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Nov 20, 2010 12:33 AM

?? resources for growing herbs at home??

Do any of you grow your herbs indoors? I live in an apartment, and I'm sadly looking at my 3 pots of basil, on the balcony outside. [1] It faces north, so I get only about 2 hours of light per day, and [2] it's pretty cool weather for basil. The leaves are tiny and without much green color to them.

I'd love to grow my own, indoors. Maybe even add some rosemary while I'm at it.

Are there any good resources? Good stores (on-line or regular) to go to? My own Google searches got me thousands of resources for people growing their own pot at home. But I'm not sure if basil (et al) need the same stuff or not.

Thanks in advance for any info, tips, etc..

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  1. Growing herbs indoors can be done, but it can also be a bit of a challenge. Gro lites are an expense that you really can't do without if you're going to grow herbs indoors. There are various methods for maintaining humidity, as it is typically too dry inside our modern heated and air conditioned homes for most plants. If you've never had a garden and haven't spent a fair amount of time raising house plants you might want to start with something a bit less challenging than herbs. I'd suggest hitting the library and getting some good resources on indoor growing, start with some of the hardier house plants, and take it from there.

    Basil is a good first herb to try, perhaps the best. Rosemary, however, is very challenging to grow indoors. It requires a lot of light, good drainage, good air circulation. It is very light sensitive and will drop it's leaves and die at the drop of a hat. It can be grown indoors, but not easily. Cilantro is another that is easy to grow, but hardly worth it when it's easily available year-round at most any grocery.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ZenSojourner

      Thanks Zen,
      Actually cilantro is a great suggestions. It is available at the markets (I live in LA), but it's actually relatively expensive. And there are so many times when I make a dish on the spur of the moment and wish I had some cilantro to toss in. But I leave it out since I don't have any fresh at home, and I won't go to the market for one ingredient when I am doing impromptu cooking.

      What makes a gro-light so expensive? I am assuming that it's the bulb, right . . . the actual lamp should be the same as any other lamp. Or am I wrong? The only feature I can think of that a light source for growing might need is some sort of timer (I gather than basil should get 6-10 hours per day.) But I assume that I could buy an external timer that could turn on/off a light.

      1. re: santamonica811

        It's actually the bulbs that are a bit expensive. For starting seedlings to be planted outdoors, you can get away with cheaper "warm" fluorescents, but to grow herbs you need a full spectrum bulb. And you need a LOT of them to simulate enough light. See how pale and spindly your basil plants are growing on a north facing balcony - it takes a lot of light to replace full sunlight. And basil is among the more forgiving of herbs. There's a formula for how many square feet of fluorescents you need depending on what you're trying to grow. You can get 2' to 4' fluorescent fixtures - the 4' fixtures are the most economical, but they might eat up the initial economy because of the space they require.

        Check the forums at gardenweb - there are at least one or two devoted to indoor growing. They can get quite technical - some of these guys are growing tomatoes indoors - but don't let the tech fiends scare you off, you don't need the most elaborate set up just to grow a few herbs.

        It CAN be done - I've done it. But it does take some investment in lighting, space, and self-education to grow herbs in usable amounts indoors.

        Remember that herbs need to be harvested when they are ready, and not when you want them. Cilantro is quick growing (hence it's pretty forgiving to grow indoors) - but when it's ready to harvest, you must harvest . It will however keep for a couple of weeks or more if you harvest it with roots intact, place it in in the fridge in a glass jar with a lid that can breathe a bit, water to cover the roots. Change the water every day. Parsley should keep equally well like this. Back before cilantro became commonly available I grew cilantro in 3 pots at different stages to maintain a steady supply. I used a lot. I don't think I ever tried to grow any herb in a pot smaller than about 10", so it does take some space.

    2. If you have a window that gets a good 8 hours of sun a day, you probably don't need a gro-light. That being said, you can get some pretty inexpensive gro-lights or you can get get some pretty pricey set-ups depending on what you are looking for.

      Home Depot carries some indoor gardening stuff and this catalogue/website has some nice ideas.

      5 Replies
      1. re: NE_Elaine

        Thanks Elaine,
        As my OP indicated, I get only 2 hours of (weak) sun per day. Hence the need for grow lights. I'll check out Home Depot and the website you linked to.

        1. re: santamonica811

          while this post sounds silly it's really only partially tongue in cheek. check out the magazines geared towards the aficionados of marijuana, I had a stoner roommate in the 80's who had a few of these magazines and there were always articles comparing gro-lites, hydroponics etc.

          1. re: hill food

            Actually I was going to make this suggestion. I had a hydroponics system years and years ago that I used to grow herbs.

