One of the things I miss the most about living in the country is fresh produce. Not just fresh produce like you get from a farmer's market, although that's great, but the kind of lettuce that's still warm from the sun. Okra, picked straight from the stalk in your own back yard. I often walk past this little urban plot on Q Street and turn green with envy:
I was in the aisle at Whole Foods when the rebellion swelled within me. I think I was paying 5 bucks for fresh mint. Something about paying for fresh herbs really gets my goat.
Fortunately, I knew just who to call about doing a little cultivating in my own kitchen. This is my cute-as-momma's-apple-pie second momma, Marilynn. When she's not raising three bird-huntin' boys and keeping her fox hunting horse fit, she is tending a beautiful little farmette in Goochland County with flawless charm and style.
Momma Marilynn was thrilled when I told her of my plan:
"I've tried to get the boys to do this. I took a tomato and a basil plant to H at his USC apartment one time, and Shep has the cutest little plot of land at his Patterson apartment in Richmond, but alas..."
Don't worry, boys. At least one of us is going to do this. Momma Robin has been trying to get me to grow my own herbs for years, so she was thrilled to send me back to D.C. with a window sill planter and a bag of topsoil on the floorboards of my little city car. Momma Marilynn provided a couple of pro-tips:
- Almost all herbs need full sun and well-drained soil. Never, never, never put a plant in a pot without a hole in the bottom!
- It's better to pot several herbs in one big container than put them all in different pots (stop segregating your cilantro and your basil. This is D.C., not the Deep South circa 1950).
- They do not want to be over-watered, but water them thoroughly when you do. I would suggest putting them in the sink, showering them to the soak point, then letting them drain off into the sink before you put them back into the tray. Then let them dry out until you can put your finger an inch into the soil and feel dry before you do it again.
- Think about some fertilizer pellets. All that frequent watering that comes with indoor growing can denude your soil.
- When you pick all the leaves off a single mint stalk for a cucumber smoothie, cut back the stalk to just above the bottom leaves (and leave those for last—pluck the tender little guys at the top first and leave the big grandaddies to pick up the sunshine). Don't take off more than a third of the stalk at once.
- If you have a track record of killing green things, start with basil. It's tough to kill and it smells delicious.
- Lay out a tarp on your kitchen floor before you pot your herbs, otherwise it will look like this:
I'm two weeks into this project, and I haven't killed anything yet (although my cilantro looks a little sad and wilty). I'm growing cilantro, basil, rosemary and mint in my kitchen window sill (this is handy because of the proximity of the sink sprayer/how lazy I am). Momma Marilynn tells me that mint is some kind of crazy alien plant from outer space that will grow until it strangles out all other proximate lifeforms, but given that I use mint almost daily for everything from cocktails to breakfast smoothies, I think I've got it under control. My garden still doesn't look like the Q Street Queen yet, though.