Homemade Food Gifts: Dried Herbs

Throughout the summer and autumn months, you’ve harvested and dried organic herbs to use in your culinary ventures throughout the winter. As is usually the case, you have far more of these dried herbs than you’ll be able to use before the next harvest season. Why not share your bounty with family and friends?

Hopefully, throughout the year, you’ve been cleaning and saving the glass jars from your food purchases. Perhaps you have purchased canning jars, lids, and rings frugally at yard sales and thrift shops. You may also have fabric and twine and/or raffia from the projects that you’ve been working on throughout the year. If so, you have the makings for great holiday gifts.

Single Herb Examples

Basil

Bay leaves

Parsley

Rosemary

Sage

Herb Mix Examples

Basil, oregano and thyme

Basil, thyme and parsley

Dill, mint and parsley

Lemon balm and mint

Parsley and rosemary

  1. Sterilize all the jars, lids, and rings. Dry completely. It is important that no moisture is evident when packing the dried herbs.
  2. Fill the jars with single herbs, or herb mixes.
  3. Tie squares or rounds of fabric over the cover of each jar with twine or raffia.
  4. Add a tag or sticker to the jar with the name of the herb, and with ‘From (Your Names’) Garden.’

How do you package your dried herbs for gift giving? Share your ideas in the comments below.

You may also enjoy:

Candy-Filled Ornaments or Tags

Food Gifts for Yule and Christmas

Shannon

Reference:

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs (1987, Rodale Press)

Pumpkin and Marigold Centerpiece

This centerpiece is not difficult to make using a mid-size pumpkin, or even one a bit larger. It can be placed on the dinner table. A second can be made to be used as a mantle decoration.

Materials

1 pumpkin

sharp knife

flower-pot to fit inside the pumpkin

large spoon

organic potting soil

fresh Marigold plants, assorted colors if desired

  1. Cut the top off the pumpkin and discard. Scoop the insides of the pumpkin out, reserving the seeds for roasted pumpkin seeds.

  2. Allow the pumpkin to dry over night.
  3. Fill the flower-pot 2/3 full with organic potting soil, placing the plants in the pot how you want them, and cover their roots with more soil if necessary.

  4. Place the pot into the pumpkin.
  5. Water lightly when needed.

Tips

  • Grow your own pumpkin and marigolds to save money.
  • To save even more, reuse an old flower-pot or pick one up at a yard sale. Be sure to disinfect the pot and allow to dry completely before using.

Shannon

 

Create an Herb Garden on Your Windowsill

Having an herb garden will allow you to save a lot of money over the years, and will give you healthy seasonings for your meals. A windowsill herb garden can be grown year round. If your pantry or kitchen has a window, use that. If not, choose another window or two within the home. A table set in front of any window will hold pots of herbs.

When creating your windowsill garden, keep in mind

  1. Environmentally friendly/ low or no-toxin pots can be found to start an organic garden.

  2. Organic potting soil is also available, but you could also use composted soil.

  3. Organic, heirloom seeds are not much more expensive than others, and will be healthier.

  4. The pots you use, as well as the soil and the seeds, will indicate how healthy your herbs will be.

  5. You can dry herbs at home easily and store them in your pantry.

  6. Some herbs can be frozen.

 NOTE: The herbs you grow organically will be far more affordable than the herbs you purchase at the store.

 ACTION STEPS:

  1. Research the pots, soil, and seeds you wish to use.

  2. Order what you need.

  3. Set up an area for your windowsill garden.

  4. Happy planting!

Shannon

 

Quick Tip: Save Money by Growing Your Own Herbs

As a quick note, I want to point out that it is far cheaper to grow your own organic herbs than to purchase them.

Keep in mind that organic foods are healthier, and are not significantly more costly to grow than the alternative. Use organic soils, and organic seeds that have not been genetically modified. Growing these herbs can be done in a raised bed in the yard, in containers on the porch or in pots on a windowsill.

Do a little research to see how each herb is harvested and dried so that you can store them.

Shannon

10 Ways to Save Money on Your Food Bill

Food prices just keep going up, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to these increases. While grocery shopping the other day, my sister mentioned that her coffee went up $3.00 since the last time she purchased it. The vanilla wafers I used to get for a treat have gone up more than a dollar in the last year. It’s getting ridiculous.

(Update 2017) And the prices are still inching up.

