I never considered myself to have much of a green thumb, but last year I started a little herb garden in my NYC windowsill and it turned my thinking around. I was able to keep a basil and parsley plant living for a full year, and it was surprisingly easier than I expected. To top it off, the literal “fruits of my labor” were completely worth it. Having fresh herbs for everyday cooking is a game changer.
This season it’s not too late to grow your own window herb garden. Regardless of whether you live in NYC and have limited space/light - it’s possible!
To get you started there are a few posts coming your way:
1. How to select your herbs and get them potted (read on)
2. How to take care of the herbs and “harvest” them so you can source enough to use for cooking on the regular
3. How to make some good recipes with your new herbs
You can certainly start from complete scratch and work with seeds and dirt to see what pops up, but I prefer the instant gratification of starting with herbs that have already sprouted. It’s easy enough to pick out some herbs and keep them in the pots in which they came (I did that last year). But this spring I tried to take it an extra step by re-planting a few selected herbs in a larger planter.
I started at the Union Square Green Market to pick out some of my go-to herbs: Parsley, Basil, Cilantro, Thyme.
[see here that most small herbs costs around $3-$5 for small pack]
When making your selection just keep in mind:
- Pick herbs that you will use often. Generally, if you’re sticking to small containers, herbs that don’t grow too tall or wide are good choices - like chives, basil, lavender, parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme. Read more about the 5 Best herbs for a cook’s “container garden.”
- A small pack might not get you too far. Think about how much Parsley comes in a bunch when you buy it in store. If this little pack will only give you 6 parsley leaves, it’s not worth it.
- If it’s already in a small pot, not just a flimsy black container used for mass storage, it’s good to go without having to do much work. The small black containers won’t hold up and will leak like crazy when you try to water them for the first time.
- When making the final purchase, HAGGLE. My total came to $25. I only had a $20 bill but all I had to do was ask (with a smile) if that would cover it. It sure did.
What you need to start growing:
1. Herbs - your choosing - read above
2. A plant container/pot - the size will vary based on how many plants you have, but it’s best to get a pot that’s twice as deep and wide as the herb you purchase so the roots can continue to grow. Make sure the container has some type of holes in the bottom so the water can drain. I bought a vintage looking trough and had to drill my own holes (as seen below). It looked pretty before, but without holes, the water will sit in the bottom of the pot and start to grow mold that eventually kills off your plants.
3. A plate or shallow tray for under the pot - this will help catch all the draining water so you’re not making a mess!
4. Soil - go for your standard potting soil. Shop owners are helpful resources to guide you depending on your herbs, size of the container, etc. I found a nice little shop on 1st Ave and 9th St which sold soil by the cup-full. Each cup was under $1 so I loaded up with what looked like enough. The same store also sold the plant containers.
How-to get planting:
If your planter doesn’t have some kind of drainage, fashion your own, like so:
1. Fill your container with some base soil.
2. Place the plants, still in their pots, in the larger container so you can see how deep the soil should be. You’ll want your plants to be sitting comfortably at the top of the container so they have enough exposure to light but not too high up that the soil will overflow - particularly when it’s time to water.
3. Once you’re ready, slip the plants out of their original containers. If they don’t slide out right away, you can gently squeeze around the outside of the container to loosen some of the surrounding dirt.
4. The bottom part of the plant (i.e. the dirt) should still maintain the form of the container, but you can VERY gently pull the packed roots apart with your fingers to help stimulate some future growth (out of that confined little shape). It is important not to get too aggressive with this or you’ll just break the roots entirely and kill the growth all together.
5. Replace the newly shelled plant back into the larger container and fill the remaining space with soil.
6. Water! The first time, you’ll need a significant amount of water - although this will vary depending on the size of your plants. The trick is to let the water settle (the container shouldn’t look flooded out) and the soil should feel damp to the touch afterwards (not sopping wet or too dry and crumbly). I typically water in smaller increments. If my plants look thirsty later (a little wilted and maybe even browning lightly in some spots) they perk up pretty quickly after adding more water. But if you overwater in the first shot, it puts the plant at risk for rotting out when the soil is too damp for too long.
For more helpful info, check out this link for some extra tips on container gardening.
But now that you have these babies planted, stay tuned for more posts on how to actually keep them alive and growing!