A windowsill herb garden is a wonderful autumn project to bring a little colour and life into your home. As the leaves outside begin to fall and we head towards the bare branches of winter, having something alive and thriving to tend and care for brings light and life to an otherwise dreary season.
If you’ve been growing herbs in the garden during the spring and summer, you’ll need to bring them inside to ensure they survive the winter. If you don’t yet grow your own herbs, then why not start now? They’re a wonderful way to get quick gardening results and of course you can put them to use in a variety of ways – from adding flavour to the Sunday roast to making home-made bath salts – throughout your home.
Follow these simple steps and you’ll soon have a thriving windowsill herb garden to brighten your days and flavour your dishes.
Step One: Gather your herb garden equipment
There are a few items you will need to create your windowsill herb garden:
- Herb seeds or plants (see step two for choosing your herbs)
- Potting compost
- Containers (see step three for choosing containers)
- If you struggle to distinguish between herbs on sight, or you’re planting from seeds, you will also need labels to make sure you know what’s what.
Step Two: Choose your herbs
Most herbs will grow happily inside but the best choices for a windowsill herb garden are:
You can buy your herbs as established plants, plug plants, or seeds.
Established plants mean less of a wait, and ensure you have herbs to harvest immediately.
Plug plants take the guess work out of growing as you have an established plant, ready to thrive. Seeds don’t always germinate, and waiting for them to mature can take quite a while. Plug plants are a happy medium between seeds and established plants – they’re large enough that have something substantial growing, but small enough that you can buy a reasonable number for a low price.
Seeds are better value for money, as you get a lot of seeds in a packet for the same price as a plant! You don’t have to plant them all at once – seal up the pack and keep it somewhere dark, and your seeds will last a long time.
Perennial herbs such as oregano, mint, sage, and thyme, will take a while to germinate and grow, whilst annual herbs such as basil, parsley, dill, and coriander are quick and easy. You might want to mix and match, buying perennials as plants and growing annuals from seed.
If you have limited space consider dwarf varieties, such as Rosemary Capri, and Thymus Serpyllum ‘Rainbow Falls’, both of which will trail beautifully over the sides of their containers.
Step Three: Select your containers
There are a variety of containers available for indoor herbs from pretty single pots to decorative sets of three or more matching containers. Ensure you have a separate container for each herb so you can care for each according to their specific needs. For example, chives require very little light and are prolific in their production of new shoots. On the other hand, lavender requires extremely well-draining soil and can never be too wet, while some forms of sage are extremely slow-growing.
If you want to plant different varieties in one pot, make sure they all require the same conditions and care. Team herbs that require the same conditions (e.g. rosemary and lavender) and have similar growth rates so one doesn’t smother the other.
Make sure your containers have drainage holes. They will also need a base – a saucer or cover pot – to stop run off water going all over your windowsill.
A popular option is a trough-style pot that fits well on your windowsill. These look very nice, but if you’re going for this option ensure you get something that is divided, so there are individual sections for each herb. The downside to these is that you can usually only fit three herbs in a container.
Step Four: Plant your herbs
Fill your container with potting compost. Use a seed-starting mixture, potting soil, or a half-and-half combination of the two. Don’t use garden soil, as it is far too heavy and may have organisms living in it that are harmful to your new seeds. Sow your seeds according to the instructions given on the packet – the depth you need to plant at will vary.
Don’t forget to label your pots.
The plants you purchase will come in very small pots – too small to support growth. Pot them in to your new containers using extra potting compost.
Step Five: Care for your herbs individually
Learn the care requirements of each of your new herbs by checking the seed packet, label, or going online and Googling it. This is very important, as different herbs require different conditions, as well as care. For example, rosemary likes cool temperatures, while basil prefers warmer conditions.
You will need to place your containers on a bright, south-facing windowsill. Natural light is sufficient for most herbs throughout the winter, although serious growers can always invest in a fluorescent light to guarantee optimum growing conditions.
Keep your herbs watered so they are always moist, but never soggy. Drain your saucers or cover pots after watering to ensure your herbs are not standing in excess water.
Feed your herbs once a fortnight with a fertilizer, such as Baby Bio Herb Food – be sure to follow the instructions regarding the strength of solution used.
Stand your herbs far enough from the window that they don’t touch the glass – this will damage the leaves if the glass is cold, frosty, or wet from condensation.
Step Six: Harvest and enjoy!
Harvest your herbs from the outside in, taking the largest, longest growth first. Leave small stems and undeveloped leaves in place to grow larger before harvesting. You will need to keep most herbs well-trimmed. Mint, in particular, runs riot if left unchecked.
Once grown, your herbs can be used fresh, dried, or frozen. You can rinse your herbs before drying, but if you’ve been growing them indoors this isn’t really necessary, and can remove the natural oils from the leaves.
Varieties with a low moisture content (i.e. oregano, rosemary, thyme, lavender and sage), can be easily dried by tying each variety in bundles, and handing them upside down from a rack, rafter, or piece of string. Be sure to keep them out of sunlight as much as possible.
Herbs with a high moisture content, such as tarragon, mint, and basil, are best dried as individual leaves, on a single layer, in the oven, microwave. Set to the lowest temperature, and turn them occasionally. It will take a few hours in the oven, or a few minutes in the microwave). You can also use a food dehydrator.
Store your dried herbs in containers with tightly fitting lids.
Basil Pesto Recipe
Now that you have your herbs, it’s time to get cooking! Basil Pesto is a delicious and versatile kitchen cupboard essential, great with pasta, meat, and fish, or to jazz up sandwiches!
- Large Bunch of Fresh Basil Leaves
- 60g Pine Nuts
- 60g Parmesan, Finely Grated
- 3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Juice of Half a Lemon
- 2 Cloves of Garlic, Pealed
- Sea Salt
- Cracked Black Pepper
Crush your garlic in a garlic crusher. In a pestle and mortar, pound your crushed garlic, basil leaves, and pine nuts with a good pinch of salt, until they form a paste.
Mix in the olive oil and lemon juice, then stir in the Parmesan.
Keep grinding until it’s smooth – you may have to add a little water to get the desired consistency. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, or prefer an easier method, simply add all your ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Your pesto will keep in the fridge for up to a week in the fridge, or up to a month in the freezer, in a sealed jar. If you vacuum seal it in a bag, it will keep in the freezer for up to three months.