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The Birth of Our Windowsill Herb Garden

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Calling all indoor gardeners, science enthusiastists, and herb-ivores! Follow along as we create our very own windowsill herb garden in the center the New York City. And please, offer the tips and tricks we need to keep these plants strong and healthy. 

Do you want to cook from Ottolenghi's books but hesistate because you're intimidated by the piles of herbs his recipes call for? Do you find yourself skipping fresh garnishes because you don't want to buy a whole bunch of basil only to see it languish in the fridge? Are you still relying on store-bought pesto?

Those are all good enough reasons to start your own windowsill herb garden -- and there are plenty of others. With sunlight, water, and lots of TLC, your miniature garden will one day help you to reduce food waste and save money at the grocery store, spark culinary inspiration, and brighten your space.

At Food52, we find ourselves constantly in need of herbs, whether for recipe testing or making team salads. And since we just moved into a new space with plenty of room for plant friends, we decided it was the perfect chance to get our garden growing. To get started, we chose ten herbs that we thought would a) survive the conditions of our office -- namely: limited sunlight, dry heat, and curious co-workers -- and b) be useful in our kitchen. Our final list included: parsley, thyme, chives, lavender, dill, sage, marjoram, rosemary, basil, and oregano. 

   Above: These small porcelain pots, available on the shop, are the ideal home for starting out your small plants.

We decided to start with small plants rather than seeds primarily because our office environment is not conducive to germinating seeds (which can require heat mats, artificial lights, and a humid atmosphere). 

It was harder than we expected to find herb plants other than grocery store basil at this time of year (especially since New York has turned into a frozen tundra), so we mail-ordered our plants from the warmer weather of Alabama. When they arrived, we transfered each one out of its plastic container, dumping out its original soil and agitating the roots to get it excited to move into its new home.

Then, we filled ten small pots (we made sure they had holes in the bottom for drainage) with a thin layer of gravel. Proper drainage pathways and a bit of dry gravel will decrease the chances that the roots do not rot from excess moisture. 


On top of the gravel, we placed a thin layer of new potting soil. Then we tucked in each plant and padded it with additional nutrient-rich soil. We transported our herbs to the sunniest location in the office and spent a fair amount of time ooh-ing and ahh-ing over their collective cuteness (this affirmation is very, very good for seedlings). We marveled at the glimpse of springtime paired next to the snow on the neighboring rooftops. 

Next, we watered the plants, which were thirsty from their long trip north, by lightly spraying their leaves and gently pouring water into their pots just until the soil was saturated.

Now, we wait and watch. Soon, if we are good herb parents and our plants grow tall and strong, we will have to transfer the seedlings to bigger pots and -- this is the fun part -- collect their leaves for our consumption. 

We already know that basil likes humid conditions, that rosemary prefers dry soil, and that oregano needs a lot of sunlight, but what else should we know? And what are we doing wrong?

Help us in the comments below! The fate of our herbs depends on you (and the diligence of our watering schedule). 

Tags: Gardening, Herb, The Shop