Nothing quite compares to the spectacular flavor and fragrance that an herb garden provides. Fresh herbs add a zing to your cooking that can’t be replicated with dried-out powdered seasonings, so why bother with pre-packaged spice blends from the grocery store when you can have crisp and flavorful green herbs just a few paces away from the stove?
You may have tried your hand at cultivating fresh herbs in containers in the yard, but by growing herbs indoors in the most convenient spot – your kitchen – you can enjoy them all year long instead of just during the growing season. Our winters may be cold, but there’s still a decent amount of sunshine out there, especially when it reflects off the crystal white snow, so set up some indoor herb planters on a sunny kitchen windowsill and enjoy delicious herbs and spices from January until December!
Indoor herb gardens are pretty easy to take care of. As long as you are mindful of a few environmental factors, you’ll soon be skipping the supermarket to stay in your warm kitchen, with your key ingredients within arm’s length. Most herbs were originally cultivated in Mediterranean climates, and while those conditions aren’t terribly similar to those we experience in Chicagoland, there are lots of easy ways to provide your herbs with exactly what they need.
Ensure your indoor herb garden pots are set up at a window that gets as much light as possible. Since the days grow much shorter in the chill of winter, every drop of sunlight counts. If you notice your herbs are starting to look a bit tired and are in need of some extra rays you just aren’t getting naturally, you may have to supplement with a little help. A tabletop grow light in your kitchen, like this Sunblaster Grow Light, will blast some much-needed UV light directly onto those little plants, and they’ll perk back up in no time!
One thing’s for certain: Chicagoland winters are dry – a far cry from the Mediterranean sea air that many herbs are used to in their natural environment. We can feel the difference in humidity in our skin as it gets dull and dehydrated, and our plants are no different. Luckily, there are two easy ways you can bring the moist oceanside air to your own kitchen, so your indoor herb growing endeavors will not be fruitless.
Option 1: Use a humidifier. Plug it into a free corner in your kitchen, and your plant will soon be basking in deliciously moist air that will be a treat for your skin, as well!
Option 2: Create a humidity tray. If the hum of a humidifier isn’t your idea of soft ambient noise, an easy and aesthetically-pleasing way to provide moisture for your indoor herb planters is to place them on a tray filled with pebbles. Add a little water into the tray (enough so it won’t evaporate right away, but not so much that the pots are submerged), and voila! You’ve created a moist environment for your herbs to grow in, and they will thank you for it with lush leaves to graze on at your leisure.
Many first-time indoor gardeners assume that keeping your plants indoors will protect them from pests, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. Much like how our immune systems weaken in the winter due to the decrease in sunlight and exercise, plants are a bit more vulnerable in the winter, too. But unlike the colds and flus we hope to avoid, it’s household pests that plants have to worry about.
Tiny bugs, like spider mites and aphids, are notorious for sneaking their way into our homes and popping up uninvited. But there’s a simple way to kick them out and prevent them from returning: a simple spritz with soapy water. Now, you won’t want to use detergent-based soaps on your herbs (after all, you are planning on eating them), so use a potassium salt-based insecticidal soap, like this Bonide Insecticidal Soap. Simply give the bottle a shake, and spray away! Use it once monthly as a preventative treatment, and weekly if you notice any unwanted visitors sticking around.
Unsure of which herbs to start out with? Here’s a few of our recommendations that are sure to add bursts of flavor and fun to your mealtime, all year long:
Cilantro: For tacos that taste and smell just like the kind you’ll find in the Mayan Riviera, add a little sprinkle of this fresh, fragrant herb to your sauces and salsas.
Basil: A key ingredient in tomato sauces and pestos, caprese salads, margherita pizzas, you name it— basil adds that cool, semi-sweet flavor that makes Italian food so tantalizing and irresistable.
Thyme: No roast chicken is complete without some fresh sprigs of this culinary classic.
Rosemary: This herb does it all. Whether you’re opting for savory, or concocting a sweet herbed glaze, rosemary has that sweet side that elevates your comfort food to a whole other level.
Dill: From fresh, crisp, homemade dill pickles to delicious vegetable dips, this herb adds a tasty twist to any dish!
Rather than settling for dull, dried-out flavor from the store, you can enjoy the full-force, fresh flavor of straight-from-the-garden herbs right on your windowsill – no matter the time of year. With an indoor herb garden always within reach, your dishes will always be at the top of their game!