Save Money - Start an Herb Garden
Save Money. Cook with Fresh Ingredients.
I have been wanting to start a garden for a while. Last summer I attempted it with the purchase of some seeds and plopping them into some dirt in cheap planters. As the busyness of life kicked in, I often forgot one important detail: you have to water them. In the Texas heat, it didn't take long for my dreams of a small garden to wither away. This summer, I have tried a different approach. My husband and I do not have a yard, but we do have a porch. Since it's mid-summer, we stayed away from seeds for summer harvest plants and paid a little (and by a little, I mean $1-2) more for started plants. With a few small plants, potting soil, and my husband's skilled craftsmanship, we have been enjoying mint tea, rosemary sweet potatoes, and fresh basil on pizza. We have saved money, cooked with fresh seasonings, and have even had extra to be able to give away to our friends and neighbors.
Living on the stereotypical newly-wed budget, starting an herb garden has allowed us to save money, yet I can still cook the gourmet meals I have always dreamed of cooking for my husband. Plus, I feel extra "wifey" running onto our front porch to pick some fresh basil for that evening's meal. Here are a few easy pointers and inspirational ideas to start your own herb garden.
What You Need
Beds, Pots, and Creative Inspiration
First, you will need to make sure you have a place to grow your plants. If you have space for a garden, you can create a bed for them. However, you may find it easier to grow herbs in pots. One thing I love about them being in pots is that you can bring them inside as the weather cools off. It will make your house smell great as well as keep producing into cooler weather. Some plants, such as mint or rosemary, are typically perennials. If well kept during the winter, they will produce again the next year.
With herbs, you can be creative for how you pot them. Unless you are growing multiple plants, you will only need a small area for them. While you can plant them in a regular pot, you can also trade the pot for a mason jar, bag, tea kettle, or even a canister. The key is to make sure you know if your herb needs good soil drainage or not (most do). If you are using one of these alternatives to a pot, you may have to create your own drainage hole.
I used some ceramic canisters I found on the curb (too cute to be thrown away!). My husband had the idea to take the lid off and use his drill (plus water so you don't ruin your drill bit) to drill a drainage hole in the bottom. With the help of some chalk board paint, those little canisters destined for the dumpster now serve as our pots for mint and rosemary.
Sun or No Sun
Depending on the specific plant you choose, you will need to put the pot in the appropriate place. Common herbs, such as basil, mint, and rosemary, need at least six hours of sunlight per day. Make sure your porch has a spot that meets that criteria.
Soil and Plants
Once you have a place to grow them, you can head to the store to buy potting soil and your plants. Soil can range anywhere from about $3 to $12+ per bag (usually 1 or 2 cubic feet). There is also about every type from basic to organic to added fertilizer. Since you can create your own plant fertilizer at home with things you would normally throw away in your kitchen (like coffee grinds or eggshells) I went with the basic, cheapest soil. This comes down to your own preference and what you are willing to spend. The biggest key is to get enough, accounting for the fact that you may have to add more later.
Herb plants typically cost around $3-$5 per plant, but will produce heartily. If you are just starting off and wanting to get your feet wet in gardening, you may want to start with one to three plants of each, depending on how much you are planning to cook with it and how many people are in your family. If you have extra when you harvest, there are plenty of things you can do with leftovers. You can freeze them, make sauces and freeze those, or even make your own salt scrubs (a fabulous party favor, Christmas, birthday, or hostess gift idea). You can also just give a sprigs here and there to your neighbors and friends as well. After all, who wouldn't be excited for some fresh basil for free?
Care and Harvest
These details will depend on your specific herbs. Most herbs need damp soil (make sure they get water each day). However, some herbs, like rosemary, need to let the soil dry in between waterings. Since some plants are best harvested by trimming and others by pinching, it is best to look up the best method for your own plant. The herbs I have are basil, rosemary, and mint. Here are some harvesting tips for them:
- Basil: the stalk will grow up, then have two separate stalks with leaves that grow out from the sides of the main stalk. Once there are two sets of these couplets, you will want to pinch off the stalk about an inch above the first couplet.
- Rosemary: since this plant is a bit more stiff, you can cut the stems to prune it back as well as harvest.
- Mint: mint has the reputation for taking over areas. To keep it from doing so, you will want to regularly pinch off the stems, maintaining a controlled bush shape. Time to make mint tea or mint salt scrubs!
Although care and harvest will vary, the most common factors you will find in your typical herbs are keep soil damp, grow in full sun, plant in well-drained soil, and harvest often. That "harvest often" is why an herb garden is such a good investment!
What To Do With Your Harvest
Need some ideas for how to utilize your harvest? Obviously there are many uses for them, but here are just a few ideas to get you started.
- Pesto. You can make pesto easily and freeze it, allowing you to glean the benefits from your herb garden into the winter months. There are many online recipes for pesto. You can make them with or without pine nuts or substitute pine nuts for almonds or walnuts.
- Pasta or Pizza. Few things beat the taste of fresh basil on pasta or pizza. If you are making pizza dough yourself, you can even knead chopped basil into the dough.
- Freeze. A brilliant idea for storing basil if you do not want to make pesto is to add it to olive oil into an ice cube tray. Once you are ready to use it, you simply pop the "ice" out into your pan to melt it down to cook. Genius.
- Freeze. As with basil, you can't go wrong putting this in olive oil in ice trays (or even mixing it with your basil) to use later in cooking.
- Rosemary potatoes. A tasty topping to potatoes or chicken.
- Roasted vegetables. I'm hooked roasting vegetables is one of the healthiest, easiest ways to cook. Plop some fresh rosemary on top as they roast in the oven to bring the flavor out even more. It's especially delicious on corn when wrapped in foil and roasted.
- Ice Cream. Enough said. You can make homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream by seeping mint leaves in boiling water to add to your ice cream mixture (after you strain it and freeze it). Yum!
- Lemonade and tea. You can add it straight in or, if you have an infusion pitcher, you can add it with strawberries or raspberries into the infuser. It looks beautiful and tastes great. It's perfect for a shower or summer party.
- Salt scrubs. You can make your own fairly easily, and they make great gifts, especially for hostess gifts or party favors.
On top of all these, you can give them away! If your plants start producing more than you know what to do with they make great gifts just to surprise a friend or family member.