Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Growing Your Own Herbs Indoors

Ronnie and I both have outdoor herb gardens, so we can run outside and pick what we need, at least in the summertime. But, what if you live in an apartment and have no yard? What if you live in a cold-winter place like me, where all the herbs go dormant in the winter? You can still grow a few herbs inside. Herbs don't require a lot of sun so a window with a few hours of sunshine will do just fine. Don't have a sunny window? No problem. You can grow herbs under lights. As you can see in the photo above, I have a small florescent fixture. Florescent lights are nice for a number of reasons:
  • They don't generate a lot of heat so you can put the plants really close to the lights, assuring that the plants get enough.
  • You can get special grow-lite bulbs which provide light like sunlight. These are expensive but they work very well. If you have a 2-bulb fixture, a cheaper alternative is to get a warm white bulb and a cool white bulb and use both in your fixture. That's what I do. The combination of the two bulbs provides the same quality of light as the grow-lite bulbs.
  • The bulbs last much, much longer than incandescent bulbs.
You can set your light fixture on a timer so that it comes on in the morning and goes off at night. Since indoor lights are not as strong as sunlight, you need to run your lights a bit longer. Mine run for 16 hours every day.

Most herbs don't need a lot of water, so if you forget to water them sometimes, they will probably do just fine. They don't need fertilizer either. When they grow too tall for your lights, give them a trim and freeze what you pick. Check out our article on preserving fresh herbs.

Not all herbs grow well in pots indoors. We recommend you try thyme (English or lemon), spearmint, oregano, chives, basil, or rosemary. Many markets now sell little pots (like the ones in the photo above) which are very cost-effective. No messing with potting mix, no waiting for your herbs to grow big enough to harvest. My little pots were big enough to use in a recipe right away and they are already growing back, ready for another small harvest.

Here's a basic chicken and vegetable stew that will use up some of your little harvest. You can use skinless, boneless thighs or bone-in, skin-on thighs, whichever you prefer.

Skillet Chicken and Vegetables
(serves 4, cost $7.15)

4 chicken thighs, about 1 ½ to 2 pounds
salt & pepper
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, cut into ⅛ 's
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3" lengths then cut in half lengthwise
1 ½ Tablespoons flour
1 ¼ cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
6 sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
1 cup frozen peas

Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to skillet and saute until golden brown. Remove chicken to a plate. Sprinkle with paprika and set aside while you cook the vegetables. Add the onions and carrots to the skillet and saute for 5 minutes. Sprinkle onions and carrots with flour. Stir around for 1 minute. Add chicken stock, vinegar, and thyme sprigs. Stir to combine well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and return chicken to the pan along with any juices that collected on the plate. Cover and cook for 30-45 minutes (less time if using boneless thighs, more time if using bone-in thighs). Remove the cover and add the peas. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Taste the sauce for salt and add more if needed. Serve over rice or egg noodles.

Hint: Don't have a cover for your large skillet? Use a cookie sheet as a cover.

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