How can we combat these rising costs? Here are my top 10 best suggestions for saving money:

  1. Start an herb garden in your kitchen window, or in any window that gets a good amount of sun. Start with the herbs you use the most. Parsley is my main herb. What’s yours? Use eco-friendly pots, and organic soil and seeds or plant starts for the healthiest herbs. Don’t worry about spending a few extra dollars right now, because you’ll save a lot by growing the herbs yourself.
  2. Grow a salad garden. Again, do this organically. You don’t need a large area for planting, and can use a window box or other container. Grow whatever your family likes in their salads. Lettuce, spinach, and cabbage are easy to grow, and bush cucumber will not take up much space. Cherry or grape tomatoes will go well in salads, as will berries.
  3. Check out the local farmer’s market. Go during the last couple of hours and see what deals you can make. Even when going earlier in the day, you may be able to make a deal if you purchase enough produce.
  4. Check out reduced price racks and carts, often found at the back of the store or off in a side aisle. Our local IGA even has a few small refrigerated units set up specifically for this purpose. I often find deals bananas and bacon this way, among other things. Simply bring them home and pop them in the freezer until you need them. The bananas are great for making breads, muffins, and pancakes.
  5. Shop dollar day sales. These are in-store sales where each item costs one dollar. It may also manifest as a 10 for $10.00 sale. We get to mix and match the items here.
  6. Use coupons, especially during dollar day sales and on reduced price items. You may actually glean a few food items for free.
  7. Make homemade sun tea.
  8. Use small eggs for almost everything, even when the recipe calls for large – when you can get a great deal on small eggs. I buy whatever size is the most affordable.
  9. Make sure you know your serving sizes for foods and beverages. Each person in your household may need to consume a different serving size, and most of us eat way too much. Your body will get used to smaller servings, and you wont starve while it does.
  10. If you are desperate, visit local food cupboard. And always accept any food items that someone offers you. If you can’t use something, give it to a neighbor or donate it.

How do you save money on food during these trying times? Share your tips with us in the comments for this post.

Shannon

(Originally posted at Frugal is Fabulous! on June 20, 2011)

The $3.15 Garden

Yes, it can be done. There are ways to do it. This type of garden is not generally used when trying to eat in the healthiest manner possible, because it doesn’t account for organic seeds. But it will feed a family on significantly less money than what would be spent on the same produce at the grocery store. Do what you have to do to feed your family.

You can work soil with a cooking spoon if necessary, or even a stick. No tools are necessary. You can plant directly into soil, so planters and beds are also not necessary. You can even plant below and slightly in front of a porch where you can train vining plants to grow up, or near a fence to train them to grow along it.

How do you plant a garden for $3.15?

By purchasing seed packets at a local store at a rate of 3 or 4 packets for a dollar. You will acquire 9-12 seed packets this way, and pay $3.15 cents including tax.

  • Spend the first dollar-five on herbs that you’ll use in salads, cooking, and to make teas. Parsley, basil, chamomile, chives, rosemary, and/or thyme are good choices.
  • Spend the second dollar-five on greens. A combination of different spinaches and lettuces are an important part of healthy meal preparation. Other greens may also be used.
  • Spend the third dollar-five on other vegetables. These may be used in salads, sandwiches, and in cooking. They may also be eaten as-is for snacks. Try tomatoes, peas, beans, zucchini, and/or cucumber.

Plant as much as you can reasonably use and preserve for winter.

Shannon L. Buck

Top 10 Vegetables for Your Frugal Garden

Growing vegetables, even organically, allows for saving a great deal of money at the grocery store each year.

There are many choices available when deciding to plant a vegetable garden. Obtain seeds for the vegetables that you use most often as sides, in soups and stews, and in roasts and casseroles. The most important rules of thumb are:

  • Choose vegetables you and your family normally eat, at least to start. Experimentation with new foods is fine later. Don’t forget to acquire seeds for vegetables that you will eat both fresh and cooked.
  • Buy organic seeds, when possible, from a place such as HeirloomSeeds.com, to be sure you know what you’re getting.
  • Compare prices from many places selling such seeds.
  • Plant in organic soil.
  • Remember that extra seeds can be saved if stored properly, so they should not go to waste.

My choice vegetables are able to be eaten either fresh or cooked. They can be stored for later use, if desired, and are versatile in nature.

