DIY Dried Herbs

Having a garden can be so fulfilling. From picking to preserving the process can be as long or as short as you want it to be and you can reap the benefits of your hard work for longer than your gardening season if you plan it. When I first started gardening, I started out small with herbs, but quickly realized that I couldn’t use enough fresh herbs to completely use up what I was growing. This became a problem year after year, and I’d feel so discouraged letting my herb plants die feeling like I didn’t get their full use. Jump forward to this year, when I finally took the time to preserve my own herbs so I could enjoy them for the months ahead.

Drying herbs is really quite easy with the bulk of time spent waiting for the herbs themselves to dry out. Other than that it’s just harvest, hang, and store. I’ll outline the steps briefly below. These steps can be followed with all herbs so that you can enjoy them before and after the season is over.

  1. Harvest Herbs – using shears or scissors, snip long stems of whatever herb you’re harvesting. Make sure the stems are long and even enough to put together in a bunch for hanging. The images that I took here show the process with my Oregano plant.
  2. Hang Herbs – pull your harvest into a bunch and secure at the ends. I used a rubber band, but you could also use string, a hair tie or ribbon to secure. Make sure whatever you use is nice and snug around the stems, because as the herbs dry out they will lose some of their girth and could slip and fall out of the band. Then use string or ribbon or whatever you have lying around to create a way to hang the herbs. I used a rubber band to secure and then slipped string through the rubber band to hang by a loop. Hang the herbs in a dry, cool place (I chose an armoire closet in my dining room). Some of the leaves may fall off during the drying process. If the mess concerns you, you can wrap a paper bag around the herbs to catch anything that falls. Leave in cool, dry place until herbs dry out – this will vary by location – just make sure not to remove the herbs until they are nice and crispy. Once dry the leaves should fall off super easily, sometimes with even just a slight touch.
  3. Harvest Dried Herbs – now this step may seem redundant, and I guess it sort of is, but now that your herbs are dry you need to pull the leaves from the stems for storage.

Garden Check-In

One of my resolutions this year was to become more sustainable by growing some of my own food. I started mostly everything from seed and I am finally starting to see some of the fruits and vegetables of my labor! Here’s a quick recap of my process: I germinated most of the seeds to start. The only ones I started straight from seed were the sunflowers and the green beans. After germinating I started the seeds inside the house to make sure the weather didn’t beat them up. The beans were the only seeds sown directly outdoors. I did have a few plants die which I replaced with organic seedlings from Green Acres Nursery & Supply. The ones I replaced were the yellow squash and one of the cucumbers (only one of mine survived). I also ended up purchasing a butternut squash plant and an eggplant along with some herbs. The herbs I bought were basil, sage and oregano. I even ended up planting some green onions in a garden bed that were from the grocery store. I think I had a very successful turnout overall and am so happy that things went so well with my first season starting from seed.

Enough recap, let’s show you how everything is looking!

Here is one of three sunflowers. The first image is what the sunflower looked like when it first bloomed. The second shows the seeds forming inside of the sunflower. Stay tuned for a post on how to harvest the seeds.

There are green beans galore in the garden right now! I picked this handful last night and have many, many others waiting to ripen. I can’t wait to use these as a side dish or in a salad. I ate a couple of them raw while I was picking and they are so delicious. Even the ladybugs love them!

Since I bought the squash plants and eggplant later in the season they haven’t produced yet, but the zucchini has not disappointed. This is one of two zucchs I’ve harvested so far, and they are so delicious! And even though only one of the original cucumber plants survived it already has a baby cucumber hiding in the trellis. I can’t wait for the other to start producing too!

The tomatoes haven’t ripened yet, but the plants are loaded with babies! I just know they are all going to ripen at the same time and I am going to be overloaded with tomatoes. I am going to use this as an opportunity to learn to can them into fresh tomatoes and sauces so stay tuned for that! I have cherry tomatoes and larger tomatoes that are coming in – 6 plants total – which is going to yield me a huge crop!

The only fruit items we were looking forward to this year have either already produced or have been taken by the heat. The apricots survived and were delectable. Unfortunately, the peaches seemed like they may have gotten too hot and started falling off the tree while they were still green. I didn’t expect our trees to produce this year at all since it was their first year, but happy that at least the apricot gave us some fruit. What will be sort of cool is picking our neighbors fruit off the limbs overhanging into our yard – figs, plums and grapes oh my!

