Saturday, December 7, 2013

Windowsill Herbs

A listener to the radio show asked about growing herbs at the windowsill during the winter months. Not many of the popular herbs grow well during the short days and cold weather of December and January, but three that do reasonably well are parsley, chives, and chervil.

Chervil is the most shade tolerant of the three. The seeds can be started any time of year and need a week or more to germinate. Plant several in a small pot and keep well watered. When the first true leaves appear, use a pair of scissors to clip off all but one plant at the soil line. Feed lightly every couple of weeks and transplant to a larger container as needed. When the plant is 6 inches or more in diameter, you can harvest a few leaves, and continue to do so for the remainder of the season. In March, you can transplant the chervil outdoors, where it will continue to provide fresh leaves, and, eventually, a huge supply of seeds for next year and to share with friends. Chervil is milder than parsley and has a hint of tarragon flavor, so it goes well with many foods, especially fish, chicken and many vegetables.

Parsley grown indoors never gets as large as plants in the garden, but nevertheless it does adapt to the warm, dry air and low light indoors. If you have a sunny window, you can either dig up a plant from the garden, pot it up and bring it in, or start new plants from seed. Follow the directions given above for chervil plants. To speed germination, soak parsley seeds in water for four days, changing the water every day. You will see the seeds change from almost black to light brown, as the water removes germination inhibitors. Plant the seeds on the fourth day, and they should sprout in a week or less. Parsley needs nitrogen to keep it green and flavorful, so don't be stingy with the fertilizer.Well-established garden parsley usually overwinters in east Tennessee, and can be picked any time it is not frozen. It will bolt quickly, however, with the arrival of spring.

Chives are among the easiest of onions to grow. Just sprinkle seeds in a pot about 8 inches in diameter and wait for them to get as large as you like before harvesting. Clip the leaves with scissors and allow them to re-grow. You can transplant chives into the garden in spring, where they will remain for years without much attention other than weeding. Chive blooms are beautiful in bouquets and tasty, too.

Other herbs to try indoors in winter are mints and rosemary. The latter is available now as a topiary shaped like a little Christmas tree. It is a delicious seasoning for poultry and pork. Mints may be started from seed, but it is easier to root cuttings from the grocery store. Select healthy looking cuttings, remove the bottom two pairs of leaves (use them in cooking) and re-cut the stems with a sharp knife. Set the cuttings in a glass of water and change the water every few days. Soon, the cuttings will root and you can pot them up. Do not fertilize mint, but do keep it moist.

Having a few fresh herbs around is a wonderful way to perk up winter meals.

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