Are you sick of buying a huge bunch of mint for one recipe only to watch it wilt and die in your refrigerator before you can use it all? If so, you’re not the only one. Roughly 50% of all the produce grown in the US ends up being thrown away. Those herbs in the fridge are only a small part of the problem, but it all adds up. The good news is there’s a simple and fun solution!
Growing your own food is the first step to reducing the amount of food that ends up in the trash, and it’s as simple as planting a seed. By starting an herb garden, you can harvest only what you need, when you need it. Becoming a home gardener can also save you money - the 60 million tons of produce tossed in the trash every year is worth an estimated $160 billion.
Growing your own food is also better for your health. Homegrown food is fresher than store-bought veggies that are transported and stored for up to a week before you bring them home. And because nutrients degrade over time once the plant is harvested, growing food at home is far more nutritious than anything bought at the supermarket. Plus, fewer trips to the grocery store means a lower carbon footprint. Oh, and did we mention gardening is fun?
So while you may be busy - strapped for time, money, and gardening know-how - growing your own food can be a great way to start wasting less, saving more, and eating better. These tips will help you feel confident planting a seed or two on your windowsill so you can quit shopping and start chopping!
BEST HERBS FOR BEGINNERS
Images from Botanical Interests
The easiest and most cost-effective plants to grow are herbs, which is why they are perfect for the novice gardener. Sage, basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, and oregano are some of the hardiest herbs and the most versatile for cooking. Plus, you don’t need a lot of space to become an expert herb gardener.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
- Organic seeds: Try Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Ferry Morse, and Botanical Interests, but there are many others. Just look for the organic label. For a windowsill herb garden, you will only need one packet of seeds per season. If stored in a cool, dry, dark place, the seeds you don’t use this year can be saved and planted the following year.
- Pots or containers: Small enough to fit where your house gets the most light.
- Organic potting soil: This can be bought at your local garden store with your seeds and other supplies.
TRANSLATING A SEED PACKET
Once you choose your organic seeds, you might be immediately confused by what’s written on the back of the packet. Every herb has slightly different requirements, but this translation of a mint seed packet can help get you started!
PLANTING A SEED
Now that you have your seeds and gardening supplies and you know how to read the seed packet, it’s time to start planting!
STEP 1 Make sure your container has a hole in the bottom and a tray to catch the drained water. You can even put gardening rocks in the bottom of the container to improve the drainage and avoid over-watering.
STEP 2 Fill each pot with soil. You may want to set your bag of soil out in the sun to warm up before planting because most herbs need warm soil to germinate.
STEP 3 Poke small, shallow holes with your finger in the top of the soil, according to the planting depth on your seed packet. Plant according to the packet’s guidelines. Generally, poke one hole in the middle of a 6-inch pot, two evenly spaced holes in a pot 6-10 inches in diameter, and three or more evenly spaced holes in a 12-inch pot or larger. Place one to two seeds in each hole and lightly cover them with soil. Do not pack the soil down because seeds need air to grow!
STEP 4 Very gently water the newly planted seeds until the water runs out the bottom, making sure not to expose the seeds in the process. If you do, don’t worry, you can simply poke them back under the wet soil and cover them again.
And now you wait.
As your herbs grow, water them when the top inch of the soil is dry or when the plants start to wilt. Wilting or dropping leaves is a sign of thirsty plants, especially if the plants perk up once watered. Mildewy soil and yellowed leaves, on the other hand, signal that your herbs have been over-watered. If you start with good potting soil, you will not need to fertilize your plants throughout the growing season. The main problem to look out for in your windowsill herb garden is mildew. Taking the pots outside or opening a window every now and then will make sure air circulates around the plants so moisture doesn’t get trapped and rot your precious herbs.
PRO TIP: Mint takes over any space it’s planted in, so always give it its own pot.
HARVESTING YOUR HERBS
Finally, it’s harvest time! You’ll know when you are ready to harvest when the plants look like the picture on the front of the seed packet.
Always cut entire stems of the herb instead of individual leaves to encourage continual growth. And always trim from the top of the plant and its branches instead of the big leaves at the bottom. These larger leaves act as a sturdy base from which your plant will replenish new stems and soak up some much-needed sun.
Either by pinching with your fingernails or making a clean cut with scissors, harvest your herbs by cutting right above the second highest set of leaves where the stem meets the leaves. The tiny leaves that are just starting to appear will turn into branches that you will harvest from next time. Follow this procedure throughout the summer, continually pinching off the top inch or two of a stem where it meets the leaf junction. This will encourage continual growth throughout the summer.
Be careful not to cut too much at once or the plant will become stressed and immediately start to flower. This natural defense mechanism halts plant growth and turns the plant bitter. A good rule of thumb is to cut no more than one-third of the plant at a time, leaving your plant time to replenish what you cut.
Whether you live in the city or have hundreds of acres at your fingertips, anyone can become a savvy herb gardener. By starting with a few of your favorites, your new herb garden will reduce your food waste and brighten up your kitchen and your cooking all at once. From breakfast potatoes with rosemary to a fresh basil pesto pasta for dinner, there are endless ways to use your herbs. What began as a few tiny seeds have now become your inner chef’s best kept secret. Now get growing!