Grow Your Own Pizza Herb Garden

It doesn’t matter if you’re a cheese-only fan, a pesto-instead-of-tomato-sauce person, a deep-dish lover, an acolyte of thin crusts, or even living on the edge with (gasp!) calzones: pizza is part of your world. The unifying element of pizzas worldwide is the spice factor—a blend of herbs can make or break a flavorful pie, and fresh herbs really boost its profile.

Bring the ease and pro level of cooking with fresh herbs into your own kitchen by growing your very own herb garden—year-round!—with Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard.

herb garden windowsill indoor kitchen gardening
For a very small investment you can turn a sunny windowsill into a mini herb farm. One great thing about growing herbs is that you don’t need much at one time, so a few mature plants can keep you well supplied with herbs.


Soil Prep for Growing Herbs Indoors

Herbs are quite finicky when it comes to drainage. Common gardener wisdom is that they “don’t like wet feet,” meaning if their roots get soggy, expect rot. Every plant type covered here (except sprouts) relies on proper drainage to some degree, but for herbs, it’s particularly crucial because they tend to like a more humid environment, making them susceptible to root rot.

Simply using a pot with holes in the bottom isn’t enough, and if you buy a standard type of pot with a dish that catches water, you’ll be in even more trouble. This often leads to an herb left in standing water, which is almost always a terrible situation.

There are a number of strategies that can be helpful for increasing drainage. Some gardeners use substrates designed for growing cacti. These specialty mixes are designed to drain quickly, though I find that simply mixing sand and vermiculite (in a one-to- four parts ratio) together tends to make a happy blend.

If you’re transplanting from outside, do as much as you can to remove the existing garden soil by gently shaking or tapping the roots. You won’t be able to eliminate all of the soil, but if you can get most of it, you’ll significantly reduce your expose to garden pests and diseases.

Whatever you use, a good strategy to prevent compaction is to cultivate within the pot every month or so. Take a fork and gently loosen the soil within the container, taking care to stay mostly on the periphery so you don’t damage the roots.

Planting and Care for Growing Herbs Indoors

First Steps

Get your container and soil mix ready, and give the mix some water so it’s slightly damp. This will keep your seeds from shifting when you first water them.

Sow the seeds about one to three times deeper than the size of the seed. This is a general rule, and what it usually means for me is that if it’s a teensy little seed, I’ll barely press it into the soil, and then I’ll cover it with just a sprinkling of vermiculite. If the seeds are larger, I might press about half an inch and then cover it.

Water lightly, and then cover the pot or container with plastic kitchen wrap. This will keep the soil mix and seed warm, to encourage germination.

Put the pot or container in a sunny area or under a light, and when the seedlings emerge, remove the plastic wrap.

Maintaining Growth

Some herbs require specialized care, but in general, most can benefit from these tips for keeping herbs going strong:

  • Fertilize every 10 days or so with diluted fish fertilizer, found at any garden store. In a pinch, I’ve also soaked seaweed in hot water for a few hours, let it cool, and then sprayed that on the plants. But for this to be an “in a pinch” tactic, you’d have to be one of those people who happens to have dried seaweed in the cupboard.
  • Herbs like humidity, but it’s not always easy to tweak this condition, especially in the winter. One good tactic is to create a tray of small rocks or pebbles and fill the tray with water, leaving about ¼ inch of the top dry. Put the pots on top of the trays—making sure they don’t touch the water—and the evaporation process will help to keep the air at a nice humidity level.
  • Give herbs a regular “bath” by misting every few days. Not only does this help to keep the hydrated, but it also cuts down on insect issues since weakened plants are more susceptible to pests like aphids and spider mites.
  • Water from the base of the herb, not the leaves. This will help the plant get hydrated, without subjecting it to “flattening out” from too much water hitting the leaves.

oregano fresh herbs indoor kitchen gardening

Growing Oregano: The trick with oregano is giving the plant enough light every day; it may require placing the pot under a separate bulb that’s on for a few hours more than the other herbs. Usually, about eight hours of light is best.

thyme fresh herbs indoor kitchen gardening

Growing Thyme: This herb also requires more light, so I often put oregano and thyme in the same space or place them next to each other in a south-facing window.

rosemary fresh herbs indoor kitchen gardening

Growing Rosemary: I’ve found that my best indoor rosemary comes from cuttings off rosemary in my garden, but it’s also somewhat easy to grow by seed. Watch out for overwatering, since rosemary tends to prefer drier soil, and be sure to choose a variety that does well with indoor growing, like ‘Blue Spire.’

basil plant herb gardenGrowing Basil: It’s so ubiquitous in cooking, you’d think basil would be a snap to grow in your kitchen garden. But no. Notoriously difficult to grow indoors from seed, basil tends to work best as a plant start from a greenhouse. Also, those lush Italian basil leaves may not be as wide and pretty as you find in a garden. Instead, I lean toward varieties with smaller leaves like ‘Dark Opal’ or Thai basil.

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9781591865933As featured in the New York Times and named to “Best Garden Books of 2014” by the Chicago Tribune

It takes just a few dollars and a few days for you to start enjoying fresh, healthy produce grown indoors in your own home. Imagine serving a home-cooked meal highlighted with beet, arugula, and broccoli microgreens grown right in your kitchen, accompanied by sautéed winecap mushrooms grown in a box of sawdust in your basement. If you have never tasted microgreens, all you really need to do is envision all the flavor of an entire vegetable plant concentrated into a single tantalizing seedling. If you respond to the notion of nourishing your guests with amazing, fresh, organic produce that you’ve grown in your own house, condo, apartment, basement, or sunny downtown office, then you’ll love exploring the expansive new world of growing and eating that can be discovered with the help of Indoor Kitchen Gardening. Inside, author and Bossy Acres CSA co-owner Elizabeth Millard teaches you how to grow microgreens, sprouts, herbs, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, and more– all inside your own home, where you won’t have to worry about seasonal changes or weather conditions. Filled with mouthwatering photography and more than 200 pages of Do-It-Yourself in-home gardening information and projects, Indoor Kitchen Gardening is your gateway to this exciting new growing method–not just for garnishes or relishes, but wholesome, nutritious, organic edibles that will satisfy your appetite as much as your palate.

Elizabeth Millard is the author of Indoor Kitchen Gardening, which focuses on practical tips for growing herbs, vegetables, and fruits in indoor settings. She and her partner, Karla Pankow, also own Bossy Acres, a 100-member community supported agriculture farm in Minnesota that provides seasonal produce to members and area restaurants in an effort to build a strong and sustainable local food system. Millard often leads workshops on vegetable and herb gardening as well as herb preparation, fermentation, and cooking with seasonal ingredients. As editor of local sustainable food site Simple Good and Tasty, she encourages readers to connect with the state’s abundance of organic growers, ranchers, food artisans, nonprofit agencies, and each other, forging a stronger food landscape. In addition to farming, teaching, and editing, she has contributed articles to Hobby Farm HomeExperience Life, and Urban Farm magazines, along with many other publications. She and Karla live in south Minneapolis with their two impossibly spoiled dogs, Idgy and Ruthie Mae.