Tag Archives: gardening

Homegrown dried herbs

My first garden was sort of hit or miss. The herbs grew beautifully, and I harvested quite a few cucumbers before the plant succumbed to wilt. The red peppers were too shaded by the gigantic tomato plant to ever do much of anything. And that tomato plant? Pfft. It grew probably about 20 GIANT tomatoes that never turned red. I think it was a combination of planting too late and putting too much into one tiny bed.

I was feeling guilty about my beautiful herbs, though, because I didn’t think I’d used enough. As the first frost neared, I wanted to try to salvage some of them for drying so I could get a little more use out of them. I was really intimidated by the idea of drying herbs myself. My favorite Food Network chef, Alton Brown, did an entire show on the practice of drying herbs, but his method was so complicated and required buying lots of equipment. I didn’t have time for that. So I decided to do it the old-fashioned way and hope for the best.

I clipped as many stems as I could from each plant. Then I bundled them up and tied them with something I had laying around — embroidery floss. It took some thinking to find a way to hang them, but I eventually tied the bundles to a couple of ordinary hangers. I hung them in a dry, dark place in my house, and I left them alone.

About two weeks later, I cut them off the strings, removed the stems, crushed them into tiny flakes, and put them into clean, dry baby food jars that I reserved specifically for this purpose. I used office labels to mark each jar. Unfortunately, my gorgeous basil plant didn’t survive long enough for me to clip any for drying, but I have rosemary, oregano, peppermint, sage, and a little bit of parsley.

It was so simple! My only regret is that I didn’t clip more stems. I thought I’d end up with too many, but once they’re dried, removed from the stems, and crushed, they take up much less space than when they’re fresh. There’s not really enough parsley to do anything but garnish a few dishes, but I have a ton of rosemary and oregano and a little sage for our holiday cooking this year.

I will most definitely be doing this again next year with my late herb harvest. These dried herbs are much cheaper and fresher than the freeze-dried jars at the grocery store, and looking at these tiny jars of fresh dried herbs makes me feel so proud of my tiny little garden.

Is gardening really frugal? An update

Since I wrote an update on how line drying is going and what I’ve learned from that last week, I thought I’d share how things are going with our little vegetable garden.

You might recall, I’ve had trouble with container gardening in the past. I worried that I was doomed to a black thumb forever. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case. My little vegetable garden is doing pretty well considering how late in the season it was planted and how little I knew what I was doing when I started.

Here’s how it looked right after I planted it:

And here it is yesterday:

Unbelievable what sunshine, water, and time can do for a garden!

I sort of rushed planting this garden, because it was late in the season, and I wanted to get some experience under my belt before I try my hand at some more ambitious gardening next year. I’d like to plant directly into the ground next season, but that’s going to take some considerable prep time that I just didn’t have this year. Instead, I put this tiny raised bed into the existing flower bed in front of the house. I planted red pepper, tomato, cucumber, sage, peppermint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, and basil.

The cucumber plant is my biggest success. I’ve already picked two cucumbers, and I see about 10 or 15 more tiny ones growing now. The basil and rosemary are thriving, and we’ve gotten the most use out of the basil for pizzas, pesto, and other cooking. I’m not quite sure what to do with the other herbs, but I want to harvest them late in the season and try my hand and drying them out for later use. I was worried about the tomato for a while, because I wasn’t seeing any signs of fruit, but now I’ve got several blossoms. I’m hoping to see at least some tomatoes, but I probably could have grown more if I hadn’t waited until the middle of June to plant.

Because I was so rushed, I made a ton of mistakes. But I learned! And that’s what’s important, right?

Lesson #1: Cages should go on tomatoes, cucumbers, and any other plant you want to grow vertically immediately after planting. This isn’t something you can do later. Doh. Consequently, when the cucumber and tomato plants started taking over my garden, I tried to rig a cage to hold them up. It’s sort of doing the job, but not as effectively as it should. I feel pretty stupid about this one, because it seems so obvious now.

Lesson #2: Plan your garden carefully and avoid giant plants in tiny beds. Seriously, look at that tiny little cucumber plant in the first photo. I had NO IDEA the thing would grow to be so giant and try to take over the entire bed. I had an idea about the size of tomato plants, but I probably shouldn’t have planted the red pepper plant right next to it. Sadly, my red pepper plant is not going to make it because it’s so overshadowed by the tomato. I was able to rig the cucumber plant in a cage to prevent it from taking over everything, but the parsley isn’t doing well because it’s under the cucumber.

