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Growing Your Own Herbs Is The Secret To Saving Cash And Keeping Food Full Of Flavor

Aly Walansky  |  October 11, 2021

Ever considered growing your own herbs? Here’s how to set up a little space for yourself, to keep your food full of flavor + save money.

During the pandemic, many people fled the cities for the country, looked for homes with bigger backyards, and avoided trips to the grocery store whenever possible. All these factors were the perfect recipe for thousands of Americans discovering they had a green thumb. Those whose entire botanical experience had previously been a trip to a farmer’s market were now posting photos of their homegrown zucchinis and wildflowers. #winning 

While we were on lockdown, people were looking to find life and positivity wherever they could, and whether that came in the form of a sourdough starter or homegrown tomatoes, many of us decided to feed the soul by paving a route through the stomach. But just how popular was gardening in 2020-2021? The Burpee Seed Company reported they sold more seeds than any year in their 144-year history, and Stokes Seed, a purveyor of gardening products, said they sold four times their normal amount of goods. 

Of course, becoming a pandemic gardener is only possible if you have the space — if you don’t have a yard, a patio, or a garden, you weren’t exactly breaking out the Miracle Gro these last few months. 

Speaking as an apartment-dweller myself, my only gardening option was one single windowsill. But I was also acutely feeling the need to create some life and positivity, and I was also looking to save money. Herbs are not only expensive to buy in the store, they’re also incredibly perishable. On a general weekly grocery trip, I found myself spending as much as $5 for a batch of basil. Cilantro or rosemary would run me around $3, and would wither or brown within days. 

While on lockdown, I tried to spread out my grocery deliveries as much as possible, and fresh herbs no longer seemed to make sense from a budget standpoint, or from a perishable standpoint. Growing my own, though, was an option I was ready and eager to explore. I decided to turn my little window ledge into a makeshift herb garden. Here’s a look at how you can turn any space into a successful (and adorable!) herb garden. (I promise, if I can do it, you can, too!) 

Appraising Your Space

An essential first step in building a window garden is taking a moment to study the available “real estate” and just how many plants your space can handle. In my case, it was nothing more than a ledge in a window, under an air conditioning vent. There were no other options, because I had no other windows. I had to make that work. Find the space that works best for your needs. Those of us who live in small, cramped spaces are well accustomed to finding ways to build on that space, and stretch the room we do have. The same can be said for your window garden, which can be stretched with an option like wooden window sill extenders. “They are durable enough to support the weight of the plants and will give you x2 space for the garden,” says Emilly Barbosa Fernandes, a small space gardener and a consultant at HouseGrail

Another option for stretching or repurposing that window space would be a DIY hanging window shelf for your plants. “These methods will help you to turn 13.3 square feet of ‘real estate’ into 25 square feet and have two times more plants,” said Barbosa. But tread carefully when doing this remodel, or you may end up causing issues for your herb garden before you even start. “Your goal is to extend your window garden, not block all the sunlight that goes to your windows,” said Barbosa.

But with or without that extending, your window garden will be a perfect place to grow those herbs. “You will always have fresh herbs, and enough for a delicious dish can cost you 5 cents instead of $5. Basil, rosemary, thyme, and mint are among my favorite herbs. They are easy to grow, they have outstanding taste and they are expensive,” said Barbosa. 

And it’s okay to start small — at first, you can forget about expanding or extending. You don’t have to go all-out. Instead: “Pick four or five herbs, get a small growing area, and go from there,” said Jen Stark, founder of Happy DIY Home. As you get more money and know which herbs you want to grow, you can always add more in.

Consider Kits

If you’re starting from scratch without a single pot, plant, or seed, it may be hard to decide on exactly what to buy and plant first. An herb garden kit would be an option that could streamline  your whole process. It’s possible to buy complete herb garden growing kits from your local gardening center, or online. “These kits come with lights, a container for your herbs, growing medium, and even seeds. All you have to do is set it up, plant the seeds, switch on the lights, and allow it to go,” said Stark. The lights may even cycle on and off to mimic sunlight. Just make sure you’re really committed to your little garden before you add to cart — some of the herb garden kits with lights can be upwards of $100. But if you’re just looking for seeds, dirt, and pots, you can expect to spend around $30. 

Saving Money — And Building Creativity

While there’s no doubt that an herb garden can add new life to your space, it’s also a really sound decision both for your budget and for staying healthy and keeping meals creative and full of flavor. Building a herb garden will instantly be reflected in lower grocery bills, and less waste. You’ll also have herbs readily available at all times when cooking, which means you’re more likely to use those herbs in your dishes. “Many common herbs are well-suited to indoor potting, and with a little maintenance you can provide your household with a constant supply of freshly grown herbs for very little cost,” said Michael Dean, Co-Founder at Pool Research, a veteran landscaper and garden expert.

The Plants To Look For 

Creating a window herb garden can be done by either buying plant seeds for next to nothing, or spending a few dollars each on potted plants. “If you do buy potted herb plants, avoid the ones at the supermarket, as they’re more likely to be under stress due to the fluorescent lighting, and conditions in general,” said Dean.

Buying potted plants is a great option if you want to jump into things mid or late season, or if you’re not confident about growing from seed. However: “Growing herbs from seed is really easy even for beginners, and your plants are more likely to last longer if you’ve grown them from seed compared to the store bought plants, because you’ll naturally be more attuned to their needs,” said Dean.

While growing herbs from seeds is a great idea, it might be even easier to start from seedlings or plants that are already grown. For example: “Green onions are a complete plant that can grow-as is!” said  Dr. Samantha Radford, an exposure scientist and owner of Evidence-based Mommy. “I bought a bundle of green onions for less than $2.00 a few years ago, used the green stems (the white end is often too strong for my liking anyways), and then planted what was left. Anytime I need green onions, I just snip some off my plant,” said Radford. 

The next time you’re at the supermarket, take a look for “root herbs” like basil and cilantro that are grown hydroponically and still have roots attached. “I buy a few and then have herbs all summer long,” says Radford.

Build Your Garden

Our best piece of advice? Choose the sunniest windowsill in the house. “Herbs need at least six hours of sunlight each day. Otherwise, they won’t provide you with the desired flavor,” said  Ronnie Collins, founder of the Electro Garden Tools blog.

Next, get growing containers with good drainage. “Most herbs need well-drained soil and regular but moderate watering. And don’t forget to put the containers into saucers to keep the windowsill clean,” said Collins. When you’re ready to plant the herbs, start by putting in enough soil and making small holes for seeds with a finger. Leave at least 2 inches of space between each seed and gently cover the holes with potting mix, he says. And add plenty of water, just make sure it doesn’t stand in saucers. 

Lastly, don’t feel bad about enjoying your herbs often. It’s a good idea to make regular harvests, and “trim down fresh yields as soon as they are ready for consumption,” says Collins.

Now, all that is left is planning your menu with your newly bountiful herb options. Pesto, anyone?

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