FRESH HERBS THROUGHOUT THE WINTER
Nothing beats the taste of fresh herbs in a recipe. Just when it has cooled enough to make some wonderful stews, soups and roasts the herb garden has faded or is already covered in snow. With a little forethought, you can have fresh herbs growing in your windowsills just as those outside give up the ghost.
You have several options for starting a windowsill herb garden. Some herbs, such as rosemary, sage and thyme do best started from a cutting. If your local garden center still has herb plants for sale, that is another option. In the fall, many retailers have seeds on clearance. Starting from seed works particularly well for parsley, basil, chives and cilantro. Follow the directions on the package for sowing and the directions below for indoor placement and care.
If your herbs are growing in flower pots already, transition them inside before the first fall frost. Start the transition in a bright, cool area such as a garage or entryway. Continue this for a few weeks, weather permitting. Keep them away from your indoor plants for several weeks to prevent any pest infestation that may come with them.
Should you decide to dig up your garden herbs and pot them, remove as much of the soil as possible from around the roots without damaging the root and plant. When selecting containers, soil and when watering, remember that herbs don’t like wet feet. Choose containers with a drainage hole and soil or soilless potting mix that drains well. Don’t overwater. If you are using plastic containers your herbs won’t need to be watered as frequently as in clay pots.
Once you have them situated in a sunny south-facing window (or southeast), protect them from excessive heat and drying out. If you started them from cuttings, help them retain moisture by covering with an inverted mason jar of plastic bag. Keep in mind that most herbs do well in cooler temperatures.
A regular misting to keep the leaves free of dust and regular watering as needed will keep your herbs happy.
By December you may find that the soil in the flower pots has compacted much like garden soil would. Use a kitchen fork to loosen it up again and add more soil or compost if necessary. Compost is a great way of feeding your plant nutrients, as is using green tea.
Providing for all your plants’ needs will help prevent insect pest attacks, but should they happen soap sprays are a good option. Follow the directions closely for best results. Do not spray in bright sunlight for optimal results and remember to wash leaves clean before eating, if not sooner.
In the spring, start hardening off your herbs by putting them outside for a few hours a day in a protect location with indirect sunlight. For the next four days continue to bring them out in a protected location, but increasingly allow a little more exposure to the sun. Do not water them as much as usually during this process.
Over the next week or two, lengthen the time you leave the herbs outside. When most of them can stay out all day and night consider that basil can’t take as cool a temperature as other herbs and wait for night-time temperatures to be above 45º. When late frosts or severe storms crop up, be prepared to cover them or bring them back in.