Herb garden insider 

When those brightly colored gardening catalogs start arriving in the mail, I yearn to dig in the dirt, not the snow. To (somewhat) stave off the impulse seed purchases that come as a result, I begin to garden — indoors.

Yes, in Michigan, in February, I can pluck fresh mint leaves from my indoor herb garden. What could be more satisfying at this time of year?

Herbs are by far the easiest plants to cultivate indoors. They are forgiving if you overwater or underwater now and then, and you don’t even have to grow them in a regular pot. Any container at least 8 inches deep works — you can even use oversized coffee mugs, with pebbles beneath the soil to allow for water drainage.

To start your own indoor herb garden, pick out a few containers and fill them with a mix of one-third soil, one-third sand and one-third peat moss.

Sprinkle your herb seeds on top of the soil mixture, then cover them with another light dusting of the mixture. Gently and thoroughly water. Use a watering can than has a head with many small holes (ones with larger holes can cause the water to pour out too quickly, and thus beat down delicate seedlings and plants).

The most important factor for success with your indoor herb garden is location. The sun does not shine as brightly as it does in the summer months, and so herbs may not survive by a northern or eastern window. Try to place them near a south window, and make sure they are getting four hours of direct light a day. If not, a simple fluorescent light placed above your plants can do the trick. Also make sure your plants are not in a drafty area, or near a heat vent.

That’s the easy part. The difficult part is choosing which plants to grow.

To make it easy, the National Gardening Association has compiled a list of 10 culinary herbs that perform well in indoor gardens: Grolau chives (Allium schoenoprasu), fernleaf dill (Anethum graveolens), English mint (Mentha spicata), spicy globe basil (Ocimum basilicum minimum), Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum), broadleaf thyme (Plectranthus amboinicus or Coleus amboinicus), Vietnamese coriander (Polygonum odoratum), blue boy rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), dwarf garden sage (Salvia officinalis compacta), and creeping savory (Satureja repandra or S. spicigera).

If you’d like to try some medicinal herbs in your indoor garden, The Modern Herbal Primer by Nancy Burke (Time Life Books, $12.95, 160 pp.), provides 100 recommendations, and is part of The Old Farmers Almanac Home Library Series (The Old Farmers Almanac has been writing about useful herbs since 1793, when New England gardens were equipped with herbs regularly used for cleaning, dyeing, medicine, pesticides, food and perfumes). The book serves as a handy quick reference to the history of each herb, along with its current medicinal uses, how to prepare it for consumption, and its possible side effects and dangers.

Not only will a winter indoor herb garden help satisfy any gardening impulses, but come spring, you’ll have a nice head start on your outdoor garden, with herbs ready to be transferred outdoors while your vegetables are just getting started. And in the meantime, you’ll have a variety of flavorings to spice up your cooking, too.

TREATS

The Moose Preserve (43034 N. Woodward, Bloomfield Hills, 248-858-7688) is holding its annual Polar Beach Bash this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There’s no cover, so stop by for a pretend island getaway, complete with a tiki bar and Caribbean food. … Support the Variety Produce Rescue Program this Thursday and Friday evening at the Soup Kitchen feast, a benefit dinner at Morels (30100 Telegraph, Bingham Farms). The program provides fresh produce to soup kitchens in the metro area. The benefit, for $39.95 per person, provides four courses of gourmet soups prepared by Unique Restaurant Corporation chef Jim Barnett. Call 248-642-1094, ext. 3, for reservations.

Got a food tip? Write Eaters Digest c/o the MT, or e-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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