Boy, I sure played with that title for a while. Hard to talk about growing your own herbs without misleading the people. Any-hoo, I thought we’d talk a little “Homesteadin'” today since I can’t bring myself to look at food just yet, not after the last few weeks. Additionally, we have had sustained winds reminiscent of hurricanes past and I need something to distract me from the crystal clear pool I cleaned a few days ago which now looks like this:
“15 beautiful live oak trees on the property will be a blessing,” they said. Hmm.
The Goal: grow more of my own herbs.
Clearly, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you know I love me some seasoning and don’t do well with boring food. This can get a wee bit pricey and you end up with a spice storage system slowly taking over your kitchen. Observe:
So maybe I have a small spice hoarding problem, OOORRRRRR, maybe I love to try new things and you’re just jealous. Don’t judge me!
Oops, sorry. Where was I? Oh, yeah…so a few years ago I stated thinking that I really needed to figure out how to increase my herb production. I mentioned that I have battled plague after plague since gardening in Louisiana: stink bugs, caterpillars, slugs, stink bugs, weird little trail leaving things that look like poop, slugs and so much more, so I was starting to feel a little defeated. Had my green thumb gone full black after coming back to LA from Colorado?
Thankfully, Jamie got me a little greenhouse at Harbor Freight Tools last year for a decent
price. It needs plastic wrap around it to keep the panels from blowing off in the wind (seriously), so I vow to get out and silicone the panels should it ever stop raining or gusting. Unlike everything else I was attempting to grow for a while there, my herbs all seem to thrive anywhere, but it was a great place to winter the surplus.
I also decided to grow a few of the things I use the most in pots in, or near, the house for easy picking and luckily, as I said, herbs and I do well together.
The Tools to Make Things Easier: dehydrator, mini chopper, mortar and pestle.
A few years ago I purchased an inexpensive food dehydrator, Even though it only has 2 temps, which I can’t control (“Meh” and “Sweet Mary, it’s LAVA!”) and those stupid holes in the middle of the trays, I use it all the time. I would strongly recommend getting one with the square trays and an adjustable temp, but if you are just getting your feet wet, go for the cheapo and rotate your trays a lot during dry time. For me, it’s been a Godsend because I don’t seem to possess the patience to wait for herbs hanging to dry or drying in a low temp oven. I also lack the memory to remember to use said dried herbs before they are cobwebby and full of dust. I also suggest a mini food processor (for a larger end product like with thyme, basil and cilantro) and a mortal and pestle set (for fine, powdery grinding as with stevia or cilantro salt for chips) . All three are great tools when drying, chopping and grinding your own herbs.
The Basics: growing and storing.
It’s really amazing to me how easy most herbs are to grow. I have pretty small pots for a lot of mine and most have done fine in a window sill or on the patio. I have learned to harvest seeds from my best producers and they all do fairly well. It’s such a great feeling to walk over to your own plant and cut what you need when you have a recipe that calls for fresh herbs. I hate running out of anything (obviously) and if you’ve priced some herbs in the store, you’d swear they grew in Middle Earth and were watered by Bilbo Baggins himself.
You really only need to worry about:
- Adequate sunlight.
- Adequate water.
- Comfortable temperature.
- Basic maintenance.
Luckily, plants come with cheat sheets and the internet is a vast wonderland of information. Some of it is even true, I’m told!
Stevia is an increasingly popular sugar substitute and is a fairly easy plant to care for. It likes sun and water, with regular leaf cuttings to promote growth. Your best bet is to buy a seedling or small plant since the seeds can be tricky to start. I purchased one of mine at Home Depot for less than $3 and have gotten several cuttings from that first plant started successfully.
Stevia has a few uses you may not be aware of.
- When you buy it at the store, it may not be “all natural,” so growing it yourself, as with anything, can be a great and inexpensive alternative.
- Stevia can be up to 200 times sweeter than sugar!
- 1 tsp of stevia is roughly the equivalent of 1 cup of granulated sugar, so a little goes a long way.
- Stevia can replace regular sugar in cooking AND baking, but it will not caramelize.
It is recommended that you dry the leaves out right after cutting and cleaning, but that you wait to grind them until you are ready to use them. The leaves dry very quickly and I store mine in a tupperware container. When I’m ready to use them, I grind them with my mortal and pestle, since it produces far finer powder than a food processor.
Yesterday’s haul was about 7 or 8 large cuttings, leaves stripped and placed in single layers on 2 dehydrating trays. I dried these for about an hour and they came out perfectly.
I put most of the dried leaves in a storage container, but ground a few to use right away. (this gives you more sweetness).
The few leaves above produced over 1/2 tsp of powder which I used to make lemonade with some mint I had on hand. My boys loved it and it is amazing how well it works as a sweetener. I haven’t used in in cooking just yet, but I’ll keep you posted. I’ll admit that living in the land of sugar cane and coming from a family of cane farmers makes me rather loyal to the white stuff, but I’m going to try this!
There’s my 2 cents for today, just remember to grow what you love and use the most, start out small and save what you don’t use. Easy, peasy and ALL YOURS.