Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Indoor herb garden

Late spring or summer is just the right time to start an indoor herb garden. The longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures are kinder not only to outdoor plants but also indoor potted ones. I developed a love for gardening during my stay in the UK and with a large back garden to learn from and experiment with. Herbs are just another type of plants that I enjoy looking after. But the real impetus for growing herbs, personally, is the convenience of being able to pick or cut the right amount as and when I need them, without having to buy a big bunch or or packet when I would only use a quarter or less each time. Leftover fresh herbs can be frozen (as noted in this previous article) but it does not work well for all herbs. Woody herbs like rosemary and thyme freeze best, and parsley will do OK, but tender ones like basil don't do so well.

Indoor herb garden

If you have some space in a garden outdoors, all to the good. Find a sunny or partially sunny spot and have a little herb garden. They need very little attention and will reward you with fresh herbs year after year. If you plant the herbs now (well grown ones, not little seedlings), there is still time for them to become established and develop good root systems to survive the winter and regrow next year.

But even if you don't have the luxury of an outdoor garden, herbs are pretty easy to grow indoors, either on a patio/balcony, a sunny window sill or any location that is bright. Most herbs love the sun but the small pots of soil can dry out quickly in direct sunlight, in which case watering needs to be carefully monitored. Partially sunny spots and bright locations with no direct sunlight will do just fine.

My herbs are placed on a ledge indoors that get bright light through the day. Most of them were bought as seedlings from the garden centre back in early-April and I have found it very satisfying to watch them grow over. But very young plants that are not well established can be quite tricky in terms of over or under-watering. You may find it easier to buy fairly well grown herbs in pots and just maintain them that way.

Parsley is a multipurpose herb that do well in most Western type cooking. Chop them up and add them at the end of cooking or just before serving, on stews, pasta and soups. They work really well as garnish, especially if you just need to add a few springs in bento (again, the convenience of growing your own).
Flat leaf/Italian parsley

Chives have a mild onion flavour, often used in French cooking and complements cheese and cream sauces well.

Oregano is widely used in Greek, Spanish and in Italian cuisine, especially in tomato sauces, and grilled or roasted meat.

Basil is a culinary herb that features prominently in Italian cooking. Unlike other herbs such as oregano and rosemary, whose flavours intensify with drying (so dried herbs will still work well), dried basil loses most of its flavour and fresh really is best. Italian basil is also known as sweet basil, which is different from Thai basil, lemon basil or holy basil used in Asia. Italian basil tend to be eaten raw in salads or added to the end of cooking as the heat destroys the flavours easily.

Thyme is widely used in cooking and works particularly well with lamb, chicken and fish. It tends to be added early in the cooking stage as its flavours take time to infuse the dish.

Rosemary is used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine and one of the most hardy herbs. It goes particularly well with chicken and also good in stews.

To harvest the herbs, snip off individual springs or cut off the tops. Frequent trimming this way encourages offshoots and more healthy and bushy plants with tender leaves. I water my herbs roughly twice a week and feed a weak liquid fertiliser once a month. Some plants are more thirsty than others (e.g. thyme and rosemary need less water compared to basil), Google for more specific information on growing different types of herbs.

Actually, I do hope that my herbs are still alive! I have been out of the country travelling for work (thus the lack of recent updates) and the husband had been given instructions on how often and how much to water. He does his best of course (bless him) but watering plants for someone else is always difficult to gauge. The most recent phone call suggests that my thyme is on its way out, and one or two stalks of basil are looking rather unhappy. Still, these efforts are well worth it to have my own fresh stash of herbs for whenever I need them. And I hope that you will also feel similarly inspired to start growing some yourself.


Christelle said...

Great post , best way for having fresh herbs handy :))

morgansmenu said...

