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Herb Basics - a grower's guide from basil to sage.


 

Tips and Techniques

The Indoor Herb Garden

You don't need to live in the countryside or even have access to a back yard to grow an abundant supply of fresh herbs. All it takes is a few packets of seed, some simple equipment, and a sunny window ledge to transform your home into a thriving greenhouse that enlivens your cooking all year long.

Plant to Please Your Palate

Decide what to grow by asking yourself which herbs you use frequently in the kitchen, which do you rush out to the supermarket to buy, and which do you wish you could afford to add to your shopping cart. Basil is one of the easiest and most popular herbs to grow inside, along with cilantro and parsley, but you might also want to consider chives and thyme. Of course, if you have a cat, a fresh catnip plant is a sure bet to this four-legged friend's heart.

What You Need to Get Started

  • Seeds. At this time of year, garden centers have a wide selection of seeds to choose from. You may also find them at your local supermarket or hardware store.
  • Containers. You can grow herbs in almost any kind of container. Many people like to begin seedlings in plastic seed pots, but you can also recycle yogurt containers or use egg cartons. Just remember to punch a hole in the bottom so water can drain. Be sure to place the pots on a plastic tray like a Tupperware container or lid. This will catch any excess water and protect your tabletop or window ledge. Eventually, you will need to transplant your seedlings to larger pots.
  • Soil. Treat yourself to an organic potting soil. Remember, whatever is in the soil will be in your dinner.
  • Water and a spray can, baster or small jug.
  • Small trowel or large spoon.
  • Small pebbles

Planting 101

  • Place some pebbles in the bottom of the pot to help the water drain.
  • Loosely fill the container with soil, Add some water, allow it to drain, and then press down on the soil lightly.
  • Sprinkle the seeds on the surface, and cover with one further, thin layer of soil.
  • Gently water the seeds every day. It is very important not to disrupt the young seeds, so use a turkey baster or a spray bottle set on wide spray.
  • Pour some extra water in the bottom of the tray, so the pots can soak it up if they need it.

FoodFit's Tips: Caring for Your Herbs
  • When the seeds sprout, they will need four to six hours of direct sunlight a day, so find a sunny location. But make sure that the temperature remains fairly constant: if area is drafty or chilly at night, you might want to move the seedlings to a warmer spot overnight.
  • Water the plants regularly, but not during the heat of the day. Moistening the leaves in the direct sunlight can actually scald them and weaken the plant.
  • After the seedlings are about three to four weeks old, you can begin to snip off the top leaves to add to dinner. Harvest from the top. This encourages the young plant to bush out and thicken.

Here are some fantastic recipes to try with your fresh herbs:

Lemon-Basil Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Ragout of Chanterelles, Chestnuts and Cipollini Onions with Thyme
Cornmeal Crusted Sea Bass with Corn and Tomatillo Salsa

This article was contributed by Ruth Prince

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