Growing herbs for the kitchen window

By Dave Hanson

Few plants yield such a wellspring of delight as kitchen herbs. Herbs are purposeful, charming, full of culture and a chef’s best friend. They have a universal power to bring on a smile with a light brush of their aromatic leaves, a wink at good things to come. And the very best type of herb garden is the off season herb garden: a dose of pure pleasure through those winter months, when connecting with real dirt is a dream and summer harvests a nostalgic pang. But what does it take to keep herbs thriving indoors?

A south or east facing exposure is ideal for most edibles. Productivity is keyed to the amount of available light and many gardeners opt to use a simple full spectrum grow light to enhance their kitchen garden. Grow lights are affordable and efficient these days, and can be used to either replace natural daylight or supplement during the darkest months. Just be sure the lights are 6400K (daylight bulbs) and are set up so that tops are with in 30 cm  or 12 inches of the lights.

Indoor herbs do best when grown in individual pots, and the bigger the better. Small, cute pots quickly become a source of frustration as plants dry out too quickly and require frequent feeding. A minimum 15 cm or 6 inch pot allows for a good sized herb while not taking up too much prime windowsill or counter space. The most important consideration is drainage; herbs will not do well if the soil is soggy.

Speaking of soil, starting with a true living soil is transformational. That is, avoid simple soil-less mixes that contain little to no nutrients and none of the beneficial micro-organisms that help plants flourish. It is easy to make DIY living soil by combining basic peat-based organic potting mix with quality compost (either home made or purchased). Approximately 25 per cent compost to 75 per cent mix is ideal. In addition to the compost, indoor herbs will benefit from a monthly application of a half strength organic fertilizer.

Now here is where it gets fun: set aside a few minutes a day for “scratch and sniff”. Yes… herbs benefit from interaction and research shows that getting touchy-feely promotes sturdy stems on strong, vigorous plants.

One last chore: give your herbs a quick rinse under fast flowing fresh water about once a month. This is one of the easiest ways to keep plants looking good, remove dust, and avoid indoor pests.

To know what herbs will do best in your kitchen window herb garden, click here for Top-pick herbs for the kitchen garden.

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