Hooray! You think, if you’re a vampire or an existentialist—it is now November, and soon darkness and coldness will smother the last pitiful efforts of growing things and turn the horrible greenness of nature into the soothing browns and greys of a desolation beyond change or hope.
Oh, no! You think, if you’re anybody with any warmth in their hearts—it’s November, and all of the aforementioned terrible things are about to happen. Do not despair any more than necessary. There are some simple things we can do to remind us that the Earth was once and will be again a pleasant place to live. One of the simplest is cultivating an indoor garden.
While there are lots of potential kinds of indoor gardens to grow, let’s focus on herb gardens, since making delicious wintertime food is another simple thing that can sustain us through the challenging months to come.
You basically just need a window that gets what little light the winter offers us and some plants, which are now totally on sale in nurseries because the outdoor growing season is over. Pots and soil should be cheaper, too, if you don’t have these already. Pick pots that have drainage holes in the bottom—herb roots will rot if they get waterlogged.
It’s also possible to grow new herb plants from existing herbs that already live in your friends’ or unsuspecting neighbours’ gardens. Growing herbs from cuttings will require you to spend some money on a soilless media, but whatever. That will still be cheaper than trying to buy fresh rosemary in January.
Don’t bother trying to grow basil over the winter. It’s a temperamental jerk that hates being inside more than it loves life.
Mint is the easiest thing to grow. It’s literally a weed and it grows like one. You can even take a cutting and grow it in a water bottle. As a note, this is a highly colonial plant. Other plants can share pots, but mint will just take over everybody else’s territory so for the sake of the other plants, keep mint in its own pot.
If you have access to a chive plant, you can separate it, pot a small division and bring the pot indoors once its leaves have died back. The chive needs to chill for a couple of days in a cold spot in your home, but then you can move it to a windowsill. Parsley and tarragon can be brought inside in the same way. The key is to let them have a dormant period in the late fall/ early winter. Thus the letting the plants die back and hang out in the cold spot in your home thing.
Oregano is best grown from a cutting of another oregano plant, so pick a tasty oregano plant and then follow these instructions from gardener Bonnie L. Grant to get your new plant started. Rosemary and sage are other plants that grow best from a cutting. All of these plants will thrive in south-facing windows. Oregano is the most selfish about light, so put this guy in the spot that gets the most sun, if you can. On the plus side, oregano can also be used to make nifty topiary shapes, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Thyme is less picky. It’s willing to grow from either a cutting or by being potted from an outdoor plant. It’s also less of a crybaby about light, although it prefers full sun when it can get it. You and me both, thyme. You and me both.
Tips and techniques
» This is the smartest way I’ve ever seen to pot a plant. Scroll down until you find it.
» Some herbs, like mint, enjoy a humid climate, which is, as you know from having skin, impossible to replicate indoors. You can approximate it by misting the leaves between waterings.
» Each plant will have its own way that it wants to be watered. Generally, though, if the soil is dry when you stick a finger in it, it probably needs some water. This is not rocket science.
» If your herbs are all straggly and gross with not very many leaves, they’re probably not getting enough light. To keep the plants from being weirdly one-sided, rotate them every three or four days.
» If the leaves are yellow, they need less water.
» If they start to flower, they need to be clipped back. Regular clipping will keep them bushy and healthy, thus providing you with more delicious herbage.
» Droopy plants could be too cold. If, in your efforts to please your fussy plant friends, you have placed them on a windowsill, you might want to move them back a bit. Your plant friends want it all—light and also heat—and it might be hard to find a perfect location. Unlike your human friends, however, if they seem impossible to please, you can go ahead and eat them.