written by Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
If you like to cook the way I do, then you know it’s a must to have fresh herbs available when the cooking urge strikes.
I spent three years in Italy, and I learned many of the techniques of cooking that I use today. Some of that time I didn’t have enough money to buy fresh herbs or space to grow my own, and others I was more fortunate. This experience helped me learn the difference between fresh and dried (and now I have discovered the best of both worlds using Freeze-dried, but that is for another article entirely). At any rate, I now have the time and knowhow to grow my own herbs, outside during the summer months, and inside during our long winters. Rest assured, the fresh herbs I grow in my pantry under artificial light taste just as good (sometimes better) as those grown outside in my garden. Let me show you how you can do it, too.
I start the whole process with a mini greenhouse called a NanoDome. It includes a 10-inch-by-20-inch nursery tray (heavy duty for years of reusing), a seven-inch greenhouse dome with vents that perfectly fit the tray, and an 18-inch, full-spectrum light bulb fixture with reflector for my own mini sun. To get seeds to germinate quicker, I also use a single tray heat mat. It really helps when sprouting difficult or heatsensitive seeds. You can choose either a high-quality seed starting soil mix like Ferti-lome Seedling and Cutting mix or Expanded Coco Coir for Growing Medium (soil). You get to pick the herb seeds that best fit your needs. I’m a fan of basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Just be aware that each herb has its own germination and growing needs, so some may not be practical to grow together in the same tray. For example, rosemary takes three to four weeks to germinate and likes warm, drier soils while growing, and cilantro will be ready to cut and harvest before the rosemary even sprouts.
Fill your tray with about a half-inch-to-one inch of seed starting soil. If you want to try multiple varieties of herbs, it might help to segregate your tray into two to four different zones to help keep the plants organized. Sprinkle your seeds on the surface, and either cover them with a very thin layer of soil, or you can just leave them on the surface (they will still grow just fine).
I mix one Tablespoon (.5 oz) of Seed Starter from Baicor (made locally in Logan) and one teaspoon of Water-In soil penetrant in one quart of water and then mist the seeds thoroughly, applying enough water to soak the seeds as well as saturate the soil about a half-inch deep. Thesoil penetrant will allow the seed and soil to absorb the water much quicker than normal, and will help saturate the soil, otherwise it takes a long time for the soil to absorb the water that the seed will need to germinate. Once the soil is moist, cover the seed and soil with the greenhouse dome (making sure the vents are closed), plug in your heating mat, and turn on the amazing miniature sun (full spectrum light bulb, available in fluorescent and LED).
I put my mini greenhouse in the pantry, where the sun never hits it, but where I can control its environment better. The artificial light will give your seedlings all the light they need, so there is no need to keep them near a window (it can also get very cold near the window during the winter and drastically slow germination and growth of herbs; the pantry is better!). The dome will help collect and retain the initial moisture, so you may not need to water again until the seeds start to sprout. Wait until most or all of the seeds have germinated, then open the vents on the dome, and water every two or three days with the Seed Starter Mixture. At about a week old, I use a root enhancer called Kangaroots on the seedlings that encourages root development and allows them to pick up and utilize moisture and nutrients better. Give the seedlings a minimum of 12-14 hours of light each day, regularly fertilize and water, and in no time you can start harvesting leaves of your herbs to use weekly, if not daily.
The process is so easy and quick (with some herbs) that you can grow multiple crops throughout the winter months. Many gardeners like to use the fresh herbs as micro greens, harvesting the small seedlings when they have grown somewhere in between sprouts and immature transplants. The small leaves hold more nutrients and flavor than fully developed plants. The flavors are intense and amazing for all kinds of greens, but even more so for herbs. You’ll love the tastes and textures they provide.
Growing herbs indoors has never been easier. You can enjoy the success of growing indoors as well as eating/reaping the health benefits. Give it a try!