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How to Grow Your Own Herbs

With the cost of everything going up, many people are turning to gardening as a way to save money on food. Depending on your location or gardening experience or abilities, a fruit or vegetable garden may seem daunting or just not possible. One way to get started that doesn’t require a huge amount of space is planting an herb garden. Dried herbs from the store are pricey, so growing your own still can help your budget while giving your food loads of fresh flavor.

Starting Your Herb Garden

 

Choosing Your Herbs

First you’ll want to choose the herbs that you’ll plant. You might have a hard time doing this because of the huge scope of herbs available. The most practical way to choose is to do what I did; look at what you have in your kitchen. By planting your own collection of the herbs you already use, you know you’ll get the most use from your garden. Some of the herbs you might start with include rosemary, sage, basil, dill, mint, chives, and parsley.

Don’t feel that you have to only start with these, though. If there’s an herb you’re curious about, give it a try. If plant medicine is something that interests you, research and plant a few basics like lavender, catnip or lemon balm.

Location

When choosing an area to put your herb garden, you should remember that the soil should have extremely good drainage. If the dirt gets watered and stays completely saturated, you have no chance of ever growing a healthy plant.

One way to fix the drainage problem is to dig a foot deep in the soil, and put a layer of crushed rocks down before replacing all the soil. This will allow all that water to escape, thus saving your plants.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Another way is to build a raised bed. This allows you to fill the bed with a suitable soil mix without having to dig down deep into your existing soil. Raised beds can be made from timbers, bricks or any suitable material you have available.

If you are incredibly limited on space or don’t have a yard at all, herbs are perfect for container gardens.

Getting your plants

When you are ready to begin planting herbs, you might be tempted to buy the more expensive plants from the store. However, with herbs it is much easier to grow them from seed than it is with other plants. Therefore you can save a bundle of money by sticking with seed packets. If you’re a little impatient (like me), a selectively chosen plant or two is nice for some greenery to tend while you wait for the seeds to sprout.

I personally haven’t had much luck with starting lavender or rosemary from seed, so I would choose those to get as a small plant. Plants in the mint family and basils do really well from seed, so save your money on those.

Once mints start growing, they can get out of control. The best way to prevent this problem is to plant the more aggressive plants in pots (with holes in the bottom to allow drainage, of course).

Harvesting from Your Herb Garden

When it comes time to harvest the herbs you have labored so hard over, it can be fatal to your plant to take off too much. If your plant isn’t well established, it isn’t healthy to take any leaves at all, even if it looks like it isn’t using them. You should wait until your plant has been well established for at least a few months before taking off any leaves. This wait will definitely be worth it, because by growing unabated your plant will produce healthily for years to come.

It’s a good idea to harvest from the ends of the plants as needed throughout the growing season to keep the shape and encourage new growth. The end of the season is when you’ll want to harvest and dry more of the plant for storage. Do check recommendations for the specific herbs in your garden as not all are the same.

Storing Your Herbs

Once you’ve harvested your delicious home grown herbs, you’ll want to use them year round. The easiest way to store them is drying. If you have a safe place to hang them to air dry that isn’t overly humid, that is the simplest. I also think this way preserves the most color and flavor.

You could also use a food dehydrator on the recommended settings. If not, don’t worry. You can dry them in the oven. This is easily achieved by placing them on a cookie sheet and baking them on the lowest setting, usually around 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 4 hours. After they’re sufficiently dried, store them in an airtight container such as a Ziploc bag or glass jar. I think they look beautiful in glass jars, so save any you get to upcycle as herb storage.

Image by Monfocus from Pixabay

During the first few days of storage, you should regularly check the container and see if any moisture has accumulated. If it has, you must remove all the herbs and re-dry them. If moisture is left from the first drying process, it will encourage mildew.

Herbs are a fun, easy and useful way to get into gardening no matter what your space. I encourage you to give it a try.

