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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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Quick Drawstring Bag Tutorial or How to Reuse Your SubEarthan Cottage Soap Wrapping

I wrap my soaps in fabric because it looks nice, it allows the soap to breathe (read here for why), and because it feels better than plastic. I often wonder what happens to the wrapping. I’m sure there are some that toss it. I know of one person who collects the fabric for quilts. For those of you who, like me, don’t want to throw away something that could be useful but don’t know what to do with it, I have a tutorial for a drawstring pouch, just for you.

This is done with the wrapping from one of my soaps, but you could make it in any size you like.

Materials
Cloth wrapper from soap (roughly 8×11 inches)
Jute string from soap (about 29 inches)
Thread

Tools
Needle or Sewing machine
Safety pin or Bodkin
Scissors
Iron

First, iron your fabric flat. Then, fold down a long edge about 3/4 of an inch to one inch and press. This is for the casing. It doesn’t have to be super precise.

Sew a straight seam along the bottom of the flap to form the casing. All the sewing can be done by hand or machine. I have no time or patience, so I choose machine. Fold your material in half with right sides together like a book.

The fold is at the bottom of this photo.

Next, starting just below the casing seam, sew down the side and across the bottom. I use anywhere from a 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam allowance for this. Again, it doesn’t have to be precise.

With scissors, clip the bottom corners, being careful not to cut your stitching. You could probably skip this step, but it helps the corners look square and crisp. Turn your bag right side out.

Now it’s time to thread the string. Tie one end of the string to a safety pin, large paper clip, or attach a small bodkin. This makes it easier to work it through the casing. Thread it through the casing, safety pin first.

Once you get the string to the other side, remove your safety pin or other tool and adjust the string so that the ends are even.

Knot the ends together once or twice to keep it from coming out.

Ta-da! It’s done! Perfect for organizing your purse, storing jewelry or other small items, or as a small gift bag.

Or holding your favorite bar of soap.

Tutorials are always a little complicated to write because it’s easy to overlook small steps in things you do frequently. If something is unclear, please ask. 🙂

If you have any other creative uses for a SubEarthan Cottage soap wrapper, I would love to hear it!

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How to make powdered laundry detergent

Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergents have always been problematic for me. Certain brands irritate my skin, and I’ve never been able to pinpoint what ingredient is the problem. Even if I knew, most laundry detergents don’t exactly provide a list of ingredients I could check. Luckily, laundry detergent is easy to make. Doing it yourself not only allows you to control what ingredients are in your detergent, it also saves a ton of money.

My recipe uses four basic ingredients stocked by many supermarkets now, and one optional ingredient.

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts Borax
  • 2 parts Washing Soda
  • 1 part Grated Bar Soap
  • 0.25 part Baking Soda
  • Optional Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil  

Prep:

You’ll want a clean, dry, lidded container or bag to store your homemade laundry detergent. If the container isn’t air-tight, the detergent may clump from moisture in the air. Usually it’s easy to break it up, so this isn’t a big problem. If you don’t do laundry very often, though, you probably want to store it in something with a good seal.

The soap can be anything. Most people start out using a laundry soap like Fels Naptha. Once I started making my own soap, I switched to using whatever basic recipe soap I had on hand. You can grate it by hand with a cheese grater or with a shredding disk on a food processor. 

Make it:

Combine the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl. If you’re not familiar with the “parts” measurement, it’s a simple way of making a recipe fit whatever amount you need by giving the amounts as a ratio instead of a specific measurement. You could substitute “cup” for “parts” if that makes it easier.  

Options:

Leave it unscented, use a scented bar of soap, or add your choice of fragrance or essential oil to the combined ingredients and stir to combine. I usually use about half an ounce of fragrance oil per batch. With essential oils, I usually start with 15 drops or so and see how it smells before adding any more. I’ve heard you could use your favorite cologne or perfume, but I haven’t personally tried it. 

Use it:

I use about two tablespoons per load in my top loading machine. You can use one tablespoon for lightly soiled loads, but with my family, every load is a two tablespoon load.

Laundry Detergent
DIY Powdered Laundry Detergent
DIY Laundry detergent

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Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe – Enjoy Your Favorite Fall Drink at Home!

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Ready for all things pumpkin? Here’s my favorite recipe to make a pumpkin spice latte. Make it with tea, coffee or milk in a smoothie for a healthy, frugal way to enjoy pumpkin spice at home.

Jump to Printable Recipe

Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe:

  • 1 and ¼ cup brewed coffee (or tea)
  • 1 tablespoon of pumpkin puree
  • 2-3 tablespoons of milk (original recipe called for coconut. I usually use almond milk. You can use whole milk, too.)
  • 1/3-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Optional: a dash to 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric
  • Maple syrup, sugar or honey to taste. I like maple syrup.

To make:

Blend all ingredients together. Top with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg. Enjoy. Repeat. 🙂

I’ve also used this basic recipe to make a pumpkin spice smoothie. All you do is swap out the coffee for the milk of your choice and add a frozen banana or a fresh banana and some ice. While it’s healthy as is, I also like to add an extra spoonful of pumpkin to up the vitamin content, as well as some chia or flax seeds. You could easily leave those out, though.

