Indoor Herb Care – Winter Edition...

After the past few frosty weeks, fresh herbs on the windowsill are a welcome sight in the home of a gardener with an itchy green thumb. Whether you’ve transplanted them from your garden or are eyeing some at the grocery store, we have a few tips for you to keep them in the best shape while they grow indoors throughout the next several months. Type of pot and soil Make sure your pot has a drainage hole at the bottom. If your decorative pot does not have a drainage hole, pot your herb plant in a plastic pot (with a drainage hole) that is slightly smaller than the decorative pot. Place this inside the decorative pot, and keep an eye on the water level so your plant roots aren’t sitting in water. If you’ve transplanted your herbs from outdoors, use lightweight potting soil to fill out the pot. A good potting soil will contain expanded perlite in addition to organic material. Perlite allows for better drainage and air flow around roots that are confined in a pot. Light  Right now in Chicagoland the days are not only growing shorter, but the sun is also positioned lower in the sky. This means that plants have much less light available, so you can expect them to grow more slowly. Be sure to put your plants in south or west facing windows where they can get at least six hours of light per day. If this isn’t an option, you might consider inexpensive grow lights to supplement. A 60-watt incandescent plant & aquarium bulb installed in a clip lamp 10″ inches above the plants will help during the darkest days of winter. If you are using a compact fluorescent bulb, you can position it just a few...

Basil at Summer’s End...

With the cold weather in Chicagoland and parts of the midwest this weekend, it’s a good time to harvest, protect, or bring cold-sensitive plants like basil indoors. Basil’s tender leaves turn brown when exposed to low temperatures, which usually happens below 50 degrees. To harvest basil, check out The Garden Minute. Basil is best stored with the stems in a glass or vase of water (like a bouquet of flowers) at room temperature until you are ready to use it. Although some basil is sold at the grocery store in the refrigerated section, it is usually packaged in thick plastic, and sometimes the basil is treated to prevent browning that comes with cold exposure. If your basil is already in a plant pot, just bring it inside and put it in a sunny window. If it’s in your garden plot and you want to transplant it into a pot, you can dig it up – carefully – keeping the root ball intact, with as much soil on it as possible. Place this in a pot that has a drainage hole at the bottom, using more potting soil to fill it up. Water thoroughly! This will help keep the leaves from wilting, as the plant experiences a little ‘shock’ from being removed from the ground. Take a moment to do a little basil maintenance and cut off any flowers, remove dead or dying leaves, and add a little liquid fertilizer. To cover basil in your outdoor garden, protect with a floating row cover like this. Basil’s fresh flavor can be preserved in many ways, such as in oil-filled ice cube trays or pesto. Here’s our favorite pesto recipe from our book, Fearless Food Gardening in Chicagoland. To keep basil leaves bright green, you can try...

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