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Indoor Gardening

Let's face it, herbs are weeds. They grow even where you don't want them! So it's really not that difficult to have a wonderful herb garden even if your planting space is confined to the coffee table. Here are some things to consider when planning your indoor or balcony garden.

Light  Most herbs do tend to be sun-loving creatures, preferring 8 - 10 hours of sunlight a day. South facing windows are fantastic, as they get the brightest light for the longest time (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, that is; if you live in the Southern Hemisphere a north-facing window would be best.) Can you still grow herbs if you live in a north-facing basement apartment with window wells? Of course! Artificial light can be a wonderful thing. Fluorescent lights are available in a wide variety of sizes and prices to fit any table top or budget. There are small, compact units designed to fit on your kitchen counter, or there are huge, 4 or 5 shelf units that take up the space of a bookcase. You can buy everyday, office-type fluorescents, or you can invest in a set of broad-spectrum Gro-Lites, which are minimally more expensive. When placing your lights remember to keep them as close above the plants as possible. Plants tend to stretch toward the light, and leggy, spindly plants are unhealthy plants. Keep the lights so they are just brushing the tops of the plants. Rotate them or move the light if you have to so that all parts of the plant get adequate light.

Water  Container plants do dry out faster than plants in the ground, especially those on sunny balconies. Keep a careful eye on your pots, and water if they are dry to the touch, or of course if the plant starts to look wilted. It's better to water deeply every few days rather than a little bit every day; soaking the plant encourages deep, healthy root growth. I like to put my portable plants in the kitchen sink and really soak them; then I let them sit for a few hours till I know they won't drip on the rug. If you tend to be absent minded, there are all sorts of lovely gadgets available to help you keep your plants watered; from mats the plants sit on to taps you can push into the soil from above. Keep in mind that some plants do like to be dty, though; rosemary, for example, will get root rot if you water it too much.

Feeding  Be prepared to feed your indoor plants regularly, as it is difficult to replenish the soil with rotting kitchen scraps when the pot is sitting on your dining table! There are many different types of plant food available, from potting soil with the fertilizer built right in to tablets you bury in the pot to liquids you add to the water. I've had good luck with a kelp solution from "The Cook's Garden;" it's nice and high in nitrogen, which is what leafy plants like. Also be sure they are getting enough phosphorus, which will help keep their roots healthy. Plan to repot your plants about every year or so; move them into a bigger pot with fresh soil, or divide them into several smaller plants and give some away to your friends.

Size  You definitely want to take size into account when planning your indoor garden. Clary sage is a wonderful herb, but it is not a particulary good companion when you are living in a studio apartment! Most herbs are available in smaller or "dwarf" varieties; check the label for size and habitat before purchasing seeds or seedlings. "Bushy" or "compact" and comfortable sizes, but I would stay away from "ground-cover" or "invasive" as they tend to take over the window sill. You can use ground-covers in hanging baskets though, just take care to trim them regularly.

Pests  Herbs tend not to be bothered too much by pests; those same essential oils that make them attractive to us render them undelicious snacks for most bugs. You may occasionally find a few pests like white fly or mealy worm; rinse the occasional one off with a stream of water and treat more serious infestations with pyrethrin spray or a mixture of crushed garlic and tabasco, strained into a spray bottle. (Pyrethrin is a natural extract of chrysanthemum; however it is still toxic, so take care around children and pets!) Usually, however, herbs tend to repel pests from your other houseplants.

Harvesting  One of the main reasons I like to grow herbs indoors is to have a year-round supply of fresh herbs. Keep the flowers picked off so the plant doesn't go to seed, and simply snip the leaves off as you need them.



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