Here, in my part of the world it is summer and I am just coming in from my garden. As I sit down to decide what I want to share with everyone today, gardening is still very much on my mind. As my mind wanders, it keeps coming back to my DIY kitchen herb garden, the one I usually have growing inside my house. I know you are probably wondering how that is considered a cooking hack or how it is even a DIY hack for a disabled person but stay with me for a minute, and I will explain.
Everyone knows that a “normal” person’s life is busy. They plan to cook a meal but a meeting runs late and they end up eating fast food. Well, being disabled is just a different sort of “work.” I am not sure about any of you, but I have a seemingly never ending supply of doctor appointments, medical emergencies and days when I just don’t feel well enough to cook. However, I love to eat and I love to make that food with fresh herbs. My only problem is that I every time I buy cut herbs, I end up having one of those impossible to cook days, or three, and I end up having to throw them out. Not only is it wasteful, it is downright expensive. So, awhile back, I knew there had to be a better way and that is when I decided I needed a fresh herb anytime DIY hack.
While I write my blogs with the greatest hope of someone reading them, I completely understand If you are already convinced that you want to grow your own indoor herb garden. So feel free to skip on down to the nitty gritty details in the section titled, Actually Planting Your Herb Garden.
Thoughts of Beautiful Kitchen Herb Gardens
I quickly realized that I should be growing my herbs and immediately hopped on Pinterest and entered easy herbs to grow indoors, into the search bar. Tons and tons of pins immediately popped up. I saw absolutely gorgeous little herbs in pots, hanging on a wall, on a window, or in some fancy computer operated contraption. I know all of these ideas seem great but I am going to be honest with you here. Being disabled is hard work and often expensive. On the other hand, herbs are incredibly easy to grow and take care of, as long as you provide for their basic needs. So, you don’t need to spend money on expensive equipment, fancy dirt or any other contraptions, well except maybe a light but we will get to that in a moment. Sure some of the expensive contraptions are fun but for today, lets talk about the bare bones, give my food some flavor, DIY herb gardens.
Growing a Kitchen Herb Garden
There are several things you want to think of when you are deciding if an herb garden is right for you. While many people have a wonderful herb garden outside, those herbs are not very helpful in the middle of winter or when you are too tired to get dressed to go outside. So for now, I am going to talk about an indoor garden. While I am sure you may have seen the commercials for fancy gardens, like the Aerogarden or Ecoqube, I want to talk about the kind that you can plant without breaking open your piggy bank. Umm, am I the only one that has a piggy bank as an adult? Anyway…
When you are thinking of growing some herbs, there are several questions that must be answered. Do you have room for them? Does the chosen space have the proper amount of light or are you able to provide light? Are you able to take care of them or is there someone who can help you? Let’s talk about these questions in a little more detail and see if we can provide the answers. Well, most of the answers anyway, because you are on your own for finding a fairy god mother to tend your garden. If you do find one though please send him or her my way.
Space and Light for the Herb Garden
First, you must decide how many herbs you want to grow. I suggest you start with 2-3 easy to grow herbs that you like to cook with. You can always add more later. Once you have decided how many to grow, you will need to see where you have room for them. Ideally, you would want an area close to the kitchen. That way, you can easily grab a little basil and toss it right into your spaghetti sauce, while twirling around in your pretty apron. Although, for those of us not living in a 50’s sitcom, it is much more important that the herbs are in a good place to grow.
A good place is somewhere with plenty of light. It could be a nice and bright south or east facing window or maybe a skylight. You are ideally looking for 5-6 hours of bright sunlight. If you are in a home that does not meet these requirements, never fear, technology to the rescue. You can purchase a grow light at your local hardware store, nursery or even a hydroponics shop. If you are having trouble finding one, they can also be purchased online. Amazon has a great selection. I do not know much about grow lights but I prefer an LED, with a mix of red, white and blue lights. It seems the mix of light waves helps plants to grow a little better. The LEDs are also better for the environment and my energy bill. However, go with what you can afford. Even a simple fluorescent grow light, in an old lamp, will help tremendously. Just make sure it says grow light on the packaging and the lamp is rated for the correct watts.
Herbs, Containers and Care
When it comes to picking out your herbs, make sure to pick ones you like to cook with. For this project, I purchased basil, dill and oregano from my local greenhouse. I chose live plants as opposed to seeds because I am a little impatient. However, it is perfectly fine to start your garden from seeds. I also chose these herbs because they are easy to care for and ones that I use regularly. Chives, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme are also fairly easy to care for. On the other hand, I can never get cilantro to grow properly. Once you get used to an indoor garden, feel free to branch out and try many different herbs, go wild. If you get really creative, you can even turn rosemary into a bonsai or topiary. If you are this talented, I would absolutely love to see your plants. Please post your pictures in the comments or email me directly.
