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Has the last year and a half helped you sharpen your culinary skills? Dried, store-bought herbs are no comparison to their fresh counterparts, and you might be considering an herb garden of your own. You don’t need a plot of land to successfully grow herbs — if you have a sunlit spot in your kitchen, you have everything you need to plant an indoor garden. Here are some things to consider before getting started:
Choose a Location
Herbs grow best in an area with plenty of natural light in temperatures that stay between 55 to 75 degrees, as long as there’s sufficient air circulation. Pick a place that has at least four or five hours of bright, natural light each day. If you don’t get the required amount of natural light, you can always supplement with a fluorescent light. Windowsills are perfect in the spring and summer but may get too chilly as the Chicago winter approaches, so be sure to have a fallback plan for the colder months. Consider creating a vertical garden utilizing available wall space or add a small shelving unit.
Soil and Containers
Containers should be at least six inches deep. The larger the pot, the healthier and heartier the root system, which results in a heartier and healthier plant. Apart from your herbs requiring a fair amount of space to grow, your containers should also have drainage holes which prevents root rot. In the case of your soil, avoid using a typical garden soil, which can compact in containers and smother the roots. Rather, choose a fast-draining potting mix that includes perlite or vermiculite which helps loosen and aerate inside of the container, allowing the roots to grow comfortably.
The watering requirements are different for each type of plant, and also vary based on the size and type of container and the amount of sunlight each plant receives. A good way to determine if your plant needs water is to stick your finger one inch down into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water. In most cases, herbs thrive when their soil is allowed to dry slightly before re-watering (other than basil, chives, mint, and parsley, which grow best in moist soil) When the herbs are established, feed them with a store-bought fertilizer every 4-6 weeks (or based on the fertilizer instructions).
Plant What You’ll Use
It would be lovely to have every fresh herb that exists at an arm’s reach. However, no matter how big the space you’ve allotted in your kitchen, you’re going to have to make some choices. Taking into consideration the limited space, it’s best to stick to the herbs you like the most and will actually use. Here are some popular herbs along with their uses.
Basil: Basil is a remarkable herb that delivers the most flavor when served fresh as opposed to cooked. Use it to prepare fresh pesto, a Caprese salad (with tomato and fresh mozzarella), or as a garnish for chicken and fish.
Rosemary: Rosemary is a hearty herb that can be temperamental when it comes to watering, so pay attention when getting acquainted with your new plant. Rosemary works best when cooked or simmered with stews, chicken, beef, or lamb.
Mint: Mint is a sturdy herb that will spread if you let it. Make sure it’s alone in its own container. It makes a delightful tea and can be a delicious addition to salads, a garnish for fish, or used in place of parsley in pasta for a more exotic taste.
Parsley: Parsley has a poor reputation among people who’ve come across the curly variety on salad bars or as plate garnish in the 1980s. The Italian, flat-leaf variety, however, adds terrific, fresh flavor (and vibrant color) to pasta, potatoes, chicken, or fish. It’s best used raw, as cooking reduces its flavor.
Cilantro: Unless you have the genetic disposition that makes cilantro taste soapy, cilantro is a must if you’re a fan of Latin or Asian food.
Oregano: Oregano is another great staple for any kitchen. While mostly associated with Mediterranean and Latin cuisines, it can add substantial flavor to almost any savory dish you’re making.
Having access to fresh herbs is a treat for any home cook. An in-house collection of go-to herbs is sure to improve just about anything you prepare.