Printable Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe

Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe

With just a few simple ingredients, you can make a yummy pumpkin spice latte inexpensively at home. I've included variations for a chai latte and smoothie, too! The recipe serves one or two, depending on how much coffee you drink. 😉
Prep Time2 mins
Cook Time2 mins
Course: Drinks
Keyword: Chai, Coffee, dairy free, gluten free, healthy, Latte, Pumpkin Spice, smoothie, Tea
Servings: 2 people

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/4 Cups brewed tea or coffee
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin puree/canned pumpkin
  • 2-3 Tablespoons Milk of choice. I usually use almond milk.
  • 1/3-1/5 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 Teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 Teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 Teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 Teaspoon ground tumeric (optional)
  • Maple syrup, sugar or honey to taste.
  • Whipped Cream (optional)

Instructions

  • Blend all ingredients together.
  • Top with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg. I like the non-dairy Reddi-Wip
  • Enjoy.

Notes

I’ve also used this basic recipe to make a pumpkin spice smoothie. Just swap the coffee or tea for the milk of your choice and add a frozen banana or fresh banana and ice. Blend thoroughly. 
While it’s healthy as-is, I like to add an extra spoonful of pumpkin to up the vitamin content, as well as some chia or flax seeds. You can easily leave those out, though.
 
 

Have a happy Pumpkin season!

Pumpkin Spice Latte

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15 Awesome Uses for Coconut Oil

If I had to pick only one oil to keep around, it would be coconut oil. This versatile oil has many applications in and out of the kitchen. Here’s fifteen of my favorite uses for coconut oil.

Coconut Oil in the Kitchen

High Heat Cooking

Coconut oil is a stable oil, unlike olive oil. It doesn’t break down at high temperatures, making it great for frying, sautéing and other high-heat cooking applications.

Dairy and Animal Fat Substitute

Coconut oil is also a great butter substitute for those avoiding dairy. It also makes a great substitution for tallow or lard.

Cooking Popcorn

If you like cooking popcorn on the stove the “old-fashioned” way, coconut oil is the best. It adds a wonderful flavor to the popcorn, and holds up to the high temperature. My favorite way to eat popcorn is cooked in coconut oil and topped with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. It’s so simple and yet so yummy!

Season Cast Iron Skillets with Coconut Oil

I love my cast iron skillets. Whenever I need to re-season them, coconut oil is my go-to oil.

Coconut Oil for Cleaning

Natural Furniture Polish

The natural furniture polish recipe I use calls for olive oil, but coconut oil is a suitable substitute. It’s a little lighter and less greasy than olive oil, so it polishes out nicely. It also has a longer shelf-life, so there’s little worry about using it up before it goes rancid.

Stuck on Stickers

Rubbing a little coconut oil on sticker residue helps remove the residue without harming the surface underneath. I like to coat the sticker residue with oil and let it sit for a few minutes. Wipe in a circular motion with a rag or gentle scrubber until the residue is gone.

Coconut Oil for Hair

Protect and Treat Your Hair

I’ve seen it recommended to coat your hair in coconut oil and leave it in overnight before lightening your hair with bleach. While I personally haven’t tried that, since lightening my hair, I put a small amount of oil on my hair almost every day. I especially focus on drier or damaged areas. Since I started doing this, I’ve noticed a huge difference in my hair. It’s definitely stronger and smoother.

Deep Condition with Coconut Oil

Even if you haven’t tortured your hair with bleach, a deep conditioning treatment is good from time to time. Apply the oil to your hair and cover with a shower cap. Leave it in for a few hours or overnight and then wash out. A couple of drops of essential oil added to the oil makes the conditioning treatment even more luxurious.

Frizz Fighter

Rub a couple of drops of coconut oil in your hands and then smooth over the ends of your hair to keep frizz away.

Coconut Oil for Skin

Moisturize Your Skin

Coconut oil is great as a moisturizer. Start with a little and massage in to moisturize or to soothe dry, irritated skin. It even helps some eczema!

Diaper Ointment

Coconut oil provides a gentle, moisturizing barrier to soothe and protect babies’ bottoms. Unlike many commercial diaper creams, it is considered safe for cloth diapers. Do check with the manufacturer for their recommendations first, as using unapproved products can void any warranties.

Makeup Remover

A little coconut oil easily takes off eye makeup. I like to put it on a cotton square and gently swipe away makeup. As a bonus, it moisturizes your skin as it removes the makeup.

Shaving Cream

Shaving with coconut oil leaves my legs feeling soft, smooth and moisturized. I don’t even need to use lotion afterwards.

Handmade Soap

I use coconut oil in all of my soap recipes. It helps to create a firm bar that produces lots of fluffy lather.

Pumpkin lavender roll on

Essential Oil Carrier

Coconut oil is my favorite carrier oil for essential oils. It’s not too heavy and absorbs nicely into the skin. If you use the refined oil, there’s no real coconut scent to compete with the essential oils.