I’m so thrilled with how everything has been going and can’t wait to see more growth. Stay tuned for more posts on sunflower seed harvesting, canning, pruning and more! Until then, happy gardening!

MelissaRose

Hardening Off Seedlings

This year, I decided to start my vegetable garden from seeds. I wanted to save some money versus buying plants from the store, but I also wanted the experience of growing my own food from start to finish. There were a couple of steps I didn’t know about until doing further research – how to harden off my seedlings was one of those steps. Hardening off seedlings is basically preparing your seedlings for life outside. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. They have been growing and living in a stable and controlled environment inside where there is no real exposure to the elements. Hardening them off gives them a transition period to get acclimated to some of the new things they’ll experience without just throwing them out to fend for themselves. In this post, I’ll explain how I’ve been doing this with my own seedlings and also provide some further in depth information you can check out on your own from people who are far more experienced than I am.

The first and probably most important thing to consider when getting ready to harden off your seedlings is the weather outside. You don’t want the conditions to be so extreme that the seedlings become shocked or die because they’ve been exposed too quickly. For my first day of this process, I waited for a day that was slightly cloudy, not too windy, and definitely not raining. I placed the seedlings under my covered patio, away from direct sunlight, and let them sit outside for about an hour. Afterwards, I brought them back inside, and made sure nobody got too tousled by the wind. We did have some light winds that day, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You want your seedlings to grow strong roots to be able to withstand wind since they will likely be exposed to it outside at some point. The early exposure to the light wind helps trigger their roots to grow nice and strong so they can keep themselves upright even with a breeze. Luckily, everything went smoothly the first day.

The second day, the weather was about the same as before. This time, I placed them outside in the same spot, but left them out for two hours instead of just one. You want to gradually increase the exposure. On the third day, I placed them outside in the same spot for several hours. The several hours was a bit more by accident on my part than intentionally, but no seedlings were damaged. I sighed a breath of relief and was proud of the little seedlings for seeming to transition so quickly. If you’re looking for a more structured set of instructions, check out the Homestead and Chill blog post about hardening off seedlings. She gives great day by day instructions. I am more winging it and learning by my own experience, but did use this blog as somewhat of a guide. So far, my less than perfect process has worked for me, but I live in a fairly forgiving climate in California. If you live in a more extreme weather zone I’d definitely recommend checking out their post.

Yesterday was my fourth day of hardening off my seedlings. I left them out almost all day. The first half of the day they were under my covered patio, but then we had some people over and needed the table, so they went out into the direct sun. I was a little nervous about this at first with it being the warmest part of the day but the seedlings did great! I was outside all day as well (it was like 72 degrees outside!) so I was able to keep an eye on them and make sure they didn’t start drooping, burning or doing anything that looked bad. I’m happy to say that they did great, and I think with a few more days of transition, they’ll be ready to be planted outside! I can’t wait!

Once the seedlings are ready to be planted outside I’m also going to install my new soaker hose irrigation system. I will be sure to document it so that I can create a post here. I’m excited to have a system set up as I’ve always watered my plants myself and it wasn’t always the best outcome. I think having an irrigation system will help me save time, money and hopefully keep my plants more luscious and alive longer too! Are you working on a garden this year? Are you to the point of hardening off seedlings yet or just getting ready to seed?

Until next time!

MelissaRose

5 Tips for Sustainable Gardening

Gardening is sustainable. You are growing your own food, thus eliminating the use of plastic or other packaging that is often used in the grocery store, the fuel that is used to transport said food to the grocery store, as well as all the pesticides and other chemicals used to grow that food commercially. But have you ever thought about how you might save other items while boasting a home garden? I’m going to give you 5 ideas for making your garden and your process more sustainable, and in many cases, cheaper too!

