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Don’t let winter signal an end to growing and cooking with fresh herbs

With some care and planning, it’s possible to grow herbs indoors during the off-season. When choosing plants, consider your cooking needs and the area where you intend to keep them, said Union County Farm Bureau member Lynda Pealer, who with her husband, George, owns Millcreek Gardens in Ostrander. The nursery specializes in growing herb plants that it distributes to independent garden centers, landscape contractors, farm markets and municipalities within a 250-mile radius of Columbus.

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Union County Farm Bureau member George Pealer with his indoor herbs growing in the greenhouse at Millcreek Gardens in Ostrander, which he owns with his wife, Lynda. They recommend growers of indoor herbs be motivated by what they want to use in their cooking.

“You need good light, but you have to be motivated by what you want to cook with,” Pealer said. “Start small and do a little experimenting.”

Growing indoors can be a challenge but it’s definitely worth doing, added Brooke Sackenheim, manager of the Ohio Herb Education Center in Gahanna, which bills itself as the herb capital of Ohio. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” she said. “Fresh herbs give food a spark that you won’t tend to find with dry herbs.”

Suggested herbs

She and Pealer suggest planting parsley, chives, oregano, bay, rosemary and mint. Place the plants in a window with a southern exposure as herbs need a minimum of four hours of sunlight, Sackenheim said. Herbs like sun but will not do well if they are located near a heating vent, which will dry them out, she said. The plants will be OK if they are exposed to some cold air coming in through the window.

Growers also need to pay attention to their watering habits, said Laura Richards, the head grower of herbs, edibles and specialty crops at Millcreek. She advises making sure the soil is dry for an inch or two deep before watering.

“People tend to overwater herbs in the house,” Richards said. “They have a very long water cycle.”

Richards, who cooks regularly with fresh herbs, recommends cutting a bouquet and keeping it in the kitchen. The cuttings smell nice and serve as a reminder to use the herbs.

herbs

“Harvesting them keeps them healthy,” she said. “The name of the game with herbs is you need to eat them. That’s why you are growing them in the first place. You need to thoroughly enjoy them.”

Tips for cooking with herbs:

  • Rosemary: Place the full stems in turkey or with meat while you cook it.
  • Mint: Chop up and put on fresh fruit.
  • Chives: Mix with cream cheese or butter to make a spread for sandwiches or vegetables. Add to eggs and omelets.
  • Parsley: Chop up and sprinkle over red potatoes, add butter and bake.
  • Bay leaf: Add to soup or stews.
  • Oregano: Chop up and add to sauces and soups. Make a side dish with roasted red peppers and feta.
  • Thyme: Mix with cream cheese or butter to make a spread. Also works well with meat.

The Dos and Don’ts of Indoor Herb Growing

  • Do consider setting the herb containers on a tray filled with stones that you keep moistened. This improves the humidity around the plants.
  • Do check the plants regularly for bugs and mildew.
  • Do use them for cooking.
  • Do group plants that have similar watering requirements.
  • Don’t over water.
  • Don’t store next to an indoor heating vent.
  • Don’t harvest more than a third of the plant at one time.
  • Don’t be frustrated if you have difficulty growing the plants the first year.

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