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Growing herbs at home

  • j

I want to start growing herbs at home, for the first time. It'd have to be indoors. My Brooklyn apartment has a fire escape but there are plenty of squirrels and mice -- maybe even rats -- that might like to share.

Can anyone recommend:

(1) A good source of seeds, mail-order or local.

(2) Where I can buy dramatic-looking pots, preferably rectangular, to hang inside my windows.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has what looks like a good assortment of seeds, but ugly pots and trays. And I assume I'd be paying museum-gift-shop prices there. A friend with a worm bin at her home has already offered me some compost.

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  1. Mail order sources:

    Park's - have been using them for years:

    Ditto with seeds of change:

    Good luck with your herb garden

    2 Replies
    1. re: AimeeP

      for herbs, I think I'd go up to the GAP farmers market - the plant guy has herbs mostly 3/$10 - you can get rosemary, thyme, oreganos, lemon grass, bay tree, basil starts, etc. You wont have herbs this summer if you try to grow some of these from seed. There is also a seller there in the middle on the park side of the market who sells cut basil and other greens - at this time of year he usually is selling basil starts as well. Next weeks BBG plant sale is a great source of herbs too -check it out. If manhattan is more convenient, there are a number of sellers in Union Square Greenmarket too.

      For seed, basil is really your best bet (tho I have some nice italian parsley coming along) You can get good fresh seed from many of the online purveyers, Territorial, Cooks, Renee's Garden Seeds etc etc.but I have gotten really good results this year in LARGE quantities from two seed sources - 1st I am getting great germination with a couple types of Franchi Sementi (italian) basil seeds I bought at an Agway in NJ - and their packs contain a huge number of seeds compared to US sellers. Second, as an experiment Ive planted some of the "tulsi" - Indian basil - seeds that you can buy in very large packs in Indian and chinese stores. this is the stuff they soak and use to make those drinks with weird gelatinous seeds in them. Anyway, basil isnt really used in herb form in Indian cuisine, so Im waiting to see what these taste like but they look a lot more like thai basil than italian.

      But seriously, I wouldnt write off your fire escape - most herbs like sun and heat, I doubt if they will do nearly as well indoors. Why not give both methods a try?

      1. re: jen kalb

        Here is a link to a site where you can buy the franchi sementi italian seeds online.

        Just looking at the pix makes my mouth water and yearn for the markets in Italy.

        All of the seeds Ive tried from this source have a great germination rate - and as I said, the packs are monster in comparison with US packs. NOt that you need that much for a window or fire escape....

        Link: http://growitalian.com/

      1. I would really try to figure out how to grow those on the fire escape. Occasionally I hear of people trying to grow herbs inside, but no one I know has actually done it successfully. The amount of sun they need, and the size of the pot, usually precludes people from doing this well. I read a garden column in an newspaper a few years ago that wondered who it is that is spreading the myth of being able to grow herbs indoors. Maybe Californians with large, south facing bay windows?

        2 Replies
        1. re: christy

          After I put in a glass shelf over my sink for my propsed indoor herb garden I keep reading that it is next to impossibleto grow herbs without good sun. Why did I not realize this before I put the shelf in??!!! Not such good planning, right!? My kitchen window faces the back of my apartment building and gets little sun.....are there ANY herbs that require very limited light or should I just give up and stick my vinegars up there???

          1. re: christy

            I have and am currently growing herbs indoors with success here in PA. I even have a basil plant that I started in an apartment 2 years ago. Good sun is key, in my current place I have a big bay window and in the cold months use warming mats under certain herbs. You are right some of the older larger plants (like the basil) are in large pots that I move onto the side porch in the spring and summer.

            With more and more fresh herbs readily available in stores is it worth the hassle? Probably not for most people - but it's more of a hobby for me and for some reason I like the idea of picking the herbs I need as I'm cooking. Now if I can just figure out how not to kill the Bonsai's every time I move - but that isn't about food...

          2. Reading this I am thinking about herbs on my fire escape--I doubt rats get all the way up there but squirrels (and birds) definitely do. Anyone know if that is something I should be concerned about?

            1. Thank you all for these tips! I'm ready to dive in, and I WILL try both the fire escape (where I take most of my spring/summer dinners the nights I'm home) and inside. There can't be more nature nibblers at a third-floor level than there are in a real garden.

              I had a friend whose herbs did very well in hanging pots in her nearly lightless West Village kitchen, but I have good sun in my windows anyway. Like I said, I'll try both indoor and outdoor pots. Some seeds, some plantings. All to be eaten, mostly by me.

              1. I have a hard time imagining most herbs will attract rodents of that sort. I have squirrels in abundance (and shrews and field mice, too) and they have never even scampered in my herb garden. Insects tend not to care much for most herbs outdoors.

                The good news about growing herbs in containers is that many favorite herbs actually don't mind much the soil situation you get with container growing: sunny, hot, drying, exposed. Because many herbs are, basically, rehabilitated weeds. Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, for example.

                And then there are the moisture-loving herbs that should be grown in containers, even if set in an herb garden bed, else they get invasive: mints (and relatives) come readily to mind.

                I highly recommend growing chervil out of too much midday or afternoon sun, though; it gets burnt over fast that way.

                And you can never have too much fresh parsley.

                If you have south or west-facing window that gets sun in the winter, consider also getting some bay laurel. It's WONDERFUL to have fresh bay for all those winter soups and stews. Bay takes well to container growing, and mine held up very nicely in a west-facing window that only got a couple hours of sun a day in late December. Does not like to be watered too much during the late fall through winter....

                1. My basil does very well indoors and this year I've got tomatoes started for planting later. They're getting lots and lots of great light in my office where there's a south-facing window.

                  I am having trouble growing cilantro though. I've never tried before and it's not going well. It's sort of...top heavy? I don't know...it's developed long, thin stems w/no leaves coming up from the dirt - these are about 3/4" long. Then there's a little spurt of 4 or 5 stems with leaves coming off of that. They can't stand up. They don't seem to like to be watered. I think they might be getting too much sun.

                  Any help would be appreciated.

                  1. Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a kicker plant show a couple of times per year; you can get herb plants there. Even if you don't get the plants there, their little book on how to grow herbs is well worth the modest cost. Farmers' markets are excellent sources for plants - the Union Square one in Manhattan is the largest. Plants rather then seeds. are definitely the way to go for those of us with limited space and patience, I think.

                    I live in Manhattan and grow herbs in a more-or-less sunny "west"-facing window (which is, of course, actually northwest, due to Manhattan geography). Since I have limited space, I try to go for the best cost::benefit ratio, so no parsley or basil or lemon grass, since those are easy to buy and fairly cheap. I've had excellent luck with: marjoram (hard to find in the stores but I use it a lot), epazote (ditto), chives (easy to buy but it's handy to have a snippet or two on hand), (spear)mint - easy to buy but expensive in the quantities I use and it's ridiculously easy to grow: it will take over your windowbox if you let it, which you should if you want a lot of mint). For chives, incidentally, note the way they're sold: there are several plants put together into one container. You should water throughly, unpot these, pull them apart, and pot them up separately.

                    WATCH OUT FOR BUGS especially on the annuals. Also, keep the annuals trimmed back all the time; this way they'll last for a very long time, much longer than a year.

                    I've had very bad luck with laurel; all the plants I've tried shrivel up and die after a couple of years, I *think* due to some fungus but I'm not sure, and I've tried everything I can think of to no avail. Anybody have any suggestions?