1. Reusable Containers

This is by far the easiest way and cheapest way to be more sustainable when starting your garden from seeds. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of my more gardening process centric posts if you want to check those out. Basically, this step is reusing items that otherwise may be thrown out as garden containers. This can mean using them for seeds, seedlings, small plants (or I guess big plants if you have large containers) or storage. The first reusable container I used for my garden was egg cartons. I used old egg cartons to start my seeds in. This was extremely cost effective and reduced my waste. Other items you can use are old plastic containers, such as for yogurt, spread, cheeses, old solo cups, or even plastic containers from previous plant projects. I’ve seen posts online using old roasted chicken containers as greenhouses, which looked and seemed like a good idea, but since we don’t eat chicken we don’t have those containers. There are also ways to make origami cups out of old newspapers to start seedlings in. For all of these versions, just make sure that when you water your plants, that there will be adequate drainage otherwise you could kill your plants.

2. Secondhand Supplies

 

I am a huge believer in buying secondhand. Most of the items I own are pre-owned and purchased from a thrift store. The same can be said for many of plant pots. I have several terra cotta pots, a few larger plastic pots and other clay pots that were all purchased at the thrift store at a fraction of the cost of my local hardware store. The big breakable pots are usually an especially good deal in comparison, so be sure to always look for those! This not only saves you loads of money but keeps these beautiful and non-biodegradable items out of our landfills. Another tip if you’re using planters that are less than gorgeous is to place the plastic planter inside of a cool basket. This hides the boring plastic container and can also be purchased for super cheap at the thrift store.

I’ve already mentioned buying pots from the thrift store, but have you ever thought about buying other larger supplies secondhand? Believe it or not, some thrift stores have outdoor areas where you can buy other gardening supplies. You could also visit your local flea market where you can sometimes find used tools such as shovels, wheelbarrows and other useful supplies. This cuts way down on cost and you can save these items from making it into our landfills. Other items to consider are reclaimed wood for planter boxes, leftover bricks and pavers for paths and borders, I’ve even seen old trellis and support pieces that you could pick up for cheap. Another great place to look is garage/yard sales. I think many people would rather be able to make a buck off of an old rake they no longer use than to dump it in the trash. You may even find old potting shelves or storage options for your stored seeds and other supplies. 

 

3. Composting

Composting is a more complicated way to be more sustainable with your gardening process. It allows you to discard your plant based kitchen waste into containers to compost for use in your garden. There are several different methods you can use depending on the size of your yard, the time you have available and the effort you want to put into it. The Farmer’s Almanac online has great info on composting if you want to learn more and start implementing this process in your own garden. The EPA also has a site that outlines the benefits versus letting your scraps go to the landfill.

4. Seed Sustainability

Swapping seeds with friends, family or neighbors is a great way to save money and be more sustainable. Check your local online sites for local gatherings of like-minded plant lovers – usually Facebook or NextDoor has groups with these interests. I’ve even seen these take place online – maybe someone who lives in the same zone, but a different area would be fun! You could send the seeds through the mail without too much trouble. You could also speak to people you work with or go to school with to find out if they share the same hobbies of planting and growing their own food. Luckily for me, many of my friends and family like to garden so I’m able to swap with them. Swapping seeds not only saves money and time wasted on going to the store, but helps to eliminate waste caused by over-buying seeds. This includes the packaging that the seeds come in, the transportation, the trip to the store, etc. I also like to save my seeds from year to year. Seeds don’t really go bad, unless stored improperly. I am storing my leftover seeds from this year to try and sprout for my garden next year as well. This will also give me the ability to log what seeds were successful, which ones were the tastiest and which ones I wouldn’t mind swapping next season. In the end, I’m saving money and finding like-minded individuals that share the same passion for growing their own food.

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5. Water Conservation

The last sustainable tip I have for you is something that has become a huge issue here in California – water conservation. It may not seem like a big change, but adding a drip irrigation system to your garden or something similar can save big when it comes to water and your water bill. Watering the conventional way with a hose or a watering can can actually waste water. Instead of the water being concentrated in the right areas, like you can with a drip system, the entire bed gets watered when it really doesn’t need to be. An irrigation system can also be set on a time to ensure you water at the right times, whether you’re available or not and make it so that your water is being used in the best way. Installing a system may require an upfront investment, especially if you have someone else install it for you. But the investment is worth the cost when you think about the time, effort and precious resource it saves in the long run.