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Wicked Weeds or Nutritious Wild Edibles

It has always bothered me that only certain plants are seen as acceptable and others are weeds that must be pulled or poisoned out of our yards. When you consider that the so-called weeds require fewer resources like water because, if left alone, they grow like, well, weeds, it makes even less sense. Why remove a low maintenance plant and replace it with something high maintenance? This thinking got me researching the uncultivated plants that grow in my yard and in my neighborhood. To my surprise, many of the weeds are actually wild edibles that are often highly nutritious or medicinal. 

Even though we live in the city, our large lot provides plenty of variety of wild edible plants. I’ve found the Picture This app very helpful for identifying the plants in my yard. Here’s a few of the most common I’ve found.

A few notes on Safety with Wild Edibles

If you decide to look around your neighborhood, please, be sure you know for sure what plant you have before eating anything. I recommend checking multiple sources. Foraging for wild edibles is fun, as long as you use caution and only eat the plants you are 100% sure about. 

I’m finding that most wild greens are high in oxalic acid, so it’s important to not overdo it and be extra cautious if you have any medical concerns.

Henbit

Henbit, or Lamium amplexicaule is very common to see in early spring. It gets it’s name because chickens love it. As one of the first flowers of the year, it is an important food source for bees, so be mindful if you choose to harvest any.

Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

A member of the mint family, henbit is rich in vitamins and minerals. You can eat the leaves and flowers raw in salads or cooked. Tea made from henbit is also thought to reduce stress and anxiety.

Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel is super easy to identify. It’s a little shamrock! The wood sorrel we have produces little yellow flowers and has a lemony taste. My favorite part are the little seed pods. They look like teeny tiny okra and taste like lemon candy.

Image by GK von Skoddeheimen from Pixabay

Wood sorrel is delicate, so it’s best to eat it fresh. Like many foraged plants, it’s high in oxalic acid, so don’t eat a lot and proceed with caution if you have any condition that would make oxalic acid especially dangerous.

Sunflowers

Did you know that you can eat more than just the sunflower seeds? The entire plant is edible! The leaves are eaten like spinach or brewed into tea. The petals and roots can be made into tea as well.

Dried sunflowers waiting to be made into tea, balms and soaps.

Flower buds can be cooked and eaten. I haven’t tried it yet, but I read they taste similar to artichokes. Apparently the stems taste like celery, and make a tasty snack. In addition to tea, the roots can be steamed, roasted or eaten raw.

Sunflowers are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Sunflower leaves are thought to help with inflammation when applied topically as a poultice or drank as a tea. The tea is also supposed to be good for sore throats.

Want to learn about more wild edibles?

I started with the most common and easily identifiable plants, but there’s so many more I can share just from my own yard. Let me know if you want to learn more or share your own experiences in the comments below.

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Shop Sale!

All items in my shop are 15% off until Friday, July 16, so please, check it out. Here’s just a few of the things you’ll find.

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Garden Tour: Bell Peppers, Tomatoes, Jalapenos, Beans, Wild Amaranth and a Sale

Bell peppers in the garden

After years of living here, we finally planted an actual garden this year. These aren’t all of the plants, but they’re the ones that are doing the best so far. In the future, I’ll have to update as the others get more interesting, and share about all of my container plants, too.

Bell Peppers

I honestly have no idea how big I should let these get before harvesting. I know they will change color, so while I do enjoy green peppers, I figure letting at least a few turn red will let me know when they’re ready.

Bell peppers in the garden
Green bell peppers

Tomatoes

We planted a couple of varieties of tomato plants, then a neighbor gave us a few more, so we should have lots of tomatoes this year.

Huge green tomato
Green tomatoes

Those lovely tomatoes on the bottom got so big that they started to break the plant. Chris harvested them, and I did the yummiest thing I could think to do with green tomatoes: fry them.

Jalapenos

We have one jalapeno plant, and it’s an overachiever. We’ve already harvested four peppers and there’s about a dozen more currently on the plant.

