Posted by Janet Harriett on Feb.02, 2010
Whether the groundhog predicts six more weeks of winter or an early start to spring, this is the time of year when I grow weary of the cold and snow and yearn for the green shoots of the coming spring. A windowsill herb garden is a fun project that even younger kids can get involved with, and scratches that itch to finally see something growing again.
Some gardeners insist on gloves when working with their plants. I like to go bare-handed and really get in touch with the seeds and the soil. There is some evidence that soil microbes can even help elevate your mood, though the beneficial microbes might not be present in the commercial potting mix used in most container gardens.
You Will Need
- Herb seeds
- Lemon Balm
- Potting mix
- If your compost heap isn’t a frozen lump, you can use straight screened compost for this project. Otherwise, use a good-quality organic potting mix, not potting soil, available at garden centers. Ordinary dirt from the yard dries out too readily and doesn’t drain well when used in small containers.
- Small containers
- If you don’t have proper plant pots that fit on a windowsill, individual yogurt cups with holes poked in the bottom work well, and you can decorate the outsides with markers, stickers or - my favorite - colored duct tape.
- A large tub or box to contain the mess
- A clean spray bottle
Start by moistening the potting mix. If you are using a commercial potting mix, you can dump several cups of water straight in the bag and gently knead the outside of the bag to work the moisture through. If you’re using homemade compost or potting media, mix the media with water in a tub or bucket. The media should be damp, but not muddy or soggy.
Line the containers up in your tub and heap potting mix into each one. Tamp the mix down gently with your fingers, but don’t pack it in. The potting media should be within a quarter inch of the top of the containers.
Place 3-4 seeds in each container. With larger seeds like cilantro, you can try to space the seeds more or less evenly around the middle of the pot, but with some smaller seeds like thyme, just sprinkle a small pinch in and call it good.
Be sure to stick a marker in each container so you know which herb is in which pot. Every year, I think I’ll remember just that one unmarked pot, and every year, I have to wait to taste what grows from that one unmarked pot after I forget!
Sprinkle a little more damp potting mix over the seeds. Seed packets each have instructions for planting depth. As a rule, the bigger the seed, the deeper the top layer of soil needs to be, but even the largest herb seeds don’t need to be more than a quarter of an inch deep. Tamp the top layer of potting mix to ensure good seed-soil contact.
Mist the tops of the containers with water and set the containers in a south-facing window, as close to the glass as you can get. I line mine up on top of the lower window sash on my south-facing kitchen window. Many gardeners use grow lights and heat mats to start seedlings, but the light and radiant heat from a window provides an adequate environment for starting herb seeds.
Keep the containers well-watered but not soggy. Herbs will usually sprout in couple of weeks to a month. The first set of leaves is called the cotyledon, or seed leaves, which provide the first jolt of photosynthesis energy to get the young plant growing. After the seed leaves, the plant should sprout a set of true leaves that look more like proper plant leaves. If more than one seedling sprouts from the 3-4 seeds in a pot, wait until the seedlings have 2-3 sets of these true leaves, then pinch or cut the other seedlings off at the soil surface so the remaining plant has plenty of room.
Wait to start harvesting until your plant is at least 6 inches tall. Until then, you can rub the leaves with your fingers to get a jolt of the herbal aromas and enjoy the greenery. Started now in a windowsill herb garden, herbs should be ready to transplant out in the garden, at a decent size, about the time that the killing frosts end. If they start outgrowing the windowsill herb garden early, you can transplant them into a larger pot and make a container herb garden.
One word of warning: if you start mint plants with the intention of transplanting them outdoors, be prepared for them to spread. Herbs in the mint family, which includes lemon balm and catnip in addition to the many varieties of mint, are notoriously aggressive spreaders, giving you plenty of leaves for mint teas, but occasionally crowding out other plants.
Article By: Janet Harriett
Profile: Janet Harriett, Green Diva Mom's fomer editor, has been a writer and editor for print and online media, specializing in education and environmental issues since 1999. She lives on 2 acres in central Ohio with her husband, a 275-square-foot backyard garden and a home orchard growing 25 varieties of fruit. Janet holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.
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