My top 10 vegetable choices

  1. Carrots: Excellent eaten fresh, I prefer to grow short varieties. Try Thumbelina and Short n’ Sweet. Carrots may be frozen or canned for use during the winter months. They are delicious in a squash and carrot mash, in omelets, in fresh salads, these carrots are also tasty when added to a soup or roast. Carrots are also great in muffins and cakes. Plant these in spring, and at mid-summer for a double crop.
  2. Romaine Lettuce: This type of lettuce is great for using in fresh salads. It may also be used in wraps and sandwiches. Romaine prefers cool weather. Keep the soil moist where it is planted.
  3. Cabbage: Also good in salads, you can eat chunks off the heads for snacks and use cabbage in boiled dinners. The heads will last quite some time out of the refrigerator. Be sure to grow cabbage in fertile soil.
  4. Tomatoes: It’s recommended that tomatoes be stored outside the refrigerator. Use them to make sauces for rice, pasta, and pizza, dice them for chili, and can for later use. Great in salads, breakfast sandwiches, and scrambles, and many people enjoy eating tomatoes as they would a fresh apple. Tomatoes grow well with carrots or parsley.
  5. Zucchini: Given the right conditions, such as plenty of sun and water, these will grow huge. They are easily frozen by shredding and placing in freezer containers. No other preparation is necessary. You don’t even have to peel, simply cut off the ends.  One of the best chocolate cakes ever has zucchini as an ingredient, and it also makes wonderful chocolate chip zucchini muffins and breads. This vegetable has a high water content.
  6. Celery: Celery is great fresh, in salads, and in roasts and stews. Nut butter stuffed celery is a healthy snack. It grows especially well and zones 5 and lower.
  7. Cucumber: The vines of this vegetable will take up little garden space when trellised, though there are also bush varieties. Eaten fresh or on salads, or in wraps and sandwiches, this vegetable does not need to be peeled. Just cut the ends off and you are good to go. Cucumber loves water.
  8. Peas: Another space saver, this vining vegetable can be planted along a fence for maximum space savings. Simply train them along the fence. Sugar snap peas are great placed, as is, into a salad or stew, and can even be used in smoothies. Peas will grow well in cool weather.
  9. Beans: This is another vegetable to train along a fence or up a trellis, or up bean poles. Use these in stews and stir fries. They will grow in a variety of climates.
  10. Rhubarb: Eat fresh with sugar. Make a rhubarb pie. Make rhubarb strawberry jam… need I say more? This is a perennial. My grandparents had a bed of rhubarb on their property when I was growing up. It was a treat to go out back and pick the rhubarb, and to bring it in and be given a small bowl of sugar to dip the rhubarb into as my siblings, cousins, and I were eating. (Update January 2017: Rhubarb dipped in sugar is a precious memory from my childhood. When we would visit our Nan and Gramps, Nan would sometimes send us out back to get our own rhubarb. We’d bring them inside and she’d give each of us a little plate of sugar so we could enjoy the rhubarb. I might try this with honey now that I’m eating healthier.)

Shannon

10 Fruits for Your Frugal Garden or Orchard

When choosing fruits to grow in a frugal garden or orchard, there are things that must be taken into consideration:
  1. Soil conditions: If there is not proper soil conditions, can it amended in an organic manner so the fruit will grow well in that area?
  2. Amount of sun: Determine if there is enough sun in the area to grow the fruit. If there is too much sun, is there a way to combat that issue? Perhaps by providing shade in some way for part of the day.
  3. Soil moisture level: If the soil in the area is too moist, a better drainage be created? Perhaps with raised beds? If there is not enough moisture, how can the plants get the water they will need?

There may be other considerations as well. Read the full descriptions of each plant and the care it will need before deciding what to grow. Be sure to purchase from trusted companies or people, to be sure the seeds or transplants are organic. The areas hardiness zone should help in deciding which fruits will grow well in the chosen area.

There are a number of fruits that home gardeners may want to try in their gardens. Here are 10 for consideration:

