If you use herbs, either medicinally, or as food, or both, but either don’t have the available space or climate to do so outdoors, growing herbs indoors may be right for you.
Indoor gardening allows you to tightly control your growing environment to a degree where you could coax even fussy plants to grow by closely adhering to the optimal conditions they prefer. However, growing indoors is more resource-intensive, as you’re providing artificial light, artificial wind and essential nutrients to your plants. Grow lights require electricity, as do electric fans. Nutrients that would normally be present in soil have to be extracted from somewhere. And you have to pay closer attention to your plants, as the natural processes that govern their growth and maturity aren’t provided by the cyclical rising and setting of the sun or rainfall. That said indoor gardening is a fascinating pursuit and, if you’re dedicated and ready to take the plunge, you could find yourself sitting on a mountain of medicinal and culinary herbs.
New to growing herbs? Start small with a modest pot of rosemary and mint shown here.
Essentials for Growing Herbs Inside Your Home
When starting out gardening indoors, think in terms of scale: it would be easier to put a few potted plants in the window sill and start from there. Ideally, you have a window with southern exposure that can get your plants six to eight hours of sunlight a day. If not you have to supplement light with artificial light. From a setup of a couple potted plants, you can assure yourself that you can keep them watered and well-tended. When you graduate to something more concerted, you may have a table set up with growing trays and a few lights. Layout becomes a concern at this point. It’s generally a bad idea to have a bunch of plants at different growing stages with different lights all bunched together, as the needs of each plant will be different and different lights with different light spectra and intensities will stress your plants. Keep it simple and your plants will love you for it.
Generally, what you have control of are: light, temperature, air circulation, water, soil and fertilizer. You also have to keep an eye out for pests, as indoor gardens, highly artificial environments contain none of the natural checks against pest populations. (Outdoor gardens have competing populations of insects and predatory insects. Yours doesn’t).
Lights can be anything from special growlights, which range in size and expense, which may come with complementary lamps. Or you could use a simple fluorescent tube light, suspended a few inches above the growing plant. If your plants are developing long stems and leaves (this is called being “leggy”), then they are not getting enough light. Again, different herbs have different environmental requirements, but if you read up and pay close attention to your garden, you’ll gain a good sense of what those needs are.
Water, temperature and air moisture level are interrelated factors to monitor closely. Winter air tends to be quite dry and many indoor plants don’t like this. Placing a humidifier near your garden may help, as will regularly misting plants with a spray bottle. Some plants may take their water through a tray full of sediment (such as pebbles), that can be filled with water, which will be absorbed by the plants roots. The evaporating tray of water will also humidify your plants.
Potential Pest Concerns
Pest insects are another concern and at some point, you will have to deal with them. Your garden stays at optimal conditions for them, so that natural factors such as inclement weather won’t kill them off. If they migrate indoors, they can quickly take hold to a food source, in this case your plants.
If you notice pest bugs attached to the base of your plants, or flying around them, get a deep mixing bowl and run some tepid water into it. Add some soap. Grip the base of the plant and swirl it around in the soapy water solution. The soap will kill the bugs and temporarily adhere to the plant. If the plant is too big to move, use a spray bottle to thoroughly spray the plants, taking care to get the undersides of the leaves, until the leaves are dripping.
If this doesn’t work, neem oil is an organic, non-toxic pesticide that will work on most pest insects. Be sure not to use any harsh pesticides indoors. Your garden is a contained environment and this environment is most likely your home. -MIKE KLEPFER