Jalapeno plant
Jalapenos

You can see a few in the photo. There’s more hiding behind the leaves.

Pumpkin

The pumpkin was kind of an accident. We left an uncarved pumpkin sitting out front all winter. After the freeze in February it split and all the seeds were exposed. I through some soil on it and ignored it. Before long, we had about a million little pumpkin plants. I transplanted a few to the garden area and they’ve taken off.

Pumpkin plants
Pumpkin plants.

Some of the pumpkin plants left in the front were huge, but they took over the walkway and started getting damaged from the dogs walking through them, so we removed them. Hopefully these will continue to grow. It would be so cool to have pumpkins from our own garden this fall.

Beans

A few months ago, my clumsy self picked up a bag of pinto beans the wrong way and spilled a bunch on the floor. I decided to try to sprout them by soaking. When they sprouted, I planted them in the garden. These three plants are the survivors.

Pinto beans
Three little bean plants.

I have no idea if they need more support than just being allowed to climb the fence. I guess we’ll see.

Amaranth

The last major plant that’s taking off is, unsurprisingly, the amaranth. Amaranth literally grows as a weed around here, and we actually started our amaranth patch from weeds. The leaves are an awesome spinach replacement, and the seeds can be cooked or ground into flour. So far we’ve never harvested the seeds, but we do use the greens. It is important to note that they do contain a lot of oxalic acid, so you have to be careful of that. I’ve heard blanching helps to reduce the amount of oxalic acid, so I do that when cooking with amaranth.

Here’s a video of Chris harvesting some of our amaranth, filmed by Beckett.

What are your favorite things to plant? If you’ve been gardening this year, I would love to see.

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Shop Sale!

All items in my shop are 15% off until Friday, July 16, so please, check it out. Here’s just a few of the things you’ll find.

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Fascinating Hummingbird Moth Hemaris thysbe Sighting

Hummingbird moth

Have you ever heard of a hummingbird moth? I hadn’t, until one day I saw this little creature that looked like a cross between a bee and a hummingbird buzzing around our Chaste tree. Luckily it didn’t mind me at all, so I was able to get a few pictures of them.

Hummingbird moth
It’s in the bottom right corner, if the business of the Chaste flowers make it hard to find.

I really wasn’t sure what to think at first. It’s size and tail made me think of a hummingbird, but it had antennae. In person, the wings moved so fast that they were hard to see, just like a hummingbird, and it hovered more like a hummingbird than a bee. Fortunately, a quick Google search of “bee hummingbird” was all it took to find out more about this fascinating creature.

I’m a little surprised that I haven’t seen one before now. They are a bit rare, but tend to love honeysuckle, and our yard has lots of honeysuckle. I guess this one prefers the colorful purple blossoms of the chaste tree.

Hummingbird Moth 2

I’m pretty sure the one I saw is a Hemaris thysbe, or hummingbird clearwing sphinx moth. I am a little concerned, as hornworms are the larval stage for the hummingbird moth, and hornworms love tomatoes. All of our tomato plants are in the back yard while most of the big flowering plants are in the front, so hopefully that will help keep them away from the tomatoes. So far I haven’t seen any of the hornworm caterpillars near the tomatoes.

Photo by icon0.com from Pexels

We absolutely saw a few of these huge caterpillars in the front yard earlier this spring, though. They’re kind of hard to miss. If I had known the awesomeness they turn into, I might have attempted to watch the process somehow.

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Friday Five

Sometimes throughout the week I think of things that I’d like to share with you but aren’t really worthy of a whole post. They could be things I’ve been working on, other sites I’ve discovered, shop or sale info, or general randomness. My solution is the Friday Five, where I quickly share some of those random or interesting things.

Sewing machine struggles

My Kenmore needs repair again. This time I got so frustrated with it that I packed it up and moved it off my desk. I don’t like using my Brother for anything except embroidery. I’d hate to mess up my only embroidery machine when I have another basic sewing machine. So, that leaves me with my vintage Montgomery Wards Signature. It works really well, but I’m not as familiar with all of the settings. I’m nervous about sewing anything special, because I don’t want to ruin anything by having tensions or stitch length wrong.

