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Herb Gardening for the Winter Chef

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Fresh herbs can be a surprise addition to any meal. Store bought herbs can be expensive, often the price of the plant at the nursery. What’s the solution?  Grow your own!

Herbs can be grown indoors as well as outdoors, even in the winter. I grow sage, oregano, parsley and thyme all year round in my yard. Many winters, I have plucked them while covered in snow to use in a soup, pasta or stew. An easier solution to going out in the cold is to grow your own indoors during the cold winter months. In the winter, planted herbs can add lovely greenery to your kitchen. All you need is sunlight, a well-ventilated area and some basic gardening knowledge to get you started.

Gardening skills consist of potting the plants in soil that will provide the proper nutrients and drain well. This is accomplished by placing one inch of gravel in the bottom of the container, then topping with two parts sterilized potting soil and adding one part coarse sand or perlite. Then add 1 teaspoon of lime per 5-inch pot according to West Virginia University Extension Service. If your container is larger, increase accordingly.

Creativity can make the herb garden become a decorative addition to your kitchen. Try using a tray or platter and placing some small decorative rocks, stones or tumbled glass as a base for the pots. Make sure all the plants have the same care needs by reading the care instructions on each plant, or by doing some research on your own.

Find old teacups or use terra cotta pots and paint them with blackboard paint from the hardware store. Write the name of the herb on the pot (or keep the instruction stickers that came with the plant).

The big decision? What to plant… Think about what you like to cook, what you buy most often at the store, what is in your favorite dish in restaurants. Create an Italian kitchen garden with basil, parsley, oregano, marjoram and sage. Try a French garden with tarragon, thyme, chives, lavender, sage and mint. Throw in some garlic, as well. Be adventurous with an Asian garden and grow cilantro, lemon grass and ginger. Technically ginger is rhizome, not an herb, but it makes a wonderful houseplant. Just don’t put it outdoors in the winter and be careful with dry climates. It may be best indoors year round according to the Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service.

Thyme, mint, lavender and chives provide flowers for flower arrangements and can be used in baking or cooking. Make sure you pick the buds before they open and the color is still vivid. This provides the best flavor and fragrance. Remember to keep it simple so you don’t overwhelm yourself or your kitchen.


Dede Moreno is a former University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.