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How to grow edible plants at home

PUBLISHED: 10:50 01 May 2015 | UPDATED: 12:30 01 May 2015

Thyme, rosemary and lavender in a vintage crate

Thyme, rosemary and lavender in a vintage crate

Helen Cathcart

Spring is here, the sun is shining bright and my attention is turning to all the lovely summer recipes I want to create. Most of these involve herbs in one form or another so growing edibles for me is key.

Tips for growing herbs at home

:: Make sure your container is clean. You don’t want plants you are going to ingest to be contaminated

:: Use soil-based compost which will retain moisture so containers won’t dry out as quickly

:: Water in the morning not the evening so herbs have sufficient water through the day

:: Liquid feed every week from April to September so herbs are kept healthy throughout their growing period

:: Pick herbs regularly from the tips of plants to ensure you have lots of new growth

:: Always plant invasive herbs such as mint and lemon balm in their own container and not with other herbs as otherwise they will take over

:: Pinch off any blemished or browning leaves regularly and rotate your plants to ensure even healthy growth

I love cooking, it’s definitely one of my favourite pastimes aside from gardening.

Unfortunately we are not yet past the danger point for cold nights so I’m going to keep my delicate herbs indoors for the time being.

So many people ask me how they can grow edibles without any outdoor space and it’s really easy.

Herbs are a great entry point for growing edible plants, both indoors and out.

Even if you’re not a keen cook they are beautiful, give off a heady scent and are great for masking other smells; thyme, in particular is great for this so it’s always a staple in my container.

Kitchen herb box

I picked up this French wooden crate at an antiques market and particularly liked the markings of the Mondot St-Emilion wine, a good vintage I’ve been told!

The rustic crate looks great with the herbs growing inside, making a picturesque miniature French herb garden.

You can often find wooden crates in vintage and antique stores, sometimes you might spot a neglected one at the back of the shop containing other bits – they’re often cheap and you can haggle with the seller.

Aloe veraAloe vera

Thyme can be successfully grown indoors; it should be placed on a bright windowsill and just needs some basic attention to thrive.

The heady scent of rosemary is delicious, and this highly fragrant herb can be used in so many dishes.

It’s very easy to grow, although as a Mediterranean herb it will appreciate a sunny spot.

The lavender plant is a lovely partner to both the thyme and rosemary. Lavender is hard to resist, boasting beautiful flowers and an equally arresting scent. Lavender flowers add a delicate flavour to cooking and are wonderful in light desserts.

Vintage pieces outdoors

Placed just outside, this milk urn is the perfect example of up-cycling. I found it at a vintage market in Surrey and wasn’t sure what it would be used for or more importantly, at the time, how I was going to get it home, but I couldn’t resist.

Home-grown lettuce always tastes better than shop bought, and of course is a lot more economical. This large milk urn is the perfect vessel for a small cottage garden of your own. I’ve also added a few extras to go through the season with spring onions and beetroot, the young leaves of which are really nice in a summer salad.

Medicinal herbs

A few herbs can be used medicinally. I love herbal teas and peppermint, chamomile and even tea plant, Camellia Sinesis, will grow well in full sunlight indoors and outdoors.

Herbal tea from the gardenHerbal tea from the garden

Aloe vera is also great. It’s a succulent which will treat sunburn, insect stings and blisters. Just break off one of the leaves and squeeze the juice over the affected area. Your own herbal medicine cabinet in one!

Caring for indoor edibles

Full sun: about four to six hours a day direct sun.

Medium light: two to three hours of direct sun, or six to eight hours of bright indirect light.

Low light: no direct sunlight, but some indirect light.

Herbs are really sensitive if they don’t have the right growing conditions. After determining the right amount of light, you need to know a little bit about watering. The main reason herbs fail to thrive is either overwatering or under watering; don’t just look at the top surface of the soil to decide when to water. Soil often looks dry on top, even when the plant has plenty of moisture below. Use your finger as a barometer and push it right into the soil. If the soil is dry at around your knuckle then you need to water. If the soil is slightly moist, wait a couple of days and if it is wet then you need to cut back on watering.

Roots can rot if constantly wet so it’s a good idea to put a layer of gravel on the bottom in order to elevate the roots and prevent this.

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Best Herbs to Grow

Living salad in a milk urnLiving salad in a milk urn

:: If you have partially shady conditions (medium) plant Chives, Parsley, Basil and Cut and Come Again Salad mixes.

:: If you have full sun (normally by a sunny window) plant Thyme, Sage, Rosemary, Lavender (which will return year after year) and Oregano.

:: Salad leaves (various)

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