It’s also on the other side of my craft room from my other machines and in it’s own table. That means I have to bring everything I need over to it, rather than have it stored within reach. That all has deterred me from sewing lately.

I finally decided earlier this week to try to finish some of the masks I was working on when my Kenmore broke. Those are fairly simple and I have plenty of cotton fabric, so if my machine eats it, it’s not too bad. So far I only finished one, though, due to interruptions and being slow on an unfamiliar machine.

I guess someone felt the need to decorate it for Halloween.

Masks?

On the subject of masks, I’m contemplating adding them to my shop, but not sure if there’s still enough demand for handmade. I keep getting requests from friends and neighbors, though, so maybe? It would be nice to have them listed so I can have a catalog of sorts to show people when asked. Thoughts?

These were a special order from a friend. Luckily I finished them before my Kenmore broke. Sewing someone else’s fabric on an unfamiliar machine is scary.

Meal planning is hard

I had a dentist appointment last weekend that involved an extraction along with some fillings. That means that along with my usual gluten and dairy free restrictions, I’ve had to accommodate not really being able to chew. For most meals, that means planning for the family and separately for myself. I’ve also been fairly successful with losing some weight lately, so I didn’t want to get out of my healthy eating habits by living off mashed potatoes and ice cream for a week. That made it more challenging, because most of the healthy, filling foods I can think of require chewing. Luckily I’m down to only avoiding things that are crunchy or have small seeds that could get painfully stuck.

Odd shopping habits

I finally reorganized the pantry shelves this morning in an attempt to make meal planning easier. For some reason, I have four jars of salsa. Four! Three of them are the bigger jars, too, and all the same variety. I also have a ton of dried black beans, two varieties of split peas and lots of lentils. The black beans and lentils kind of make sense, but I’m the only one who likes split peas. I also thought I had black eyed peas and was planning on using them in a curry this weekend, but I don’t. At least now I know what I have and what I need.

Creative Home Projects Bundle 2020

The Creative Home Projects Bundle 2020 is only available for a few more hours. I talk more about it in this post. If you’re interested, be sure to order it before 11:59pm Eastern time tonight. For total disclosure, I do receive a small commission on bundles sold through my links. If you’re into DIY, I do think it’s worth having a look at the list of everything included and see if it’s right for you.

There’s also a 30 day money back guarantee. Before I became an affiliate, I purchased several of the bundles. I loved all except for one. Maybe it was because I already followed a lot of the authors in that bundle, but I just didn’t feel like I gained any new information from that particular bundle. I requested a refund by email within the 30 days and had it right away with no problems. I always hate guarantees or free trials that make it hard to cancel or request a refund, so I really appreciate how easy it was with Ultimate Bundles.

That’s it for today. Have a great weekend!

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Kombucha Questions

Here’s a few common questions about kombucha. I’ve answered them based on my research and personal experience.

IMG_1940

How much should I drink?

If you’ve never had kombucha before, you’ll want to start slowly. Kombucha can have a detoxifying effect that can be unpleasant if you rush it. It is recommended to start with about an ounce per day at first and gradually increase until you reach a comfortable level for you. If you notice any ill effects cut back or stop for a few days to let your body catch up. Drinking lots of water can help, too.

Of course, you should always listen to your body. If you feel like you can’t tolerate kombucha don’t push it. There are plenty of other ways to get probiotics. Also, I’m not a doctor, and the above might not apply to everyone depending on your personal health. If you have any concerns, definitely consult your doctor.

Can I use metal utensils when making kombucha?

Metal tea kettles for boiling the water are fine. It’s fine to stir the tea and sugar together with a metal spoon before adding the SCOBY. What you want to avoid is the SCOBY coming into contact with metal as that can damage the SCOBY. Even then, I have heard very brief contact is ok, such as when cutting up a giant SCOBY. I prefer to peel apart the layers and avoid metal touching my SCOBYs, though.

