Put down that shaker of dried oregano. The secret to seasoning isn’t about which herbs you use — it’s how fresh they are.
“The taste of food cooked with something fresh as opposed to dry is monumental,” Bedford Fields Nursery Manager Anita Stevens said. “Adding something fresh — particularly anything green — we’re finding out is even more important than we even realized.”
To make going fresh more convenient, urban gardeners and cooks alike are bringing planters indoors to grow fresh herbs. Stevens said that she grows her own herbs both in her garden and indoors, but she also keeps a pot outside on her kitchen steps for easy access.
“Until the end of May, we’re really not free of our frost stages,” Stevens said. “Growing herbs inside is a great way to do it.”
Indoor gardening certainly makes things easier in the kitchen during winter months. Herbs can be taken indoors in planters before the first frost in fall or can stay inside year-round if space is limited.
“Urban gardeners can benefit from container gardening,” herb gardener Mimi Alberu of Langford Homestead Herbs in Candia said. “I’ve had pretty good luck with the plastic planters that look like terracotta or the window box planters.”
While it may be en vogue to plant herbs in mason jars or tea cups, it’s not practical or healthy for your plants. Stevens said that indoor herb gardeners should find containers with drainage holes and keep a saucer underneath. A five-inch or six-inch pot can accommodate a single herb plant, or you can try planting multiple herbs in one container (as long as it’s big enough for root systems to develop).
“Pinterest [ideas] look cute,” Stevens said. “From a horticultural point of view — to keep it healthy for the long term — good drainage is key.”
Place pots or containers in bright sunny locations in the home, free from draft and away from heat vents. If your kitchen windowsill is a good fit, make sure that the plants don’t touch the cold glass of the window, Stevens said. Herbs are easy to maintain indoors; just keep trimming and using the herb as it grows, and be sure to keep the soil slightly damp.
“Most people with any kind of plant inside water too much, so being mean is fine,” Stevens said. “Rosemary likes the soil to be fairly dry.”
As witth any outdoor garden, soil and fertilizer are key components to indoor gardening. As a certified organic herb grower, Alberu uses organic seed and non-synthetic fertilizers and pays attention to soil nutrition. As a homegrower, she said she also appreciates knowing that her herbs and plants are healthy and free of pesticides or chemicals.
Although there’s something enchanting about planting the seeds on your own, Stevens recommends starting with a small plant that’s already begun to grow instead.
“Starting with a small plant is much easier for the average person,” she said.
If you’re a little more daring (or have some experience keeping plants alive), Alberu recommends planting seeds in a recycled egg carton.
“Egg cartons are an excellent reuse,” she said. “Use the expandable peat pellets and soak them in water and they pop up to the right size to fit into the cell of an egg carton.”
A single seed can go into the the cell with the expanded pellet. Alberu said to transfer the seedling to a pot or the garden once two or three sets of leaves appear after the initial seed leaves pop up.
“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme”
Maybe Simon & Garfunkel were gardeners, or maybe not, but they were certainly on to something. Both Alberu and Stevens agree that herbs like rosemary, chives, cilantro, basil, parsley and oregano are all great everyday culinary herbs that are simple and easy to start out with.
“It’s really a matter of taste,” Alberu said. “They’re all fairly simple to grow, especially the Mediterranean herbs.”
Don’t get too excited and plant your entire spice rack (especially if you’re new to gardening). Alberu recommends learning more about the herbs you want to plant first. Some herbs, like mint, are known for spreading quickly (and can even spread underground). Illustrated books of herbs with good photographs are a great way to become more familiar with a plant when starting out, she said.
As seen in the April 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.