You want to brag to everyone at your dinner party that the fresh basil in the caprese salad came from your flourishing garden, we know. But if you live in a 600-square-foot city apartment with tiny windows, your green thumb aspirations are probably just fantasies.
Lucky for you (and your potential guests), chef John Mooney says it really is possible to create your very own plot of herbs inside.
Mooney is the garden-genius chef at Bell, Book, and Candle, a renowned West Village restaurant that’s home to an enormous, awe-inducing vertical rooftop aeroponic garden (a system you can buy), so he spends lots of time tending to everything from arugula to okra.
“People tell me that they kill every plant, but it’s simply a matter of knowing the basics,” Mooney says. He recommends starting with simple herbs indoors—like basil, mint, rosemary, chives, and thyme, which can do well in any season. “I know people want to hear some scientific revelation, but it’s really about having confidence and keeping an eye on your plants.”
Here are Mooney’s top five tips for growing herbs inside (and if your thyme still dies, you can always just bring your guests to dinner at his place).
1. Analyze the light. “The rule of thumb is morning light, afternoon shade,” Mooney says. So spend some time experimenting with which window best fulfills that equation. If you have to use an area with less than an ideal amount of light, he suggests surrounding the plant with reflective material like aluminum foil.
2. Supplement the sunshine. “If you’re lacking light, you can buy indoor lights at a garden supply store or get a planter box for outside your window,” Mooney suggests (or your fire escape if a window box isn’t an option?).
3. Don’t over-water. Mooney says that over-watering is one of the most common mistakes he sees. “It’s usually every other day, and the soil should be moist to the touch but not flooded,” he explains.
4. Go easy on the pruning. Don’t go all Edward Scissorhands on your plant if it’s just looking a little sad.” A lot of people overdo the pruning and remove the fruit-producing parts,” Mooney says. “Remember that it’s a living thing.”
5. Give it a workout. Air flow helps plants thrive, so leave windows open for a breeze or “try blowing a fan on it for strength,” he says. (I mean, think about what they’re exposed to outside.) “Just like a sedentary person, plants can get weak if they’re too stagnant.” Plants, they’re just like us! —Jamie McKillop
For more information, visit www.bbandcnyc.com
(Photos: Foodies Feed, Bell, Book, and Candle)