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Inside herbs: small-scale gardening brings edibles indoors

Everything from basil and sage to peppers and peas can be grown on a windowsill or patio


JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - An herb planter provides cheap and easy access to fresh herbs and spices throughout the summer, doesn't come with too high of a price tag and can be grown on a windowsill.Even in a state as lusciously green as Oregon, it can be easy to abandon dreams of lavish luxuries like home-grown vegetables or herbs. There's not enough time or enough space, and community garden plots take far too much work and require unwanted face-to-face interaction with strangers.

But gardening in an urban environment — or at least in a small apartment or townhome — is a little simpler than one might think, and can be accomplished without hardly leaving the house.

A large variety of edibles and spices, anything from mint and basil to peas and peppers, can grow on a windowsill. And for just a few bucks, you can start your own window or patio garden that has the ability to produce fresh greens throughout the summer.

The type of plant depends on the amount of space and sunlight, as well as the work you're willing to put in to your economy-sized garden plot.

For those without a green thumb, suggests Edgar Garcia from Means Nursery in Scappoose, basil might be a good choice. Basil is a hardy herb often used in cooked recipes — think pesto and other Italian dishes.

The dried basil in small plastic spice containers from the grocery store couldn't be more different from the fresh plant, which is bright, leafy green and doesn't mind growing inside whatsoever. It only needs to be watered every few days, and is a good plant for the windowsill.

It's one of the most popular for small-scale gardening, Garcia says, along with rosemary and, for some reason, Walla Walla sweet onions.

Means Nursery actually has planters filled with a selection of herbs — oregano, sage, rosemary and mint being examples — that will be updated throughout the summer as varieties come in and out of season. The plants will grow back after being harvested, as long as it's not too aggressive, and provide additional seasoning to special dishes for months to come.

Indoor gardening isn't limited to herbs and spices, though. Greens such as lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower grow indoors as well, and in fact might do better on your windowsill than in your back yard because they like the cooler temperatures.

But maybe the windowsill is cramped, what with the handful of cacti, a pair of chia pets and a real live cat. If you want to take things up a notch, how far can you go without leaving your back porch?

As it turns out, very far indeed. Strawberries can be grown in small hanging baskets at eye-level (it saves the back-aches from the u-pick farms) and you can even squeeze an evergreen blueberry bush into the aesthetically-pleasing version of a 10-gallon bucket.

Peppers are an easy choice as well, though they tend to take a little more space because of their size, as do tomatoes and peas, which can end up reaching heights several feet before they've finished growing.

There's even a novelty item perfect for dumbfounding your garden-savvy friends: the ketchup and fries plant. A tomato plant is grafted to the root stock of a potato, which gives tomatoes throughout the summer and potatoes once the tomato plant has run it's course.

A good-sized planter and a bag of potting soil — which is better for the plants, lacks invasive seeds and fungi and allows for better drainage — can be found fairly cheaply in any number of gardening sections at local grocery stores. The plants aren't expensive either, just a few bucks for each variety: pea plants for under $2, one small blueberry bush for under $7 and that all-in-one herb planter for $12.99.

Just remember to have a saucer under each plant's container, otherwise the downstairs neighbors might get sprinkled on or Mittens might get her precious paws wet.

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