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There are many reasons why it’s satisfying to grow herbs indoors during the cold winter months in my Zone 6 region. Imagine smelling fresh basil, peppermint or rosemary anytime you want in the middle of January. Think how pretty a grouping of plants looks on a kitchen counter or in a windowsill. Feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from picking parsley or chives from your own garden for a recipe that calls for fresh herbs –instead of purchasing a $5 sprig at the grocery store.
Lighting is the biggest issue when growing plants indoors, especially plants that are expected to perform. A simple countertop lighting system is readily available online or at some home centers. They usually consist of a tray for your plants with a plug-in grow light that hangs over it. The type of bulb is important, with fluorescent and LED being the two most often used. They’re both cool lights with a long life. It’s best to get full spectrum so they have both red and blue light in them, which is good for growing plants. If you don’t have room in your kitchen, you can put your herb garden in an out of the way place such as your basement or garage. The grow lights will replace the need for natural sunlight.
Instead of a countertop garden I decided to create my indoor herb garden in a south facing window in our kitchen. Our house has thick walls so the window frames are 6-8” deep, but a shallower window frame will work too. I bought a 24” LED grow light at Home Depot for $50 that has both blue and red lights (full spectrum), which I attached to the top of the window frame. Then I installed two glass shelves and hammered in supports on each side to hold the shelves. I purchased the ¼” thick custom cut glass shelves at a local glass shop for $30.
I found some terra cotta pots that I made when I took pottery lessons a few years ago. If you like the idea of making your own containers look for pottery classes where you live.
I bought a variety of herbs that I found at a garden center that stays open in winter: Rosemary, Mint, Basil and Italian parsley, and repotted them in my handmade pots. I also bought a small container of wheatgrass for my cat. It’s supposed to improve their digestion and freshen their breath. In winter it’s more difficult to find herb plants,but you can often get them at your local grocery store. Look for herbs with their roots and some soil intact and then pot them up at home. Starting from seed does not make sense at this time of year, since it can take months to grow a healthy plant you can harvest for cooking.
Back to lighting, even in my south facing window I wanted to supplement the natural light with grow lights because the plants will thrive on 8-12 hours of light a day, and it offers a more intense light than the sun gives off at this time of year. An unexpected benefit we discovered only after the garden was completed is that my husband and I benefit from the lights too. It’s the closest thing to sunlight indoors!
For more information about growing plants indoors and the various types of grow lights available, you can read an article I wrote for the Womanswork blog last March at www.womanswork.com/growingindoors.