growing indoor herbs for a restaurant in winter

sgroglyOctober 15, 2012


I'm new to the site and I was hoping to find out about growing Basil, Oregano, and Parsley indoors for the winter to supply my husband's pizzeria. Help with light, water requirements, and temperature would be greatly appreciated.

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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

How much of these herbs does your husband use fresh per week?

Once while picking up food from a local thai restuarant I was greeted by the most wonderful smell. Since the dinner rush hadn't started yet, the ladies were sitting around a table sorting through a tremendous pile of thai basil. The aroma was wonderful and perfumed the entire restaurant. I commented on this and also asked the owner how much of the basil they go through in a week. He said they get 80lbs of it each week from Hawaii. Wow. That is a lot of basil and that would need a lot of growing space.

Now, I'm guessing your husband doesn't go through 80 lbs in the course of a week, but I can't imagine you'll grow enough to keep up with demands - especially indoors since these herbs are going to hate it there. Lighting would absolutely be required along with lots of space. Since lighting isn't cheap, I can't imagine you'll be saving any money. In fact, it will most likely be more costly if you factor the lighting cost, electricity, etc. in.

My suggestion, help out in the normal summer growing season by supplying fresh herbs you grow outside. In fact, grow LOTS of oregano. That is a cake walk to grow and dry - which is probably how your husband uses that one. Dry enough, you might be able to supply that one year round. The others are probably used fresh and so only a crop you could help with in the summer/fall.


    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 3:29PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I can only assume that you have a greenhouse? It takes a LOT of plant material to produce enough edible foliage to keep a kitchen going for even a few days. Unless your husband is only selling 3 or 4 pizzas a night. :-(

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 11:18PM
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I currently have 25 oregano plants, 25 basil plants and 25 parsley plants growing in 1 gallon pots. The parsely and oregano are doing really well but the basil is looking very tired. The oregano in the garden is still doing well, the rabbits ate the parsely, and the basil is pretty much dead. My plan is to start new plants from seed evey week in the 1 gallon pots, and keep them in an unheated greenhouse, no artificial light available. I'm guessing that I'll have to start the seedlings in a warmer environment though. As for the amount of basil my husband goes through, we've never figured that out because it was so readily available all summer. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 11:29AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

My vague understanding of zone 6 winter temps would say that basil will definitely not grow there in an unheated greenhouse. Parsley and oregano might survive but would not actively grow and seedlings would not work either, even if sown indoors in warmer conditions and then put in the greenhouse. Although an unheated greenhouse can warm up on sunny winter days, the temperature will plummet at night. Glass provides virtually no thermal insulation. Plus light levels will be too low for these herbs.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 1:23PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Zone 6 means below 0 F. Basil will not survive that. It barely survived the end of the season here in the 40's F.

Parsley is very cold tolerant. That one *may* produce in such conditions throughout the winter. While oregano is hardy, I would expect it to go dormant in such cold conditions. And if your winter sun is like mine, it is meager and can be non-existent for weeks at a time. I would not expect good growth throughout the winter season even if the plants don't go dormant.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 2:46PM
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Sounds like you will be busy. I had a friend who always made his Italian sausage from scratch, he bought his fennel seeds in a 50 gallon barrow. Do not get me wrong you never learn except by making the effort and that alone is a wonderful experience. Something nothing else can teach you. What ever you can grow in your garden in the summer could be dried or frozen to help extend the supply during your winter months also. Just enjoy your adventure, keep fun in your life.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2012 at 8:31AM
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Thank you everyone for all the information. Looks like We'll be purchasing our fresh herbs this winter...

    Bookmark   October 29, 2012 at 2:59PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Good decision! Try to come up with a good estimate of how much (in weight) of the herbs the kitchen uses per week.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 10:23AM
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t-bird(Chicago 5/6)

can you put a rooftop greenhouse on the restaurant? The heat from the building will seep up, as well as the usual greenhouse effect.

Perhaps some supplemental lighting and heat during the worst of the winter.

Put the parsley in the coldest part of the greenhouse - probably nside, and the basil in the warmest - probably sside, and oregan inbetween.

An exciting project! Keep us updated!!

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 10:36AM
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t-bird(Chicago 5/6)

Were do you have all your plants right now? You can experiment and see what volumes you get with them.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 10:43AM
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for smaller amounts u may want to try an aero garden

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 5:00PM
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loomis(Z6a Western MA)

If it is not absolutely essential to have fresh basil leaves in all your prepared foods, may I recommend that you make a simple pesto of olive oil and fresh basil instead.

Upon searching the subject on the web, the idea that worked best is placing the pesto in plastic bags. Then you flatten them out and freeze them.

I use this simple pesto as a seasoning only. Whenever I make a tomato sauce I just break off a chunk and add it in. You don't need much, as it is extremely strong. And when I make pizza, I just add a little to the garlic and olive oil mixture which I brush on the crust before adding the other ingredients. I would imagine that, if you wanted a traditional pesto, then you could thaw it and add the remaining cheeses and pine nuts.

Since you are able to grow a large number of plants, a good stash of pesto would go a long way to reduce costs during the winter months. You would then only have to purchase a smaller amount of fresh when you absolutely need to sprinkle a few fresh leaves on a dish.

When growing basil, keep pinching it back to keep the plant productive and bushy. Ideally, try to keep it from flowering. Usually when it starts to try blooming, I harvest it at this point.

Parsley should do well for you, but it's at its best in cooler fall weather. My heat zone is a little cooler than yours, and I've harvested it well into November. With regard to rabbits, just buy a roll of that galvanized fencing which has smaller squares near rhe bottom and that should help. If in a garden area, I just purchase 3/4 inch PVC tubing, cut it in half and use it to prop up the fence. Or you can cut the fence to size to make cages for your plants.

When used for seasoning, you can also make a simple parsley pesto as well, freeze as above, and use the fresh only when needed for garnishing.

In addition, a quick search on the web also resulted in an oregano pesto. However, my inclination would be again to keep it simple using only the herb and oil and save it for seasoning purposes.

Perhaps you could connect with an area farmer to grow the additional herbs you need.

Happy cooking and much success to your restaurant!

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 11:57PM
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