Lesson #3: Plant what you eat. I sort of grabbed the plants that looked best to me, and there wasn’t a lot left in the middle of June. I knew we’d have a ton of uses for basil, but I’m sort of at a loss for what to do with the rest of the herbs. And I have no clue what I’m going to do with 20 cucumbers that will likely ripen within a week or two. I see lots of pickles in our future. When I plant my big garden, I’m going to be more careful about selecting what to plant to ensure that we get lots of use out of the food we grow.

Lesson #4: Gardening doesn’t always save money. I had hoped my garden would reduce our grocery bill. It’s taking forever to grow anything, though, and most of the herbs are things we don’t use regularly anyway. Between plants, the prefab raised beds, and soil (who knew soil was so expensive?!), I spent about $100 on my garden. I doubt I’ll yield enough to cover my overhead this season.

Next year I’ll lower my costs my planting directly into the ground (or building raised beds myself from lumber). We plan to start a compost bin soon, which will provide us with fertilizer, and tilling the soil and planting in the ground will mostly eliminate the high cost of soil. I will probably still buy seedlings next year, because I’m not confident enough in my ability to grow from seeds just yet. But in the future, I’d like to grow from seeds to cut down on plant costs. I also plan to learn about canning so we can make the most of our harvest during the winter months.

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I need to grow a green thumb pronto

One of the things I love most about our house is that it rests on about an acre of beautiful land. Unfortunately, we moved in a little late in the season to till and plant a garden, but you better believe I’ll have a mini farm back there next spring. Tony is looking forward to cutting down on the amount of grass he needs to cut, and I can’t wait to harvest fresh organic produce.

In the meantime, I put in a small raised herb and vegetable garden in the flower bed in front of the house. We planted red pepper, tomato, cucumber, sage, peppermint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, and basil. It’s my first garden, so I wanted to keep it small and manageable. But I have much bigger plans for the future.

Everyone who has visited us has walked around the property and marveled at the plant life. Unfortunately, most of it is overgrown and woefully neglected. That’s one of the downsides of purchasing a renovated home. The seller bought it a year ago, completely renovated the interior, and let the acre of property grow unchecked. In some spots, our yard has turned into a rainforest.

Exhibit A: Piles and piles of yard waste behind the shed that’s dead underneath but sprouting plants and vines on top.

Exhibit B: Dead wood stacked next to the shed that we need to do something about before it attracts termites.

Exhibit C: Patch of weeds with flowers underneath. In the spring, there were daffodils here. I have no idea what other pretty plants would thrive if we could get rid of all this weedy growth.

Exhibit D: Honeysuckle plant that may eventually overtake our house if we don’t get it under control soon.

Exhibit E: Brambles and brush that’s possibly hiding a mulberry bush and who knows how many critters. Yikes.

One of the ambitious plans I discussed with my mom was the possibility of planting a mini orchard – a couple small apple trees and maybe a pear tree.

Both my parents and my in-laws have come to visit the house since we moved in, and we walked the yard with both of them to get their help identifying some of the plant life. They all assumed the four trees with tiny fruit growing on them were crab apple trees. I decided I’d probably take them down to make room for my mini orchard eventually.

This weekend, though, I discovered that the tiny fruit on those trees has continued to grow, and they appear to be growing into real, honest-to-goodness apples.

Exhibit F: Mysterious fruit-bearing trees.

I can’t find a reliable way to tell if they’re true apples or crab apples. They don’t seem as round as crab apples. I cut into one, and it looked exactly like an apple on the inside. It also tasted like a tart apple. It was tart, but definitely sweet, not bitter. I haven’t been able to find out whether crab apples look and taste like apples, but they already look bigger than most of the crab apples I’ve seen in pictures.

One thing I’ve read in several places is that the only difference between crab apples and true apples is that crab apples are less than 2 inches in diameter. Some of the fruit on these trees is already 2 inches or maybe a little bigger, so I have high hopes.

If they are apple trees, they’ve been allowed to grow much too tall (25 or 30 feet). They also haven’t been pruned in at least one growing season, possibly more, because the previous owners of our home before the renovation were an elderly couple that probably didn’t do too much yard work. It looks to me like it’s probably been several seasons since they were pruned.