Those are all the tips I have for you today. Let me know if you have any additional tips for a more sustainable garden or if you are using any of these practices currently.

Until next time! 

MelissaRose

 

Transplanting Seedlings into Larger Containers

Since starting my seedlings, I wasn’t really sure how the entire process would turn out. It’s my first time starting my garden from seeds, and while I was up for the challenge, I couldn’t help but be nervous that I might somehow screw things up. I am happy to report that so far, everything has been growing according to plan. I presprouted my seeds a few weeks ago, moved them into egg carton planters after about a week and today I moved them into bigger containers to continue to establish strong root systems. It is exciting to watch them grow and see how quickly some of them begin to become recognizable. If you’d like to see more of that process, be sure to check out my other blog posts under Sustainability.

Last year, I started my garden from pre-grown smaller plants from my local hardware store. Doing it this way was definitely convenient, but I found it had been a bit more pricey than I had anticipated. I mean, sure, it’s great to be able to grow my own food, but why were these little plants so expensive? To top it off, they weren’t organic plants, so I couldn’t even really be sure of what I was really getting – what kind of pesticides may have been used, if any weird processes had been used to grow them or if anything had been done to the soil that they were in. Starting my garden from seeds was an easy choice, even if it meant starting the gardening process months before I needed to with the pre-grown plants. Today I feel like I really got to enjoy some of the first fruits of my labor. Moving the tiny seedlings into larger containers gave me the ability to see how much they had grown, not only above the soil, but in their root systems as well. The entire process was so gratifying, and I cannot wait for the next steps coming up within the next few months.

Since starting this process, I knew I wanted to be as cost-effective as possible. After all, this was one of the main reasons I was starting from seeds in the first place. I did this by repurposing items that otherwise would have been thrown out, and this step was no different. The plants I purchased last year for my garden all came in plastic planter pots – nothing too substantial but sturdy enough that I had decided to save them. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what I might reuse them for, but luckily had saved every single one of them anyhow. When I remembered I had stowed them away in our backyard shed I was thrilled. I was able to repurpose almost every single plastic pot so far for my garden this year. I’m also hoping, that if I’m careful, that I may be able to save them for yet another go ‘round next year. These were a perfect solution since they already had drainage holes, and were easy to label on the outsides with a permanent marker. This alleviated any need to buy additional markers for the new plants. I did not have any drainage dishes for them, but I was able to use the same black vegetable snack tray I used to place my egg cartons on when I started. They are now sitting in my living room, under the window that gets the best light, and hopefully, living their best life until it’s time to be planted outside.

I’d say this process is fairly simple. The most important part is to be as gentle as possible – we are dealing with babies here after all. As before, I will put this task in a step by step format in an effort to be as clear and concise as possible. Are you starting your garden from seeds this year, or have you ever? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for success.

Supplies

Seed babies (I guess the technical term would be “seedlings”. These are the ones you have in your egg cartons)

Bigger containers such as terra cotta or plastic pots. You could also get crafty and use red solo cups, old containers for food items such as yogurt, butter spread, etc – just be sure to punch some drainage holes into the bottom.

A small trowel or large spoon. I used a large spoon from my kitchen because it seemed to fit best into my egg carton cups.

Vegetable garden soil. I used Kellog Organic Plus Garden Soil.

A tray to place everything on once completed. This is solely for catching any water that drains out when watering your plants. If you are using a greenhouse or something that you don’t mind getting wet you can skip this supply.

Permanent marker for marking your pots. You can really use any sort of labeling system for these that you like. I’ve seen masking tape with writing on it, popsicle stick labels and even small rocks with the names of the plant written on top. Do whatever makes you happiest!

  1. Collect all of your supplies and mark your pots with the corresponding plant name that will be moving in.
  2. Paying close attention to the name on your first pot, fill the pot with garden soil and get ready to dig out your first seedling (deep breaths! And remember to be gentle).
  3. Once filled with garden soil set the pot close by and grab your large spoon. Use the spoon to carefully wiggle the seedling its roots and the dirt around the roots out of the egg carton.
  4. After you’ve removed the seedling from it’s egg cup, hold it gently in your opposite hand. This frees your dominant hand to dig a new hole in your new pot for your plant.
  5. Gently place the seed baby into the new hole of the new pot and fill around with dirt. Press this new dirt firmly into place, making sure your plant is able to stand upright as it did in the egg carton.
  6. Once firmly planted, water with your spray bottle full of water or use a watering can – whichever method you like best – get some water to the seedling. I actually transplanted all of my seedlings, and then watered them all at once at the end, but you can do in whatever order you like.
  7. Place seedlings in a place with lots of light and warmth and continue to enjoy watching them grow!

I’ve really enjoyed my process so far because I haven’t had to thin anything out this way. I know exactly which seeds sprouted and so I was able to move just one plant at a time. I’m happy to say that I only had a couple of seeds that did not sprout at all, and so I have a pretty wide range of seedlings up to this point. I will continue to keep my fingers crossed that these little seedlings stay alive long enough to provide a yummy harvest this summer. Until next time!

MelissaRose

Transferring Pre-Sprouted Seeds

When I pre-sprouted my seeds, I wasn’t fully sure what I was doing. I read some articles online about pre-sprouting and thought it would be a great choice considering my zone and the time of year. You can read more about my process here. I am happy to say that almost all of my seeds sprouted using this method. I was so happy to open up my little ziploc green houses and see baby plants forming inside. Some of the seeds such as the lettuce and the broccoli only took a few days, the tomatoes, squash and peppers took a bit longer. Sadly, the only ones that didn’t sprout completely, were the peppers. I only had a couple of bell pepper seeds sprout, so I have now planted those directly in the dirt along with some unsprouted seeds, so we will see how that goes. In this post, I want to show you how I transferred them into egg carton planters.

I used egg cartons as planters for a couple of different reasons. First, was for cost – these are basically free versus buying new planters from the store and would ordinarily just be tossed out anyway. Second, because of the material the cartons are made of. I buy cage free organic eggs which come in recycled containers made of paper product pulp. This makes them safe for the plants, but they are also great at retaining moisture, which seedlings need in their earlier stages. So not only is this a great sustainable option it’s a great problem solving option as well that doesn’t cost any money. All in all, I was able to get 10 seed varieties and my bag of seed starter for under $20. This is SO much cheaper than what it cost me last year to start my garden from seedlings from the hardware store, and I think this is so much better because I know exactly how the seeds are being raised and can rest assured that they are completely organic.

I have been saving egg cartons for a few months and a tray from a vegetable snack platter to rest them on. I bought some Jiffy Seed Starter from Lowes to plant my seeds in. Using seed starter is very important as regular potting mix does not have the appropriate nutrients or pH balance for young seedlings, so be sure to use something like this instead. To start, I numbered my egg cartons, 1, 2 and 3. I then created a diagram on another page of my garden planner from Homestead and Chill so that I wouldn’t forget which seed went where. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to tell plants apart when they’re this young! I used a regular kitchen spoon (dirt don’t hurt) to add starter to each egg cup. I then gently pulled the seeds from their paper towels and pressed them each into their own slot. I left the little leaves of each seed atop the dirt but made the sure the roots were covered. The hardest part at this point was making sure I didn’t damage the roots when pulling them from the paper towel. Many of the little roots actually grew through the towel itself, so it was important to pull very gently. If you’re not able to remove it from the paper, you can take some of the towel with the root and plant it with the seed as the paper towel will biodegrade in the starter mix. After planting each type of seed, I wrote it down on my garden planner. I did one seed per cup with the exception of the mixed greens. I had so many seeds (I think I pre-sprouted too many) that I didn’t want to just throw them away. I had enough to put a few per cup (which I imagine I’ll have to thin out later) as well as give some to a friend. It will be a good lesson though, to see how to thin them out and give them their own planters later on.

Once all the little plant babies were in their new homes, I used a spray bottle filled with water to moisten each seed cup. It’s still important to keep the seedlings most and warm as this will continue to encourage growth. I do this by placing them in the sun during the day, and atop the refrigerator at night. Each time I move the cartons I give each cup a good spritz with the water bottle. It’s so exciting to see them grow and perk up even after just a couple of days. There are still some seeds in the ziploc baggies which I need to figure out what to do with. I think I might just plant them also and have a surplus of seedlings to give away to friends, family and neighbors. We will see how many survive, but I’m having a good feeling so far!

