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Grow your own kitchen herb garden

DIY herb garden. Photo by Kate Meresin

When you’re living on a budget, your diet can get pretty bland. A repetitive schedule of rice, cereal, and toast with peanut butter gets boring quickly, and a boring meal significantly increases your chances of giving into  those 3 a.m. pizza cravings (which aren’t great for your wallet, either).

An easy way to spice up your meals is by keeping a stash of fresh herbs and spices on hand. Herbs are not only healthy, but also an effective way of making other budget-friendly foods (like brown rice, inexpensive cuts of meat and the slightly sad looking produce that’s marked down to 50 per cent off) more appetizing.

Dried herbs are fine and all, but they can be pricey, and nothing beats fresh herbs for flavour and quality. Luckily, with minimal effort and a limited upfront investment, you can set up your own indoor herb garden, which will provide you with fresh herbs year round.

To get started, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Herb plants
  • Pots or containers
  • Soil or potting mix
  • A sunny windowsill

You’ll ideally want a window that gets at least five hours of sun per day. South or southeast facing is your best bet, and north won’t work at all. You can experiment with other directions in between, but be aware that you may have varying levels of success.

Next you’ll want to figure out what sort of containers you’re going to use. You’ll need containers that are at least six to 12 inches deep, and you’ll want at least six inches of space for each individual herb. You’ll also want to make sure your container has adequate drainage at the bottom. The easiest way to find a container that meets these requirements is to buy one from a nursery or garden centre that’s specifically designed for growing herbs. The basic plastic ones are very inexpensive.

While you’re at the nursery/garden centre, you’ll want to pick up some soil/potting mix and your herb seedlings. If you’re new to gardening, I strongly recommend starting with seedlings (plants which have already started to grow) rather than seeds, since they’re harder to mess up.

Some good herb choices for indoor growing include:

  • chives
  • basil
  • parsley
  • mint
  • rosemary
  • thyme

The slightly more adventurous may want to try sage or oregano as well.

To plant your seedlings, put two to three inches of soil/potting mix in the bottom of your container, remove your seedling (and the bit of soil surrounding it) carefully from its container and gently position your seedling in the soil. Add enough soil/potting mix on top to cover the roots and base of the plant—there should be at least an inch of space left at the top of your container. If you’re using one large container, you can put multiple varieties of herbs in one container, as long as you allow six inches of space per plant.

Once your herbs are planted, place your container in your sunny window. Herbs should only be watered sparingly—the number one killer of herbs is over-watering, not under-watering.

Your herbs may take a little while to start growing, but be patient, and they’ll come along soon. Once they start to grow, you’re free to start using them in recipes; just make sure you never take more than 1/3 of the plant at once. With the right amount of sunshine and water, your herb garden will keep producing fresh herbs indefinitely. Enjoy!

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