There is only one thing better than fresh herbs:
Conveniently stored and easily accessible fresh herbs!
Sometimes a long day out in the sun, accompanied by bothersome insects and that neighbor’s irritating dog (who just won’t shut up!) isn’t what you want. You want herbal delicacies without the sunburn or the bug bites.
Lucky for you, there happens to be a place that shields you from both sunburn and bug bites:
The inside of your home!
So, let’s get into it!
In this article, you’ll learn how to:
- Pick out herbs to grow
- Learn different methods of indoor herb growing
- Find all the gear you need to get growing, right away!
Which Herbs are Best to Grow Indoors?
Perennials such as catnip, chicory, mint, and oregano are generally the easiest to cultivate because of their quick germination time and long lifespan.
Perennials live for several years; they bloom, then die, then re-sprout thanks to their long-lasting rootstock. Not only is this REALLY convenient but in the long run, it actually saves you money on seeds and specialized germination equipment.
This makes perennials the perfect ‘practice-plant’ before diving into more complicated cultivations, like oranges or lemons (yes, you can grow lemon indoors!).
Some of my favorite perennials to grow indoors includes:
1.) Chives: Probably the most adaptable perennial. They are really easy to grow and work well in salads, soups, and stews.
2.) Garden Cress: A medicinal herb said to boost the immune system. These beautiful plants grow really well in loose soil and wide containers.
3.) Cilantro: Loaded with beneficial vitamins and nutrients and shown to reduce anxiety in clinical studies. It’s also SUPER easy to germinate and grows very quickly!
Pro Tip: Here’s a comprehensive list of herbs and their optimal germination temperatures.
Do NOT listen to the endless list of gurus who are trying to sell you expensive hydroponics rigs or overpriced LED grow-light panels! There are MANY options and approaches to indoor gardening, let’s take a look at a few:
1.) The Traditional Way
Warning: unless you’re an experienced grower, this may be a real challenge! You need enough space, good lighting, excellent temperature and humidity control, adequate air-flow and proper water drainage, along with a great temper to pull it off! Although, if done correctly, you’ll have a near over-abundance of delicious herbs to either consume or sell!
2.) Indoor Herb & Hydroponic Kits
For the last five years, companies have been mastering the art of easy to use, commercial hydroponic growing machines.
We’re getting to a point where determined beginners should just consider starting with one of these units right off the bat.
And similar to any emerging technology, the product is only getting better while the price is getting lower.
What are the Benefits?
For less than $70, you can jump into herb gardening with an entry-level machine that:
1.) Eliminates mess – Gardening is a messy hobby; kits can tidy up the process by keeping soil conveniently entrenched inside a sealed interior that will cultivate herbs for you.
2.) Provides soil or Doesn’t Use Soil – Most indoor herb kits are hydroponic, meaning they use nutrient solution instead of soil. The few kits that are not hydroponic, come with soil; you only need to purchase the seeds.
3.) Gives Options – Most gardening kits allow you to grow a wide array of different vegetables, spices, and herbs such as tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, basil, chives, cilantro and many more!
Entry-level models – like the Click and Grow Smart Garden 3 pictured below – are very reliable and fairly inexpensive kits to get started with.
If you’re wanting a powerful unit with more growing space, more customizable features and live water reminders, you’re probably looking for something like the 9 pod Aerogarden Bounty Herb Seed Pod Kit, pictured below.
Premium kits can cost over $700, depending on certain features and specifications; the AeroGarden Farm is a notable example.
Gardening kits are also becoming faster, you can expect a full yield in roughly 30 days.
Ahh, this brings back memories! Jars are the perfect way to introduce children to the world of gardening; they also serve as a straightforward, inexpensive way to grow basic starter herbs like Parsley, Basil and Mint.
1.) Start by adding an inch of sand to the bottom part of any available jar.
2.) Add an inch or two of stones on top of the sand.
3.) Add roughly 2 inches of soil on top of the stones.
4.) Add a few seeds.
5.) Add a little more soil on top.
6.) Water daily.
Here’s a quick video detailing these exact steps:
So this is where we get into the nitty-gritty of indoor herb gardening – the full, no joke, indoor garden.
Like I’ve mentioned above, this is no small task. Indoor home gardening is all about replicating the outdoor environment without having to impede on your day to day life. Don’t get lost in the details, let’s carve out a clear check-list for what exactly you need to focus on to get your indoor herb garden up and operating!
Step 1: Identify
It is very easy to get lost in seed catalogs for weeks, romanticizing each herb you come across and daydreaming about your soon to be indoor herb jungle! This is not productive.
Enthusiasm is great, but too much of it can lead to being overwhelmed – I’ve seen it a thousand times!
Ask yourself, why are you wanting an indoor herb garden? Are you wanting to show off to your friends and houseguests?
If so, that’s perfectly fine! It means you should probably select for herbs that look more alluring or ones that match the color scheme of your living quarters. You should also consider decorative hanging shelves for maximum beauty!
Are you wanting fresh delicacies for dinner each night?
That’s awesome too! Pick out your favorite two or three herbs, order them quickly, then immediately throw away the seed catalog! Being realistic your first time around is a true test of discipline.
Your herb growing process should go more like this:
PICK > PLANT > GROW > REAP THE REWARDS > REPEAT
Instead of this:
SPEND TWO WEEKS LOOKING THROUGH CATALOGS > PUT IT ASIDE FOR A FEW MONTHS BECAUSE LIFE GOT IN THE WAY > COME BACK TO IT > SPEND TWO WEEKS LOOKING THROUGH CATALOGS AGAIN > REPEAT
Remember, perennials are generally the easiest to start with and make a delightful first herb – DON’T GET TOO CRAZY WITH YOUR CHOICES!
Pro Tip: If you’re really committed to pre-planning your indoor herb garden, actively record which herbs you already use the most. This may seem like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised by how many people select exotic herbs for their first grow and later find little use for them.
Step 2: Find the Perfect Space
This is deceptively tricky and depends on a few separate factors. Most people default to their kitchen, it makes sense. You’re most likely growing herbs for your entrees, so why not have them as close to the chopping board as possible? This doesn’t always work.
Consider three factors for optimal spacing:
1.) Which herbs or edibles are you growing?
2.) Do you have windows in your kitchen? Which way are they facing?
3.) What season is it?
If it’s summer and you’re wanting to grow a batch of chili-peppers, then, by all means, place that sucker right in front of your south-facing kitchen window and watch it thrive!
But in the same conditions, most herbs like Oregano or Basil will over-heat and eventually die.
More often than not, your home has the perfect spot for whatever you’re wanting to grow, you just have to find it and adjust. I’ve utilized the corner-space in my living room with a very basic and practical wire shelf that looks great and matches the surrounding area.
Step 3: Lighting
You should always strive for natural lighting, but sometimes you just can’t – this is where artificial grow-lights come in.
There are three major types of grow lights:
1.) Fluorescent lights
2.) LED lights
3.) HID lights
Fluorescent Grow Lights
These are really great for beginners. They’re inexpensive, easy to install and powerful.
There are two main types of fluorescent grow lights:
1.) CFL Grow Lights:
The most inexpensive and popular on the market. They use very little electricity and are perfect for small or tight spaces.
2.) T5 Grow Lights:
T5’s are usually much bigger than CFL grow lights and use a bit more electricity. They also require a fixture and should be placed right above your herbs.
If you decide that fluorescent lights are right for you, then I’d recommend the basic 13 watt CFL bulb setup. Like all facets of gardening, it’s always better to start with inexpensive and practical gear then scale up.
LED Grow Lights
LEDs are really easy to set up, generally inexpensive, much cooler than most CFL lights (they radiate less heat), have built-in fans, and are pretty darn powerful!
Products like the Deckey 225 – pictured above – come with a variation of Red and blue LED lights which have been shown to boost plant growth while consuming less power than fluorescent lights.
Keep in mind:
Compared to T5 lights, LED’s should be kept much farther away from your herbs.
LED bulbs positioned too close have been shown to cause light-damage and heat stress.
For smaller herb gardens (or closet-gardens), consider starting with a basic, hanging, 50W LED light.
HID Grow Lights
High-intensity discharge (HID) lights are the gold standard for heavy-duty indoor gardening. They are roughly twice as powerful as fluorescent lights and are generally more efficient than LEDs.
There are two different types of HID bulbs used for indoor herb gardening:
High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights: HPS lights are perhaps the best ‘flowering grow lights’ one can purchase. They emit a very orange light which closely mimics the color of light a plant would absorb in autumn, allowing for the best flowering production possible.
HPS lights also provide, by far the most light-intensity of any bulb and the best yields per watt of power. This comes with some obvious downsides, like excessive heat production which requires external cooling.
Metal Halide (MH) lights: MH bulbs emit a very white-ish light or what is often called a full spectrum light.
MH bulbs are better for producing large yields during the vegetative stage, making it more suitable for plants like spinach or cabbage.
Step 4: Airflow
Bad airflow can result in slow germination, molding seeds and bug infestation. Remember, we’re trying to emulate an outdoor environment inside of our own homes – proper airflow is crucial for this dynamic to work.
- If you happen to have windows on opposite sides of your growing room, this is perfect for replicating a natural crosswind.
- Utilizing fans correctly can be a life-saver. For exact control, consider horticulture inline-duct fans, which are made specifically for indoor growing.
- Having fans below and above your herbs is also a great way to create an artificial breeze.
Check out this article on the optimal exhaust fan set-up.
Step 5: Water Drainage
Always, always, always purchase containers that optimize for drainage!
That means selecting for pots and containers with drainage holes:
Grow bags are also an inexpensive and extremely effective alternative that allows for drainage and optimal airflow!
That’s basically everything you need to know before getting started with your own indoor garden. It’s always better to do a little research, then dive in head-first. Whichever path you end up taking, don’t turn research into procrastination!
As usual, if you have any questions, feel free to @herbexaminer on Twitter.
Thanks for reading!