Are you doing any gardening yet? I know alot of people throughout the US are stuck in the cold right now. What do you think about starting a garden from seeds?

Until next time,

MelissaRose

Pre-Sprouting Seeds

This post is meant as a New Year’s 2019 Resolution check-in, specifically on the progress of my gardening. I wrote a post a while back about how you could in fact garden in January. Now this doesn’t mean digging in the dirt and planting things, what I meant is to start planning your garden. Throughout January (we only have 3 days left, how crazy is that?) I have been working on planning out my space. This involved sketching out my boxes and plants, figuring out which items would do well grown next to each other, and deciding that I want to implement some sort of irrigation system this year to make my goals easier to attain. I live in zone 9b and we get some pretty crazy hot summers, so deciding to add a drip system is really a no-brainer. Once I had a plan, I made a list of the seeds I wanted to buy. I didn’t need to buy containers or planters, because throughout the last few months, I had been saving things that I thought might prove useful to my new journey. I collected several egg cartons, some random plastic trays from snack packaging and had several ziploc bags on hand for my pre-sprouting.

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Pre-sprouting is basically a first step in getting your seeds ready to plant. I’ve never started a garden from seeds, so I’m really just doing my research and trying to decide what will work best for me. Pre-sprouting sounded like a good idea because it gave me the ability to see which seeds would actually sprout before throwing them into the dirt. This alleviates a few things – wasting seeds, crowding seeds and eventually thinning out plants if more should sprout than you expect. Pre-sprouting also make the seeds sprout faster than if they were started in soil, and for me, it just seemed like the safest way to get this project started. Since I am in the zone that I am, I can start most of my seeds fairly early in the year indoors. Check the planting times for your zone to ensure your seeds are being started at the proper time for your areas climate. This process is really quite simple, I did it in only about an hours time after work on a weekday, and it only requires a few supplies. I’m going to write it out like a recipe in hopes that it’s easier to follow and understand. Please note, that I did this only a day ago, so nothing has sprouted yet, but I will update on how well this works for me once they do (fingers crossed).

Pre-Sprouting Seeds

Paper towels, I used the narrow towels cut in halves, you need one half for every type of seed you will be pre-sprouting

Ziploc bags, I am using snack bags but any size should work, you need one bag for every type of seed. These act like a green house around your seeds.

Water, you can use the faucet or a spray bottle if you prefer. Spray bottles make it easier to dampen the paper towels down the road when they start to dry out.

Vegetable seeds, all of your favorites will do.

Permanent marker or some way of labeling your baggies

A tray of some sort to keep your baggies on. I am using a black plastic tray from an old vegetable snack tray. I think the black will help with heat retention and keeping the seeds warm.

  1. The first thing I did was label each ziploc bag with the name of the seed that would go into it. This made it so that I didn’t crush the seeds once they were in there. Other ideas I’ve seen online is to place a piece of masking tape on the outside of the bag and write on that.
  2. Take your paper towel halves and dampen. I did this by running them under my kitchen sink and wringing out. You can do this, or use a spray bottle.
  3. Lay the damp paper towel out flat. Place a row of seeds in the center of the paper towel. Do a couple extra seeds to how many plants you want as not all may sprout (this is normal). Do not place them on top of one another or too close. Try to do a nice spaced out row.
  4. Gently fold the damp paper towel around the seeds and place into the ziploc bag. Do not seal.
  5. Place unsealed ziploc bags with seeds onto your tray and put somewhere warm and in the sun. The seeds need sun, warmth and humidity to sprout. If you do not have a sunny place, you can use a grow light. At night, I place my tray on top of my refrigerator to stay slightly warm and during the day, I put under a window that I know gets a bit of natural sun during the day.
  6. Now, we wait. This part is killing me if I’m being honest. I want them to sprout meow. But good things take time. So let’s be patient together, and dampen those paper towels with a spray bottle if they become dry.

According to my research, the seeds should start sprouting in about 2-7 days. I will post an update once mine start sprouting. Good luck!

Are you growing your garden from seeds? Are you pre-sprouting? What are your favorite vegetables to grow?

MelissaRose