A couple of questions:

1. My basil plants (kept indoors) have been prone to these little bugs that build webbing in between the leaves. Any ideas on how to get rid of them but keep the basil safe to eat?!
2. My parsley never seems to grow back--am I trimming it too low on the stalk? It just yellows and grows little flower shoots, but doesn't replenish itself with more parsley!
3. Do you leave your thyme indoors? Mine seems to do better outside. But the basil likes to be indoors where it is warmer.

noobcook said...

omg your indoor herb garden is flourishing!So ashamed of mine, because as you know, Singapore has sun all year round, yet my herbs are not doing well :P Keep up the good work!

tigerfish said...

My plants are not doing well too! and also in Singapore. Hahaha, maybe it is Singapore.

Fact: I don't have green fingers.

Nilmandra said...

Christelle: Thanks, I love having the option with fresh herbs. AlthougH I will need to buy new thyme plants... Mine is dead while I've been away :(

1. I know know much about bugs and pests with regards to specific plants. Best to Google or enquire at your local garden centre.
2. Parsley should be cut close to the bast so you can't be cutting it too low. If no new shoots are growing to replenish the leaves, maybe you need to fertilise the soil, or repot the plant into new soil and slightly bigger pot if the nutrition in the soil has been depleted. It tends to be a problem with indoor plants in small pots.
3. Hard to say, since it depends on the direction your house and windows faces and how much sun and light you get. The key is to experiment and see what works for where you live, by moving plants indoors or outdoors and see how they respond.

Noobcook and Tigerfish: Not flourishing anymore while I've been away... My thyme is completely dead and oregano looks very ill. Two stalks of basil have died. Some are still alive and I am trying to revive them!

Actually I don't know how well they will do in Singapore in terms of sun. They may do better in a bright location but in the shade, not direct sunlight, given the intense sun and high temperatures in Singapore. And perhaps need more water because it is hotter? My experience have only been in temperate countries so far!

denise said...

they look GREAT!

Ninette said...

I don't get enough light in my house to have a garden. Sigh.

denise said...

Singapore, don't feel too bad. My herbs here in San Francisco, CA don't seem to be working out so well either...

diva said...

oh i'm jealous! i do really want to have my own herb garden. :)

Doughmesticity said...

your herbs look beautiful! sigh, we can't seem to keep anything alive, sun or not.

Nilmandra said...

Ninette: That's a shame. You can get various house plants that actually like shade and less light, but herbs will need plenty of light.

Denise, Diva, Doughmesticity: I think it could get too hot for the herbs. Rosemary is probably the most hardy that I have. Unfortunately after the heatwave that we've had last week here in the Pacific Northwest (and we're talking about record breaking temperatures for a week), my basil have died completely :( My thyme and oregano also didn't quite recover from my husband's watering when I was away for 2 weeks, in spite of his best efforts. My rosemary and parsley are still doing well though, thankfully. Time to get a new basil plant...

tofuscloset said...

oh your garden is cute!! i had basil and thyme growing in my house but there were SOOOO many little fruit flies that i had to throw out my plants!! how do you deal with that?? advice greatly appreciated!!

Nilmandra said...

Tofuscloset: Yeah that has happened to me too. Although I didn't get too many of those little fruit flies so they didn't bother me that much. Maybe it has to do with having soil that is too moist sometimes?? I'm afraid I am out of ideas on this one. A gardening website is probably what you need!

Anonymous said...

hi, where do you buy either the seeds or plants to plant the herbs in singapore

matthew said...

You may want to try organic liquid fertilizer for your herbs if they are not doing well. Although i used it on my orchid - which used to wither and die - but after 4 weeks of using it, my orchid has started to recover - now there are new shoot.

Am trying it on my passion fruit now.

Currently as i know, this organic fertilizer from LivGreen is avail in only a handful of nurseries.

Good luck / Cheers!

Nilmandra said...

Anonymous: I wish I know where to buy potted herbs in Singapore! Just moved back to Singapore and I am missing my fresh herbs so much. Have resorted to the dried stuff (gosh, so expensive!) and they just don't taste the same. I suspect certain garden centres will have them but I don't know which ones. I used to see potted herbs being sold in Cold Storage but not recently.

Post a Comment