before planting. After draining the water, place your seeds on top of some moist potting soil and lightly cover them with a bit more moist soil. Cover the entire container with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in a warm place.
Seeds will sprout in three to five days. Place them in a sunny spot to grow and keep them well watered. Harvest what you want with some kitchen scissors and let the rest keep growing until you need them. Repeat whenever you’re hungry for more.
Meleah Maynard is a master gardener and Minneapolis freelance writer.
The Miracle Food: A Complete Guide to Sprouting, by Steve Meyerowitz, Sproutman Publications, 1998.
Growing 101 Herbs that Heal: Gardening Techniques, Recipes, and Remedies, by Tammi Hartung, Storey Publishing, 2007.
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