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Growing Green: Indoor gardening - tips for herbs

The things I miss most in mid-winter are fresh herbs and veggies from my garden. Although I still have canned and frozen produce, there's nothing quite like fresh culinary herbs added to your recipes direct from the plant.

Herbs are an easy indoor plant to start from seed and can be a wonderful family project on these cold winter days.

Start with a sterile pot: clean yogurt cartons, clay pots, egg cartons, or any vessel that suits your fancy. If your container doesn't have adequate drainage, punch a few small holes in the bottom.

Add a good basic potting mix. Use your favorite brand or make your own (

Purchase fresh seeds or use cuttings from existing plants. Have a balanced fertilizer on hand, such as fish emulsion, compost, or your favorite brand. Make sure you follow directions for application on herbs.

No special lights are required. Herbs thrive in a bright window that is free from drafts. Bathroom and kitchen windows are ideal, as they have the added benefit of the higher humidity common to those rooms.

Not all herbs are suited for indoor gardens. The following are just a few that are ideal for indoor gardening.

Genovese compact basil (Ocimum basilicum): This compact Italian basil is ideal for container gardens and makes great pesto. Sow thinly and cover with approximately a quarter-inch of compost or fine soil. Germination should occur within 5-7 days.

German winter thyme (Thymus vulgaris): This works very well in containers. Sprinkle the seeds over the soil surface, and then barely cover them with more soil. Gently water until germination. Plants will germinate in 14-21 days.

Greek oregano (Oreganum vulgare): Gently press the tiny seeds into the soil and keep evenly moist. Oregano and thyme can be prone to damping off disease if the soil is kept too moist. Germination should occur within 14 days. However, this small-seeded herb can take a few weeks to germinate, so be patient.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): Either flat or curly leaved parsley will start easily from seed indoors. For best results, choose a small variety, such as Titan. Soak seeds overnight in warm water to soften the seed coat. Sow seed on moist soil and cover lightly with vermiculite or light potting mix. Seeds will germinate in about two weeks.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): Fine leaf chive is a shorter variety with soft, fine leaves for fresh use. Sprinkle the seeds over the soil's surface, press in lightly, and water gently. Keep the soil moist, and within a few days, the grass-like seedlings will appear.

Harvest your herbs as you are preparing your meal. Clip the amount you need with sharp, clean scissors. Fertilize your herbs every two weeks with half strength fertilizer to keep them producing.

When the weather warms, transplant your herbs in the garden for more vigorous growth. Oregano and chives are hardy perennials, which will survive in your garden for years to come. At the end of next season, dig a clump to grow indoors next winter.

For more information about growing herbs, visit www.extension.

Until next time, happy gardening!