15 Awesome Uses for Coconut Oil
Image by moho01 from Pixabay

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7 Amazing Uses for Aloe Vera Gel

I’m always on the lookout for simple, natural products that don’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s especially important when it comes to products that I use on my skin. Skin absorbs so much. One product I’ve found that is natural, inexpensive and a great multitasker is aloe vera gel.

Aloe Vera Plant

Skin irritations

When you think of using aloe topically, you probably think of soothing a sunburn. You can also use it to sooth other burns as well as minor cuts and scrapes.

Aloe vera hand sanitizer

There are tons of recipes online for diy hand sanitizers using aloe vera as one of the base ingredients. I’m not a big hand sanitizer fan, but I like the look of these recipes from Wellness Mama. She has two different formulas. One is a gentle aloe and essential oil only recipe for home or children to use, and one is a stronger formula for when something more potent is needed.

Hair gel

Aloe gel can be used as a hair gel, too. In my experience, it provides a light hold, and isn’t stiff or sticky as long as you don’t overdo it. It also leaves your hair soft and silky afterward, unlike most hair gels which contain alcohol or other ingredients that dry your hair. To tame flyaways, I like to rub a drop of aloe between my palms and smooth over the ends of my hair.

Brows

Try aloe on your brows to keep them in shape. Since aloe gel is clear, you don’t have to worry about finding the right color to match. Dip an old, cleaned mascara wand, eyebrow brush or toothbrush in aloe and brush your eyebrows into shape. It’s also great for soothing your skin after plucking or waxing your brows.

Hair conditioner

If the ends of your hair dry, rub a little aloe on them to help smooth and condition them. I’ve also heard you can use aloe gel in place of a regular, rinse out conditioner, although I haven’t tried it yet.

Moisturizer

Aloe is a great moisturizer for your skin. It leaves your skin feeling soft but not greasy.

Skin refresher

I’ve heard that aloe gel works well to refresh your skin in situations where you may not be able to wash your face regularly like camping and traveling. Just massage it on and gently wipe off the excess.

Exfoliating with aloe vera

Mix aloe with salt or sugar for a great exfoliating scrub. When making scrubs, sugar tends to be a little more gentle, but salt is more antibacterial.

Which aloe vera gel is best?

The way to get the freshest aloe gel, of course, is to grow your own aloe plant. If you’re like me and have a hard time keeping plants alive, or you just want to pick up a bottle or two so you’ll have plenty on hand, spring and summer are good times to get it. Specialty health stores will stock it year round, but right now it’s easier to find in discount stores and supermarkets with their seasonal products.

The most important thing to look for is 100% pure aloe. Pure aloe will be clear. Steer clear of the blue and green aloe gels. They contain added ingredients to help “cool” a sunburn. These ingredients are okay (although unnecessary) for sunburns, but you don’t want to use these aloe blends for anything other than soothing a sunburn.

One brand that’s fairly easy for me to find is Fruit of the Earth. I think I paid around $5-$7 for a 24 ounce bottle. Not bad when you compare it to a comparably-sized bottle of lotion, or conditioner, or moisturizer, or hair gel, all of which can be replaced with aloe.

What aloe tips have I left out? Share yours with me.

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Aloe vera uses
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DIY Colorful Sugar Sprinkles

DIY sugar sprinkles side view

A few days ago, I thought it would be fun to make Christmas cookies. Then I remembered that my Christmas cookie cutters had disappeared, we were out of any sort of sprinkles for the cookies and I really didn’t want to make decorator frosting or go to the store for supplies. My solution? DIY sugar sprinkles!

DIY sugar sprinkles side view

Ingredients

  • Granulated sugar
  • Food coloring

Supplies

  • Jars, plastic containers or sandwich bags, one per color. (Ideally something with a shaker top, which I didn’t have)
  • Spoons or shakers
DIY sugar sprinkles top view

How to make the sugar sprinkles

  • Measure about 1/4 cup of sugar into each container. 
  • Add 2-3 drops of food coloring to the sugar. 
  • Shake or stir until the color is evenly distributed. 
  • Let air dry. I just left the lids off the jars and set them on the stove while the cookies baked, stirring occasionally. If you use bags or plan to store it for a longer period of time, you may want to spread it on parchment or a cookie sheet to make sure it is super dry.  
sugar cookies
Mom tip: If your cookie decorating skills are not Pinterest-worthy, just let your kiddos do the decorating.

The recipe I used for the cookies was the sugar cookie cutout recipe from my trusty red and white Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. To make them gluten free, I substituted Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. If you are new to gluten free baking, it is a great flour to start with. I have had lots of success making all my old recipes gluten free with just that simple substitution.

My solution for not having cookie cutters was to use a round glass to cut out “ornaments”. We dusted some of the cookies with the sprinkles prior to baking. For the rest, I made a simple icing that got dusted or caked with sprinkles, depending on who was doing the decorating.