Can I use honey/stevia/coconut sugar/some other sweetener?

The sugar is food for the SCOBY and plain white sugar is recommended because it is easy for the SCOBY to digest. I have heard of some people having success with other sugars, but I haven’t tried it myself. If you want to try another form of sugar, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a tea/white sugar brew as backup.

Stevia or other zero calorie sweeteners will not work because they don’t provide food for the SCOBY.

Can I use flavored teas?

Not for the main brew. You can use flavored teas to add flavor in a second ferment.

Can I use decaf teas?

This is another one where I’ve heard conflicting information. Most say not to use decaf tea. If you want to try decaf, as with different sugars, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a regular tea/white sugar brew as backup.

My SCOBY looks funny. Is it bad?

Most SCOBYs look funny. They can be smooth and creamy colored or have air pockets and brown spots. The bottoms usually have brown stringy tentacle things hanging down. New SCOBYs grow on top of older ones until they look like a stack of slimy pancakes. (Eww.) All of this is normal, and there’s probably a million variations I haven’t described.

There are two main things to watch for: mold and black. If your SCOBY molds, it will look like blue-green dusty mold, just like what grows on bread. If you get mold, throw it all out and start over.

Black means the SCOBY is dead or dying. Toss it.

My kombucha tastes like vinegar. What happened?

Kombucha is supposed to taste vinegary, but if it’s too strong you can always mix it with something like juice to make it more palatable. You can also use super-vinegary kombucha in place of apple cider vinegar in recipes. If it’s straight vinegar with no sugariness left, you could use it as a hair rinse or for household cleaning where you would use ACV.

To make future batches less vinegary, there’s a couple of things to try.

1. Kombucha brews faster in warmer weather. If it’s been hot, try a shorter brew time and/or increasing the amount of sugar in the brew.

2. If your SCOBY is getting super thick, split off some layers. More SCOBY = shorter brew time.

My kombucha is too sweet. What happened?

The easiest fix is to let it brew longer. If it’s cold, moving your jar to a warmer location may help. I think the ideal range is somewhere around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You should also check the condition of your SCOBY. If it is turning black, you’ll want to replace it.

Should I store my SCOBYs in the refrigerator?

No. You want to avoid extreme temperatures because they can damage the SCOBYs. The best range is between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

To store your extra SCOBYs, place them in a lidded jar with at least enough kombucha for them to float and store in a cool-ish location, such as a pantry or shelf out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources.

Find more of my kombucha posts here:  http://mycrazycottage.blogspot.com/search/label/Kombucha

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Kombucha Tea: Continuous Brewing

To set up continuous brewing KT, you’ll want to have a jar with a spigot. There’s some debate over the best materials for the jar and spigot. The biggest thing to watch for is something non-metallic, although I think I’ve heard stainless steel is okay. Most people like to avoid plastics to prevent any weird chemicals from leeching into the KT. I went with the cheapest, most available option of a glass sun tea pitcher with a plastic spigot.
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Continuous brew before replenishing with fresh sweet tea. I also need to separate the monster SCOBY.
Keep about half of the finished KT and the SCOBY in the jar and bottle the rest. Brew about half a gallon of tea. I use two black tea bags, one green tea bag and one half to one cup of sugar. Let it cool and add it to the jar with your finished KT and SCOBY. Since you replaced half of the KT, you’ll want to wait a couple of days before drinking from the new batch. After that, you can drink some fresh from the tap every day. Just replace what you drink with fresh sweet tea. Because you are only adding a small amount of fresh tea in relation to the KT, you can drink a little every day without the wait time. I like to keep a small pitcher of sweet tea in the refrigerator to replenish what gets taken out each day. 

Find all of my kombucha posts here: http://mycrazycottage.blogspot.com/search/label/Kombucha