A Kitchen Garden: Grow an Indoor Herb Garden

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Aloe vera truly deserves a spot in the kitchen—preferably near the stove. Its leaves are filled with a sticky gel that promotes healing when applied to burns, abrasions and inflammations. A slice of aloe rubbed on a burn will sooth, heal and help prevent scarring. Aloe prefers bright sun, occasional watering and well-drained soil.
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Every cook can benefit from having flavorful, organically grown herbs on hand for seasoning food.

Of all the plants you can grow indoors, few are as gratifying as culinary herbs, whose scent will lift your spirits and whose flavor will delight your taste buds. Just brush the leaves and a spicy-sweet aroma fills the air—aromatherapy at its best.

To grow a kitchen windowsill garden, you must provide everything Mother Nature does outdoors: light, water, soil and nutrients. Before you start, determine how much light your kitchen window receives throughout the day and then choose appropriate plants. First, look at the window’s orientation. South-facing windows receive the most light, north-facing windows the least. East and west windows are somewhere in the middle (see “Herbs for Every Kitchen“). Look outside the window for roof overhangs, large trees or buildings that can reduce the amount of light coming in. Observe the window for a day or two to determine how much these obstructions influence incoming light.

Next, look at the herbs listed under each garden plan and choose ones that fit your sunlight situation. Feel free to experiment as you gain confidence about how the sunlight enters your window. Start with two to four herbs with the same light requirements. You can plant them all in one container or choose a separate container for each. You’ll be clipping these herbs frequently, so they’ll stay fairly small. If one dies or goes to seed, simply pull it out and replace it with something else.

Planting in Pots

The container you choose for your herbs sets the tone for your miniature garden—be it rustic, Zen or formal. No matter what you pick, keep in mind that the container must have drainage holes. With the exception of mint, most herbs don’t like “wet feet” and need good drainage.

If your container doesn’t have drain holes, drill some into the bottom. Setting your containers onto trays or saucers filled with gravel or stones allows excess water to drain away from the base, and it also adds humidity to the air as the water evaporates. Indoor air can be very dry, especially in a hot kitchen, and that’s not always good for herbs. In fact, you may want to keep a half inch of water in the pebble tray at all times to help raise the humidity level around your herbs.

When you plant, fill your containers with a good potting mix. Avoid using garden soil, which may harbor spores or insect eggs that you don’t want in your kitchen. An organic, all-purpose potting mix is a better choice, and it will be lighter than garden soil and  will drain well.

Windowsill Garden Maintenance

Follow these general rules for all the herbs in your kitchen garden:

Watering: Water only when the soil begins to feel dry to the touch. It helps to insert a finger about a half-inch into the soil because the surface can be much drier than the underlying soil. Too much water can be worse than too little. Watering needs will change with the seasons and the indoor temperature.

Nutrients: Eventually, regular watering will leach out most of the soil’s nutrients. Feed your herbs about once a month with an organic liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. Most organic fertilizers are based on fish emulsion, which often has a strong smell, so it’s a good idea to move plants outdoors to fertilize.

Plant Health: Watch your plant’s body language. If wilted, check the soil for dryness and look for pests. If branches are spindly and reaching toward the light, move the plant closer to the window or move it to a window with more light.

Pest Control: If you discover pests such as aphids, remove the plant to another area and spray the foliage with a soap solution (1 cup water mixed with ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap). Spray every five days until you see no signs of pests.

Rotation: Rotate plants occasionally so they receive light on all sides.

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