Grow Herbs Now for Use Over Winter
September is a good time of year to grow your own herbs and create an indoor herb garden for use over winter. Herbs are easy to grow and if you’ve never tried before, have a go now!
Herbs will thrive on a south facing windowsill, conservatory, well lit porch or heated greenhouse and they will provide a continuous crop of fresh, tasty leaves throughout late autumn and winter. I grow mine on the kitchen windowsill and not only do they look very attractive but they smell wonderful together! The other big bonus about home grown herbs is that they can be grown organically.
Packets of herb seeds usually contain from 750 to 1000 seeds per pack so are very good value compared to buying ready grown plants and the seeds should keep for a few years. If you don’t fancy sowing your own herbs then look for quality plants in garden centres, farm shops or online.
I sowed some sweet Genovese basil seeds this spring and the plants are now 28”/72cm tall and are covered in beautiful large leaves. The basil is much too big for my windowsill now so it sits on the kitchen worktop next to the window. The photo below shows the difference in size between my home grown basil leaves (right) and some from a supermarket basil plant (left) – the difference is amazing!
A number of herbs will survive happily outside over winter including, rosemary, bay, sage and chervil and although they won’t grow new leaves over the winter, their leaves can be harvested for use in the kitchen. It’s important to find a sheltered position and make sure that the pots don’t become waterlogged.
I sow herbs inside during March and again in September, just to make sure I have plenty for the winter. Each autumn I sow basil, coriander, flat leaf parsley, curled parsley and dill. I will bring some pots of thyme, mint, oregano and chives inside soon.
How to Divide Herbs for Indoor Use
If you already have herbs outside, either in pots or in the open ground, some can be divided and brought inside now. Chives, mint and parsley respond well to being potted up and will start producing new leaves within a couple of weeks.
To divide chives, take them out of the pot or dig up a clump, then carefully cut the plant into sections with a knife. Pot up each section and cut back the leaves to about 2”/5cm. Stand the pot on a saucer or plate, water, and within a few weeks they will produce fresh chives.
Mint and parsley will grow perfectly well using the same method – plant a section of the parent plant in a pot, snip off any straggly stems and damaged leaves , bring inside and it will produce new leaves within a short space of time. Alternatively, if you have the space, plant an indoor herb garden in one large pot, trough or lined basket and add a selection of your favourite herbs.
How to Sow Herbs for Indoor Use
Home grown herbs are very easy to grow and all you’ll need are some 5”/12cm pots and a small bag of peat free compost, ideally organic.
Most herb seeds germinate rapidly, except for parsley, which can take 2-3 weeks. To speed up the process, soak parsley seeds in warm water prior to sowing.
Almost fill a pot with compost (leaving a gap between the surface of the compost and the pot’s rim of about 1”/2.5cm). Place some seeds thinly and evenly over the surface of the compost, then add another thin layer of compost to just cover the seeds. Stand the pot on a saucer or plate and moisten the compost with water, label and place in a sunny position. I make my own plant labels out of used plastic lids from ice cream tubs which can be cut into long narrow strips with scissors. Use an indelible pen such as a cd marker to write the name of the herb on the label.
Moisten the compost when it starts to dry out, and within a few days the seeds should germinate. When the plants are very small, I use a recycled detergent bottle with a fine spray nozzle to water them (washed out very thoroughly beforehand to remove any traces of detergent). The bottle produces a fine mist so it won’t drown the seedlings.
Turn the pots around every few days to help the plants grow evenly and water sparingly as soon as the compost starts to dry out. It is important not to give the plants too much water – overwatering is often the reason why herbs fail inside!
Some herbs will grow very vigorously inside and to help them produce fresh leaves over the winter, they will benefit from a feed every couple of weeks. I use an organic seaweed liquid feed which always gives outstanding results.
When the seedlings have grown into larger plants the leaves can be harvested by selecting a few leaves from each plant. To encourage bushy growth and to prevent flowering, pinch off the tips from each stem when the plants have reached their optimum height.
I shall be using lots of home grown herbs in soups, stews, sauces and salads this autumn and winter. Herbs give so much added flavour to very basic and inexpensive ingredients and they are healthy too. I don’t know how I’d cook without herbs – in fact most of the recipes in my cookbooks include herbs!
I’m really enjoying this warm sunny weather this September and it’s wonderful for those of us who like get outside and garden. Long may it continue!