Growing Herbs in the Classroom
January and February are perfect months to start herb gardens in the classroom. They will be ready for transplanting into the garden by spring, or may be given as Mother's Day gifts.
You will need to have a fluorescent light if you grow herbs indoors. Seedlings need a lot of light. Provide at least 14-16 hrs. of light daily. The lights need to be four inches from the tops of the seedlings.
Herbs can be grown in a variety of containers. Clay pots work well, as do milk cartons, cottage cheese containers, and newspaper seedling pots. If you do use milk cartons or cottage cheese containers, be sure to punch a hole in the bottom for drainage. Directions for making biodegradable seedling pots can be found on the classroom activities page.
The soil for planting herbs needs to be a planting soil mix which is available at your garden center. Planting mixes are mainly peat moss and vermiculite. The soil needs to be loose and not packed and able to hold moisture. Plain garden soil can contain fungi, so it is best to purchase commercial potting mix.
The trick is to keep the soil moist, but not wet. The seedling pots need to be placed in a tray into which you pour lukewarm water rather than watering from the top of the pot. Do not keep the trays permanently filled with water or the soil will become too wet and deprive the seedlings of oxygen.
When the first leaves appear, the seedlings will need small amounts of plant food. Compost tea is an ideal organic fertilizer for young herb seedlings.
Herbs can be transplanted directly in the garden after the last frost in the spring. Temperatures do not need to reach below 60 degrees at night.
Below are special instructions for growing different kinds of herbs indoors.
Basil: Seedlings appear in about 10 days. After several weeks remove some leaves. Basil matures in about 85 days.
Chives: Seedlings appear in two weeks. Think then so that they are a few inches apart and have room to grow. you can begin cutting the leaves when they are 2 inches tall. Just be careful not to cut all the leaves or the plant will quit growing.
Coriander: Seedlings appear after about one to three weeks. When the stems reach two inches tall, take out the smaller ones to give more growing room. You can begin cutting the leaves when they are 4 inches tall.
Dill: Seedlings appear in about two weeks. When they reach 2 inches, thin out to give more growing room, Cut the leaves just before the plant starts to bloom. Dill reaches maturity in about 70 days.
Fennel: Don't keep the soil as moist as the other seedlings. Seedlings appear in two weeks. When they reach 3 inches, thin them out.
Marjoram: Seedlings appear in about four weeks. When they reach 2 inches, thin them out.
Mint: Seedlings appear in about two weeks. Mint does best with a little shade, so don't keep it directly under the fluorescent lights. When transplanting outdoors, be sure to plant mint into a plastic flowerpot in the garden. Otherwise, the mint will spread and take over your herb garden.
Parsley: Soak the seeds overnight before planting. Seedlings appear between 4-6 weeks. Cut the outside leaves only allowing the inner leaves to keep growing. Parsley is difficult to grow from seed and you may have to buy small plants from the nursery instead.
Rosemary: Seedling appear in about three weeks.
Sage: Seedlings appear in two to three weeks. Harvest the leaves before the plant blooms.
Thyme: Seedlings appear in about three to four weeks. Cut leaves at any time.
Herbs need to be cut in the morning. Tie the bunches of herbs together near the root end with string. Hand the bunches upside down on a coat hanger in a cool, dry place.
You can put herbs in a low oven 120 degrees for a couple of hours to dry. Just make sure that they don't burn.
You can also use a microwave oven to dry herbs. Microwave on medium for a minute at the time, being careful not to let the leaves burn.
Here's another trick I found for drying herbs. Strip the leaves and throw away the stem. Place the leaves in a brown paper bag and fold it closed. Refrigerate for 1 to 3 weeks, turning the bag several times a day.
Herbs that dry well are: basil, dill, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage
Herbs that are best frozen: coriander, parsley, tarragon, chives, fennel
Dried herbs needs to be stored in airtight jars.