FALL FOR FLAVOR
'Tis the season to plant a windowsill herb garden
By Vicky Katz Whitaker
Copley News Service
You don't need a greenhouse to bring a little spring and summer into your home on those rainy autumn days or frosty winter mornings. Your windowsill will do just fine.
If the thought of freshly snipped chives or parsley in your breakfast omelet makes your mouth water, it may be all the incentive you need to start a windowsill garden. Common herbs do particularly well under such circumstances, but they're not the only edible greenery that will flourish on a windowsill. Sugar cane, lemongrass, fennel, dill, caraway, garlic, even mustard will also grow under the proper conditions.
And if it's greenery you want, greenery you'll get when you plant a radish (crinkly green leaves), a sweet potato (vine with heart shaped purple-veined leaves) or pomegranate seeds (which produce dainty leaves and a woody trunk) says Deborah Peterson, author of "Don't Throw It, Grow It!" In her book, first published in 1977 and now newly revised, Peterson shares the techniques she uses to grow pits, roots, shoots tubers, and seeds from unprocessed fruits and vegetables - kitchen scraps that you might otherwise toss in the garbage.
Peterson believes anyone can have a successful windowsill garden if they understand the fundamentals of plant growth, including proper lighting, moisture and a growing medium such as water, soil or expanding peat pellets that swell into pots and are useful for growing plants with tender tap roots. "The secret to successful gardening is mimicking the natural growing conditions of your plant's native habitat."
It's rare for there to be too much indoor light, Peterson says, but plants do differ in their lighting needs.
"Assess your home's sun exposures," she recommends, which could extend from the early morning cool light on the east, day-long sun to the south that can be too hot, late afternoon sun on the west and low intensity light from the north.
"Each of these exposures is just right for one or more kinds of plants," she says. You may need to install commercial artificial lights that mimic the ultraviolet light from the sun or build your own if your home or apartment is in the shadow of tall buildings.
Avoid over-watering, she says. "The trick is to keep the soil moist but not too wet," Peterson explains in pointing out that if you want to have a successful windowsill garden, you need to keep checking the soil moisture.
Choosing what will grow in a windowsill garden "can be maddening," Peterson says, because federal law now requires all imported fruits and vegetables to be irradiated, changing the plant's DNA and killing the seeds. That wasn't the case when Peterson and her late co-author Millicent Selsam wrote the original guide. "You have to shop carefully," she says. "Read the labels."
"Herbs are the first choice for many indoor gardeners," notes Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulturist Diane Relf in an online guide to indoor container gardening (www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/envirohort/426-336/426-336.html). Less demanding than growing vegetables indoors, "cooks find it pleasant to be able to snip off a few springs of fresh parsley or chop some chives from the windowsill herb garden," she says.
If you want to focus on herbs, in addition to parsley and chives, Relf also recommends cilantro and thyme among the herbs that will grow well indoors "if given the right conditions."
More how-to advice on windowsill herb gardens is available online at http://herbgardens.about.com where veteran gardener Marie Iannotti takes you step-by-step through the planting process. She suggests that before you trim away for that next omelet, give your new windowsill plants "time to acclimate." Herbs can be snipped, she says, once you see new growth.
? Copley News Service
Visit Copley News Service at www.copleynews.com.