I’m not sure what kind of fruit the trees will yield this year. There is a ton of fruit on them, and I fear I’ll end up with a million tiny, too-tart apples (or crab apples) instead of a smaller number of plump, delicious apples. The trees are also full of dead limbs and look like they could possibly be sick in some places, so I need to do more research to determine if the fruit is even safe to eat.

I am feeling incredibly overwhelmed by all of the plant life we’ve inherited on this property. It’s an embarrassment of riches for this wanna-be gardener, but I feel like I’ve inherited too much for a beginner to take on at once.

Any tips on how I can save these giant apple trees – or advice on how I can determine if they’re real apple trees at all? I’ve grown unreasonably attached to the idea that they may be apple trees, and I’d like to rescue them if they are. I just have no idea how to do it.

Also, if you have any tips on what I can do about the rest of this hot mess, I’d love to hear them!

I’m trying my luck at herb gardening again


I’ve tried herb gardening a couple times before, and the results were dismal. But I’ve never been a quitter, so I’m giving it another go.

Last weekend, I picked up three herb plants from Lowes — sweet basil, thyme, and rosemary. At $3 each, they cost the same as fresh cut herbs at the grocery store. I already had the window box and soil from my last attempt at herb gardening.

I planted them, and I placed them in the sunniest part of my porch. Unfortunately, even the sunniest part of my porch is pretty shady. I think it only gets a couple hours of direct sunlight a day tops.

It’s been a week and a half, and they’re still alive. The basil is looking a little sad after three days or so of clouds and lower temperatures. I’m hoping a little sunshine today will perk it up a bit. However, the thyme and rosemary seem to be doing okay for now.

I’m looking for a window box hanging device so I can hang them over the edge of the deck. Part of the reason they’re not getting enough sun is the roof overhang that shelters my porch. I’m hoping if I can get them out from under the roof, they’ll do a little better.

I’ve made it through the first week, but I’m a little worried about my basil. It’s looking pretty sad. :( I’m notorious for killing plants. I even managed to kill a pot of impatiens last year after my mom told me they were the hardest plant to kill.

Anyone have any advice for container gardening with herbs? I’m open to anything that might help me get better results this time!

Frugality is good for the Earth


Everyone’s thinking about ways to be more eco-conscious these days. We’re also thinking about ways to save money. Luckily, the two go well together. Most of the habits that are good for the Earth are also good for your budget.

Here are some little changes you can make to help your wallet and the planet:


Consuming less doesn’t just create less waste, it also costs less. Walk or carpool to reduce your fuel consumption (and gas bill). Turn up your thermostat this summer to save electricity. Take shorter showers to conserve water. All of these things will impact your budget and reduce your footprint.


Think before you throw anything away. Is there something else you could do with it? Find creative ways to reuse household items, donate old clothes to Goodwill, check Freecycle before you buy anything new, and list your gently used items on Craigslist to reduce someone else’s consumption and make a little money.


It’s tough to make money on regular recyclables, but it’s possible to earn a little recycling high-tech items. Computers, cameras, cell phones, iPods and other electronics that are too outdated to sell can all be swapped for Amazon gift cards at Gazelle.com. In many stores you can exchange your used ink cartridges for a discount on new ones.


Take care of the things you already own. Mend your worn clothes instead of replacing them. Regularly service your car to maximize gas mileage and extend its life. Check your tire pressure frequently to increase gas mileage and lengthen the time between replacing tires.


Organic is best for health and the environment, but the cost can be high. Even for non-organic produce, you’re paying for transportation (and diesel engines are burning fossil fuels to transport them). Why not save some money and fuel by growing a garden? If you don’t have the space to grow produce, consider an herb garden. Herbs are pricey, but if you have a sunny porch or window you can grow your own for next to nothing.

What frugal habits do you have that are good for the environment?

Photo by aussiegall

Growing herbs indoors?

This week Works for Me Wednesday at Rocks in My Dryer is backwards — bloggers post their problems and open up the comments section for solutions. I’m reposting a question that I asked last week about indoor herb gardening.

For those of you who don’t have time to read my long, sad story of herb failure, I’ll give you the short version: I want to grow my own herbs to save money, but I don’t get enough natural sunlight in my apartment or on my balcony to sustain them. Does anyone have any inexpensive tips for indoor gardening without natural light?

I’ve heard that fluorescent lights work, but I’m not sure how to set something like that up. I’m willing to invest SOME money in this if it will work long term and solve the problem, but absolutely no more than $100.

Thanks to anyone who can help me with this dilemma!