Now that you know how many herbs you want to grow, it is time to find or buy some containers. No need to be fancy but there are a few things to keep in mind. The containers you choose can be any shape or really any size. Your herbs will be happiest with a container that is at least 6 inches in diameter but smaller can be used if necessary. The bigger container you can get, the better, as the extra room will allow for larger plants.
Herbs, like most plants, do not like soggy roots. So it is also important for your containers to have a drainage hole. If it does not have one, don’t worry, you will just need a few rocks to place along the bottom. It is also a good idea, if your container does not have a saucer, to use a shallow dish to catch any extra water.
I chose a couple decorative watering cans and a damaged tea pot to plant my herbs in. The good news is, this is a great way to upcycle old items but the bad news is, they do not have drainage holes and they are a little small. However, I usually do ok with this size, as long as I make sure the herbs are getting an adequate amount of water. I address the water situation using some decorative white rocks, that the previous owners of my home kindly left behind and I am also using some small clay balls I took out of an old water filter. The clay will help with water retention.
Once, you have your containers, you will need a potting soil with vermiculite or perlite. These growing mediums are better able to retain water, fluffy enough for the roots to grow in and they help to hold the fertilizer in place until the plants need it. Luckily, I had some potting mix leftover after I planted a different plant. If you don’t have any lying around, you can find some in the plant or gardening section of most major department stores. I always like to choose an organic potting soil with fertilizer mixed in. That way I don’t have to remember to feed the herbs, until the built in fertilizer runs out. I just check the bag for the amount of time, usually 3-6 months, and then I put a reminder in my phone. When it is time, I like to use an all-purpose organic fertilizer for houseplants. That way it can work double duty for my other plants as well.
Actually Planting Your Indoor Herb Garden
You will need:
- 2-3 herbs or seed packets
- 2-3 containers, preferably with a 6 inch or larger diameter and a drainage hole
- 2-3 plates, saucers or plastic trays to catch the water from the chosen containers
- Potting soil mixed with vermiculite or perlite and optionally fertilizer
- All purpose plant food
- Plant tags or popsicle sticks
- Take your container and if it does not have a drainage hole, add a layer of rock to the bottom.
- Next add some soil on to top of the rocks. If you are planting herbs that are already growing, make sure to leave enough room to fit them in.
- If you are planting seeds, make a small indentation in the center of the dirt and add a few seeds. If you are planting a growing plant, dig a small hole and place the root end of the herb into the hole.
- Cover the seeds or the roots of the plant with a little more soil. The seeds just need a light covering but roots will need to be well covered and holding the herb upright.
- Gently firm the soil around the plant.
- Label each pot with the type or herb planted. Especially important with seeds or an herb that is new to you.
- Slowly water the soil, allowing it to thouroghly soak in. If you do not have a drainage hole and you over water, you can carefully dump any extra water back out
- If you planted a live plant and your soil does not include fertilizer, you can add it now. Just follow the instructions on the fertilizer package. If you planted seeds, hold off fertilizing until the are sprouted and truly growing.
- If you planted seeds, you can place a piece of plastic wrap over the container to create a small greenhouse. Just make sure to remove the plastic when you see the green sprouts.
- Congratulations, you now well on your way to having a yummy new indoor herb garden!
After the planting and Final Thoughts
Now that the hard part is done, there are just a few things you need to do to keep your plants healthy and your dinners yummy. If you planted from seed, you will need to thin the plants after they get their first set of true leaves. Pull out the weaker ones, leaving just one plant. Do not harvest hour plant until you have a nice strong looking plant with lots of growth. Also, never harvest more than one third of the plant and make sure to cut off any flowers that form. This will help to keep the herb from going to seed.
Additionally, most plants like to have their dirt dry out a bit before they are watered again. In general, herbs are no exception. I just keep an eye on the dirt and when it starts to look dry and a little crusty, I give my herbs a good watering. The time between waterings will vary based on temperature and humidity. In winter, in my part of the world, even though houseplants are in a sort of dormant state, my indoor plants actually need more water because our furnace dries the whole house out. However, there are a few exceptions to this watering rule. According to The Oregon Live, mint, basil, chives and parsley, like to be kept slightly damp. They also recommend feeding the herbs a liquid fertilizer every four weeks or a dry organic one, every couple of months. The author of the article, Kris Wetherbee, also gives a great description of some of the more popular herbs.
Now that you know the nitty gritty details of how to grow your own herbs, I would love to hear of your experiences and a picture of your kitchen herbs would be wonderful. Please leave your comments below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise I will get back with you as soon as my health allows me too. In the meantime, happy gardening!