Recently, a friend of mine asked me if I would help her and her aunt learn about growing herbs and how to cook with them. I agreed and drove over to a little town near Snowden to meet with them and make some suggestions on where to get started.
Jeannie and her Aunt Bettina (pronounced – bett-nah) met me off the main highway and I followed them to their house out in the middle of acres of a pine tree forest. They own and live on the property and co-op the pine forest with a timber company. Anyway, they have a nice home with six acres of the prettiest flatland I think I have ever seen.
They are both retired and raise chickens for the organic yard egg trade. There is a small vegetable garden where they grow tomatoes, hot peppers, bell peppers and watermelons for trade. But they wanted to try something different. They wanted to raise enough fresh herbs for their personal use instead of traveling to Montgomery every week to buy them.
Here’s what we did.
They had a plethora of terra cotta pots and a good active compost pile, several bales of Fafard #2 potting mix and a collection of seeds from their winter order.
I brought a few of my favorite culinary herbs I like to grow with me.
First of all, we assessed what all we had to plant then decided where it was all going to go.
There was plenty of room to grow everything in the vegetable garden, but the ladies wanted it close enough to the house where they could enjoy watching it grow. I guess they got inspired, or something, the last time they came over to my house, because they liked the idea of growing edibles in the flower beds.
We rigged up a cold frame from old window sashes and doors in their side yard, ran a heavy-gauge, all-weather extension cord to it from the house and laid in a few strands of old Christmas lights.
After that, we mixed up some seed starting soil and filled up a few paper egg cartons to start the seeds in. We planted the seeds and put the cartons onto some thin plywood scrap sheets and placed them on top of the lights. The lights generate enough heat to keep the seedling cartons warm without being a fire hazard. They are indoor/outdoor lights and the paper doesn’t come in contact with them.
For the herb plants I brought, it was decided to grow most of them in containers. We mixed a good draining potting mix from the Fafard #2 and some composted pine bark soil conditioner and filled about 30 large (10" and 12") terra cotta pots.
We planted English thyme, golden lemon thyme and silver thyme into a few 6" pots. After that, we potted basil, stevia, garden sage and rosemary in some of the larger pots.
They had some raised-basket planters on 4 x 4 posts that were mostly empty, so we potted them with mints (chocolate and pineapple). Among other herb plants we potted that day were lemon verbena, pineapple sage, lemon balm and savory.
Overall, we had a fun day catching up on the past couple of years since we had seen each other. We talked about everything but politics and religions and belly laughed at those yard chickens of theirs. After we got all of the plants and seeds potted, it was time for me to show them some of my food prep tricks that incorporate herbs.
It was back in early March when I visited them, so the weather was still a little cool. I brought a head of cabbage and a few grocery store production tomatoes with me and we all went inside to gather round the kitchen table.
Bettina had roasted a chicken with some carrots and boiled some red potatoes for German potato salad earlier that day. Jeannie cut up the cabbage to make coleslaw while I sliced the tomatoes in half for roasting. (Production tomatoes are generally hard and flavorless to me.) I then chopped up some lemon thyme, basil and stevia.
Bettina used the finely chopped lemon thyme in the potato salad. I drizzled some olive oil on the tomatoes, added salt, black pepper and chopped basil, then popped them into the oven to roast until the skins began to slide down the side. I made the coleslaw using the chopped stevia as a sweetening agent instead of sugar (sweeten to taste).
Cornbread and iced tea topped off our little feast and we all over-ate. But the best part was Bettina’s gluten-free adaptation to her grandmother’s sweet pumpkin strudel. I’ll have to get that recipe and share with you!
The point of this story is that sometimes we have to take a break from our own lives at home and share ourselves with others. It’s the best part of living and it certainly gets me going!
We’ll see you in June with more herbs and fun.
Until then watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water and breathe in and out!
Thanks for reading!
Be sure to find me on Facebook at Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm.
As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.