  1. Apples: Members of the rose family, apple trees are considered perennials. Apples can be eaten fresh, or used in cider making. They can also be made into sauce, or used in bread and dessert baking, among other things. Cross-pollination is necessary when growing apples, as they don’t self-pollinate. When growing in smaller spaces, try dwarf or pole trees.
  2. Pears: These are used in muffins and other recipes, and are excellent eaten right off the tree. Pear trees are able to be trained to grow along a fence or a wall when space is limited.
  3. Plums: These grow well on our families’ camp land, on a mountain here in Maine. They are set up in a small orchard, and the resulting fruit is delicious. The sauce can be made like homemade applesauce, and can also be used in muffins, breads and pancakes, and other recipes.
  4. Bananas: Many people place the dwarf variety of these trees on a sunny porch, or in another sunny location. They don’t take up too much space, and will yield bananas to be used in breads and other recipes. The fruits grow to about 4 inches in length, and may also be eaten fresh.
  5. Melons: There are a wide variety of melons to choose from, including watermelon, honey dew, and cantaloupe.  Some are sweeter than others, and their size will vary. Choose depending on taste, and the space available in your garden. Bush type melons, such as Garden Baby, will take up less space, and people do grow smaller fruited melons along trellises and fences. Melons are highly nutritious, and provide few calories.
  6. Oranges: These provide the body with vitamin C, as well as other important nutrients. They are great in fruit salads, as well as in juices and eaten fresh. Dwarf varieties can be grown in containers inside and outside the home, though they will require patience when growing within the home; the fruit will ripen with considerable warmth.
  7. Lemons: These fruits trees also come in dwarf varieties, and can be grown inside or out. The fruits can be eaten right off the tree, sliced for beverages, or used when baking.
  8. Limes: These trees are also found in dwarf varieties and can be grown successfully in containers. Use the fruit in beverages and for other culinary uses.
  9. Peaches: Grow these in your orchard, or as a dwarf tree on the patio. The fruits from peach trees will be much more flavorful than those purchased at the store. Harvest these fruits in late summer, and use in fruit desserts and salads, as well as breads.
  10. Apricots: Plump apricots are the best to use in homemade breads and muffins, as well as in fruit salads. These are wonderful eaten fresh as well, and make a great fruit basket or bowl along with peaches and pears.

Happy planting!

Shannon

 

Planting Chives from a Pot

When you buy potted chives at a nursery, you may choose to transplant them into your garden when you get them home. These chives are ornamental as well as edible. Indeed, every part of the plant can be eaten, either as is, or in recipes.

Chives will grow well in an area of their own, or with flowers and other herbs. They’ll also grow well near some vegetables, such as tomatoes, allowing you to grow them in a salad garden.

Purchase potted chives at a local nursery, or get them from someone you know. Be sure to choose chives that were started from organic seeds, that are heirlooms if possible for the best taste and the most disease resistance.  Ask the person whether or not the chives have been continuously grown under organic conditions.

Locate the area in which you want to transplant the chives to, making sure the area receives six to eight hours of sun each day, and that the soil is well-drained. Ensure that the soils pH is at six or seven.

Work the area where you wish to grow the herbs to about six inches deep, and then work two inches of compost into the soil and let sit for a few days before working again. Transplant the chives from the pot to the ground during the spring, do so about six to eight weeks after they are potted for the best results.

Plant each chive plant four inches apart in every directions, so they wont be overcrowded to start. Allow the them to grow in place for a few weeks, then begin harvesting.

Divide the chives every two or three years, or as necessary, to prevent them from overcrowding. Do this during the late summer or early autumn months so they will grow quickly for a new harvest.

Three hours before dividing, water the area well. Use scissors and cut the chives back to about four inches before loosening the soil around the chives with your hands, and lift the chives out of the soil. Shake the chives slightly to allow the dirt to fall back to the ground. Use your fingers to help this process along. Gently pull the chive plant apart into three or four clumps and replant each four inches apart where desired, and 1/2 inch deeper than they were originally planted. Cover the roots with soil, and add more compost to the area.

References and Resources:

University of Minnesota Extension: Chives

Utah State University Extension: Chives in the Garden

Herb Companion: Dividing and Growing Chives

GardenAction: Growing Chives

How Much Room will I Need in Order to Grow Food for My Family

You’ll want to figure out how much space to set aside for planting, before beginning your garden. This will depend on factors such as the size of your yard, and how many people are in your household. Be sure to take into consideration fresh-eating foods, foods that will preserved, and whether you will want to share your bounty with others.

There is no one way to go about figuring out this information that will work for everyone, but these guidelines will be helpful.

Keep it Small

Almanac.com suggests that beginners keep their gardens small. You’ll be able to build the garden up to a larger, but still manageable, space over time. Starting small gives you a chance to see how much food your household consumes, fresh and preserved. Start with a garden measuring four feet by four feet, to see how much your family will eat.

Space to Move

Calculate room for you to move in your garden space plans. Have at least two feet between each bed or plot, for easy access to each area. You want to be able to maneuver the garden space quickly.

Expand Your Space

When there is not enough space to grow the amount of food your family needs, try using space-saving gardening techniques. The square foot gardening technique aids you in growing as much food as possible in every square foot of space you have available. Growing up trellises will also save you space.

References and Resources: