As an apartment dweller, I don’t have a scrap of land to plant things in. I do have easy access to farmer’s markets and a CSA share which will keep me eating lots of fresh, locally grown veggies this summer. Still, I won’t forgo the pleasure of harvesting from right outside my back door. It doesn’t take a lot of work or materials to plant a container herb garden that you can harvest from all summer long.
Herbs are a perfect for growing in pots and containers since most don’t grow as large as vegetable plants and many of them prefer the warmth that growing in a pot provides. Fresh herbs last much longer growing on your doorstep than sitting in your refrigerator and are ideal for cooking and adding to salads. If you have an abundance you can make pesto, dry, or freeze the herbs for using later. It’s generally pretty easy to keep herbs growing happily in pots or window boxes. There are just a few basic things you need:
Containers Be creative–there are lots of different options for planting your herbs. I like terra cotta pots, but you could also recycle plastic pots, yogurt cups, wooden boxes, or old wooden drawers. Find something that has good drainage (or make drainage holes in it) and will be big enough for the plants’ roots to grow into. For starting seeds you can use egg cartons, halved avocado peels, or other small containers filled with soil.
Seeds or seedlings Many stores sell seeds and seedlings this time of year. I always have the best results with seedlings that are grown locally (often bigger stores get their seedlings shipped from far away and they may not be the best ones for your climate and locatio) at a nearby farm or nursery. Certain herbs are easy to grow from seed and others are better to start from seedlings grown in a greenhouse.
The price of a packet of seeds is about the same as a pack of seedlings. You will get a lot more in a packet of seeds, but if you don’t need that many seeds you could just get seedlings instead. If you know someone who is already growing herbs, they might be able to share some with you, too.
If you are starting seeds inside, find someplace warm where you can keep the pots while the seeds germinate. The top of your refrigerator or a radiator that doesn’t get too hot are good places to start. Make sure to keep the soil moist but not overly wet. I planted cilantro, dill, and cumin from seed. I bought sage, thyme, parsley, oregano and rosemary seedlings.
Sunlight Ideally, your plants will want several hours of direct sunlight each day. If you don’t have a place on the ground that gets a lot of sun, maybe a window box or hanging planter would work better for your location. Before you find a spot for your herbs, try to observe how much sun the area gets each day. If you have enough space, you can move the potted plants around if they don’t get enough sunlight where they are.
Soil You will need enough soil to fill your window boxes or pots. Again, try to go local if you can. Often you can find a potting mix that comes from a nearby source which will be better for your climate and seedlings. Otherwise, a potting mix should work fine. If you have some composted material you can mix that in, too.
A window box or medium to large pot will be enough space to plant two or three herb seedlings . If they grow too crowded, you can transplant them into separate pots.
Water Along with sunlight and soil, your plants will also need water. It is good to have a watering can that can gently sprinkle your seeds and seedlings while they are establishing themselves in the soil.
In general, the soil should be damp all the way to the bottom of the pot. After you water the pot will be wetter and heavier. Gently lift up the pot and feel the soil. This will help you get a sense of how heavy the pot should be when the plants are well watered. Although it is important to keep the soil moist, you don’t want to over water the plants. If the pot still feels heavy and wet you probably don’t need to water them until they dry out a little bit.
Local Support If you are new to growing things, you will have lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to get started and see how it goes, but also consider finding someone nearby who can help you figure things out. The farm where you buy your seedlings and the nursery where you get your seeds will know a lot about growing in your location and climate. Friends or neighbors with growing experience can also be a great resource for beginning gardeners.
Although there is a lot to know about gardening, don’t be afraid to get started. A container garden of herbs is a great way to get into growing things at home and a fun way to incorporate fresh and very local food into your meals.