Even when you live in tune with the cycles of Mother Nature, you can still get a little bummed when your fresh produce and herbs run out after the first frost. Thankfully, the growing season for many plants-especially culinary herbs-can continue through the colder months. We recently chatted with a local Organic grower who knows a thing or two about growing herbs indoors in winter.
Evan Chender is The Culinary Gardener, and he provides restaurants in Asheville, NC, with high-quality specialty produce using Organic farming methods. We think Evan has a pretty cool job, sharing high-quality Organic produce with chefs 52 weeks a year.
He shared his best tips for bringing a bit of green-and a whole lot of flavor-into your winter dishes.
Pick sturdy herbs. Save soft and delicate herbs like Basil and the Mint family for milder weather. They might grow inside, but they'll be leggy and lackluster. In winter, bring those with stiffer, woodier stems inside. Evan's top three? Rosemary, Bay Leaf and Winter Savory (more on that last one later).
But get creative. If you just want to brighten up your living space, try growing something fun like Ginger. This tropical rhizome can be challenging to grow, but it can be done. Another fun one to transplant is Scented Geranium. From Rose to Lime to Nutmeg to Ginger, each variety imparts a subtle taste and aroma. Infuse cream with these aromatic flowers for a decadent dessert, such as panna cotta.
Keep it simple. While you can start herbs from seeds indoors, winter is a tough time to do so. Pick up some transplants at your local Organic gardening center, or, if you already have some of those hardier herbs growing in your garden, make some cuttings for your own transplants.
Let it breathe. Use a really lightweight potting soil that's based on compost. It should be loose, with a bit of biochar (charcoal used for agricultural purposes) to improve soil quality.
Give it some TLC. Every month, give your herbs some extra nutrition with kelp meal (usually 1 teaspoon per gallon of water, but that can vary by brand). And be sure to mulch the pot (you can use pebbles) to keep moisture in. Homes, especially those that use wood heat, can dry out in winter. The smaller the pot, the faster it will dry out.
Play with the forces of nature. Try forcing root vegetables such as beets, carrots, celery or onions to grow greens. Put them in a pot of soil, root down, with the tops sticking out an inch. Water them well and put them in a cool, dark place for two weeks. You'll soon have small, pale, crunchy greens that can be used as a garnish, in soups or in winter salads. The root feeds the greens, with very little effort on your part.
Enjoy the fruits (herbs) of your labor! Evan reminds us that the benefits extend far beyond aesthetics or nutrition of the plants we tend. You have a connection to the plant, you chose its home, you tended it-and now you can use it in meals for you and your loved ones.
Speaking of meals, Evan shared a tip about Winter Savory, one of his favorite cold-weather herbs. It imparts a woodsy flavor that's a unique combo of Rosemary, Sage, Thyme and Oregano that pairs well with just about anything: meat, vegetables, sauces or soups. We can't wait to give it a go in our favorite winter recipes.
About The Culinary Gardener: Evan Chender earned his BA in Food Culture and Sustainable Agriculture from Vassar College. Evan's senior thesis was an in-depth analysis of four-season farming, and after graduation he became a greenhouse manager for acclaimed New York restaurant.
He later managed a biodynamic vegetable garden in Tuscany, producing and foraging all the vegetables used in an on-site 5-star restaurant. In Copenhagen, Denmark, Evan apprenticed in the kitchen of one of the 50 top restaurants in the world. Evan then became the head chef at a Westchester County restaurant, where he also managed their culinary garden.
Seeking a change of scenery (and weather), Evan relocated to Asheville, NC, with his wife in 2012. He spent his first year-and-a-half as a sous chef and head gardener, before developing an 8,000-square-foot micro farm and launching The Culinary Gardener in 2013. Now a full-time, four-season farmer, Evan has grown over 200 varieties of vegetables, edible flowers and herbs for the top restaurants in Western North Carolina, with new additions every season.
You can follow his adventures (with his trusted farm hand, Maple the dachshund) here.