            STOP THAT! I mean REAL herbs! CULINARY herbs! Not "recreational" herB singular!


            Seriously the thing worked like a dream, but it was kind of expensive. I can't remember the name of it but it was dead easy to use. Had reflectors and U-shaped fluorescent gro lites.

            1. re: ZenSojourner

              yeah "real herbs" well of COURSE you were. nobody would dare imagine anything else.

          2. re: santamonica811

            I wasn't sure if it was just the balcony that only received northern exposure or the entire apartment. I would say that you definitely will be needing some supplimental lighting then.

            There have been some posts on chowhound about those little all in one herb gardens, I just looked them up, they are called Aerogardens. Would one of those be sufficient for your needs?

        2. OK, I went and looked it up, and I think what I had lo these many years ago was this:

          And they are WAY expensive. I think I paid like $150 for mine, but that was 25 years ago. They did work though. For coriander! I never got around to trying anything else in them. They used to only have one model, now they have several. Some of them use the U tubes (which are sort of expensive to replace) and some use a "biax" bulb which is 2 straight tubes connected together to a single fixture plug.

          Here are some that were recently advertised for sale for $150, I don't know where the guy is, I think it might be Oregon:

          Here are instructions for how to set up an indoor grow station for I'm sure a LOT less than the $600 the Phototron's cost new:

          4 Replies
          1. re: ZenSojourner

            WOW - that is some really expensive coriander!!! :-)

            1. re: NE_Elaine

              Hey, I used to work in the computer industry. I had more money than God.

              Not really, but I was young and had money to spare. I loved gardening and was living in big city situations where gardening was Not Going To Happen for me.

              The plan originally was to have several of the things. They were attractive and dead easy to take care of, like I said. I was going to grow eggplant (the oriental type) and some other hard to find veggies in them. The coriander (easy to grow in pots under sufficient lighting, I'd done that for years) was the test case. $150 didn't seem like much to me at the time to be able to bring the garden to me when Mama couldn't go to the garden.

              Then I moved to Puerto Rico, the phototron (or phototron-like thingy) was left in the care of someone from whom I was never able to retrieve it. They claimed they didn't know what they did with it. I suspect it got put to the use for which it was actually originally intended . . .

          2. If you only have a north-facing window - forget about growing herbs indoors without supplemental light. Sorry, but that's the gist of it. Even folks with east/west windows have trouble with herbs. Most are true full-sun lovers, & when you figure that glass cuts backs on that regardless of exposure, well. . . .

            But you need not go into hock to provide supplemental light. There are lots of complete systems on the market that are very reasonable. Just do some websearches.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Breezychow

              Could you be more specific? Because the Aerogarden thingy is the next thing to useless and I think that tiny little thing runs something like $100 or $150.

            2. I have a homemade setup in my basement that I use for seed-starting. I've been thinking about trying it out on herbs. Basically, I bought a few shop lights at Home Depot (like this: and strung them up between two height-adjustable garment racks that I bought on sale at Target (like this: Total setup costs were ~$100 for three lights, six flourescent bulbs, and two garment racks.

              I'm lucky - rosemary grows really well for me indoors. I dig it up from the garden, put it into a self-watering pot and plce it in a second'floor, south-facing bathroom window. I give it a sprtiz every few days with plain water, and a little baking soda solution if any powdery mildew appears. I also rotate the pot every few days to keep it growing fairly straight up, but overall it is a pretty low-maintenence winter plant for me.

              1 Reply
              1. re: gimlis1mum

                Our seed starting set-up is similar to the one above except we used this shelf: and attached shop lights at each level using one high spectrum and one low spectrum florescent tube in each fixture. These are much cheaper than grow lights and provide the spectrum range the plants require. We ran all the light cords to the same side of the unit, plugged them in to a multi-outlet surge protector and that controls the power to the whole unit. When a shelf is empty that light can be turned off individually at the fixture. Total expense for everything was less than $150. Comparable units in seed catalogs run about $800. When it's not in use for seeds (like right now) it's growing lettuces and spinach, radishes, herbs, and beets (for the greens). Lack of humidity doesn't seem to be a problem (our house is dry). I use Miracle-Gro potting soil and water every 2-3 days. I grow in plastic storage tubs which have drainage holes drilled in the bottom with the lids flipped under them to act as "saucers" (from the dollar store) because a) they're cheap, b) they fit perfectly on the shelves, c) light weight, and d) they help retain moisture as opposed to terracotta and unglazed ceramic that allow evaporation through the sides.
                Actually this one from Burpee is half the size of ours for $460 for more than 1-1/2 times the price: