Extending the Harvest Season, Bringing Herbs Indoors in Autumn
In the garden, autumn is a period of decline, where many summer vegetables and herbs finish up for the season. Those which are annuals only live for a year, completing their natural life cycle and producing seeds to start the cycle again in the following year.
Perennial plants on the other hand live year after year, but some can’t handle the winter cold, so the tops die down to the ground while the roots remain alive below the soil, shooting back up with new growth in spring. In cooler climates, quite a few edible plants which we consider annuals are actually perennial in warmer climates, and continue to grow all year round.
If we can bring these plants inside in autumn, and give them the right amount of light, water and nutrients, they’ll continue growing right through winter, providing us with an ongoing supply of ingredients for the kitchen to use fresh or for drying for later use.
Which herbs to grow?
As a gardener, I like to make the best use of my gardening space, and in limited spaces, such as indoor locations, it’s always a good idea to grow the highest value culinary ingredients. Premium cooking ingredients aren’t cheap, so they’re always a great choice.
Chillies are native to warmer climates and can grow year round, and some varieties grow into small compact bushes which are ideal for growing in containers, reaching a size of around 30-45cm in height and width. These smaller varieties typically produce smaller chillies, which conveniently ripen faster and can also be dried, and being of medium heat, a little goes a long way!
Thai basil is a tropical plant native to Southeast Asia, so it’s very sensitive to cold and it’s considered a tender perennial plant in cooler locations. A common ingredient in Asian dishes such as stir fries and curries, its flavour is strong like sweet basil and slightly spicy, with a hint of anise, a liquorice-like flavour. This basil holds its flavour better than sweet basil when cooked at high. Leaves can used fresh or placed in a freezer bag and frozen for later use.
Chives are a perennial plant from the onion family, and they’re the smallest member of the family, growing around 20cm in height and width. In cooler areas, chives go dormant, dying down to the ground in winter and growing back again in spring. While they’re growing, they can be cut as needed and they regrow back quite quickly. They’re a widely in European dishes used as a flavouring herb which provides a mild onion taste without being overpowering. Prefer a more garlic-like flavour? Then try garlic chives, these are also known as Chinese chives, great for Asian cooking, and have a mild garlic flavour.
Prefer something a little less savoury? Some herbs are sweet, like the natural sugar-substitute plant Stevia. It’s actually much sweeter than sugar, around 40 times sweeter as raw leaf, and over 200 times sweeter as dried powdered leaf, ideal for the calorie-conscious amongst us.
Being native to Brazil and Paraguay, the stevia plant loves warm growing conditions similar to those for basil, so if you can successfully grow basil growing indoors, it’s pretty much the same. This plant can grow to 60cm in height in the tropics, but it doesn’t get very large in cooler climates, growing to 40cm in height. To manage its size, just clip off the branches to shorten them, and save the leaves for drying. It’s easy to accumulate a good supply to last right through winter.
These are just a few examples of the useful kitchen plants which can be grown indoors to extend their productivity and to keep them alive over the winter period. There are many more for those who wish to experiment and have a range of kitchen ingredients on hand all year round!
Author: Angelo Eliades
Writer in the areas of sustainable gardening and Permaculture. Angelo is a passionate forest gardening advocate, and has a thriving demonstration Permaculture food forest garden in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs which he regularly opens to the public. With over a decade and a half of experience in organic gardening, his specialty is designing and building food forests. Angelo runs the educational sustainable gardening website Deep Green Permaculture