For Want of Herbs (Part 1)


So the other day I made up a grocery list, headed to the grocery store two towns over, and stewed throughout the whole drive about the ridiculous price for fresh herbs.  I dedicate a significant part of my rather awesome intellect, erm, brain, to menu planning, cooking techniques, and other standard yet necessary details one must keep in mind when running a smooth and productive kitchen.

We run this household off a pretty tight budget. (Understatement of the year?  Yes.)  But I also cook wholesome food from scratch which means a big chunk of our budget is dedicated to ingredients.  I love to use fresh herbs, it is a foolproof way to increase the tastiness of any dish, but oh how my little cooking soul wilts when I open up one of those minuscule plastic boxes with a few sprigs of basil, thyme, or oregano only to discover moldy slimy leaves hiding in the center.  Uhg.  Money wasted and hopes dashed all in a single stroke.

These were the thoughts I was mulling on my way to The Pig.  To buy fresh herbs, to forgo fresh herbs, decisions decisions.

Such a cute name!
Such a cute name!

I had noticed a darling plant nursery across the street from the grocery store on my previous outing and made an impulse left turn into Honeymoon Acers Nursery, hoping against hope that there would be a basil plant or *gasp* entire herb planter ready and waiting for me.

I’m not a fan of impulse left turns.  I really don’t like turning left at all if I can help it, especially while driving a car.  Maybe I’m just not an ambiturner by nature.  But this whim turn turned into a major win score!

The hand made sign at the entrance said something about “as many as you can fit perennials or vegetables in 11″x8″ boxes for $5.”  Hmmm, what does that mean?

My husband and I have BIG DREAMS for our garden.  We generally take turns with one of us playing the realist and the other playing the dreamer for most plans concerning our future.  But when it comes to the garden there is no holding back and we both have our dreaming hats on.  It goes something like this:

I like lavender, maybe we can plant one somewhere.

Yeah, and there are tons of lavender varieties, we should plant a few of every single type.

Great idea, then we could dry the flowers to keep in the cupboards or cook with later!

And whatever cuttings you don’t use in household stuff we could feed to the pigs!

And chickens!

And ducks!!!

And a cow named Daisy, or Marmalade!

What about making marmalade and adding lavender to it?

Oh definitely.

(For the record, we only have a dog and enough space to put in a few raised beds, and a waterfall, and that labyrinth complete with hedges and ahg, sorry, it happens so easily you see.)

I’ll save you from the rest for now, this is an endless conversation we have; all other conversations are merely tangential intrusions on the garden plans.

In case you are interested our “garden” that we just inherited looks like this:

Well, you have to start somewhere
Well, you have to start somewhere

And we made the decision to not throw ourselves at the garden until next Spring for a few good reasons with money, time, and lack of knowledge being big factors. (Plus we want a well established worm bed, and rain barrel, let’s not forget the bees and aahhhh, will it ever stop?!)

There was one employee who was already helping out a young couple.  I took some time to introduce Hummingbird to the local parrot who was stunning and noisy, so really a typical parrot.  Then we wandered around the nursery as I looked around for anything that looked like an herb section.  There were no sign posts to help out and after I had found things that were definitely NOT basil, I admitted my confusion and asked the now available employee for help.  I love helpful people, especially while shopping and definitely while shopping for something that is not in one’s area of expertise.  Needless to say, this employee is now my best friend; I’ll probably include her in my list for gift breads around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Yeah, she was just that awesome.

Employee “oh, the herbs are pretty much out of season. They aren’t out in the main area.”

Mental me “Stink muffins…”

Employee “Which means they are on sale but difficult to find behind one of the green houses”

Exuberant Me “Sweet muffins!!!!”

Sweet muffins indeed!
Sweet muffins indeed!

How many plants can you fit into an 11″x8″ cardboard box with about a 2″ lip?

Oh the car ride home smelled soooo good
Oh the car ride home smelled soooo good

Turns out I can cram in 16 plants (cardboard does bend a little and the rectangle looked more like a trapezoid by the end).  FOR FIVE DOLLARS.

To feel super smug about the whole thing I stood in front of the herb shelf in the grocery store and just beamed at those wilting little greens.  I could have bought one packet of basil and one packet of oregano for $5 but instead I now own 16 living plants which include:

3 pots of basil

2 rosemary

2 types of oregano

2 chive plants

3 variations of mint

1 bunch of fennel

1 parsley

2 mystery edibles,

Yum? But what is it?
Yum? But what is it?

The employee wasn’t sure on the name, something that started with an R maybe?  Anyway, it’s edible and probably will go in salads.  Do you know what it is?  Please let me know!

Making off with the basil
Making off with the basil

I got home all energized and ready to pot these darlings but had a reality check.  Trying to plant even a simple planter when you have a toddler who has fallen in love with the dirt in your licorice basil pot and a breathing rug dog who has missed you oh soooooooo much while you were gone and now wants to sit right next to you until a squirrel flaunts its succulent rodent body across the street, all without a fence to contain the combined excitement of toddler and canine, is a bit much.

Best tasting dirt ever
Best tasting dirt ever

And I needed to make dinner, the entire point for all this anyway, so the plants could wait till morning.

Oh it smells so good!
Oh it smells so good!

I did snip off all the flowers from the licorice basil.  I believe that is suppose to help it fill out and last longer, and the flowers were delicious sprinkled over the teriyaki beef stir fry we had that night.  Yum!

So much better with fresh powerful basil tossed in!
So much better with fresh powerful basil tossed in!

8 comments on “For Want of Herbs (Part 1)

  1. An experiment that worked: I snipped a dozen tender shoots off a mature rosemary bush, plunked them in a small glass of water (6 oz. juice glass) and waited to see if they’re sprout roots. They did. When long and “hairy” looking, I put them in little potting cups (the paper kind that you plant whole). And once the sprouts looked healthy, I planted them, pot and all. It’s been three years and they’re quite large and will eventually take of the side of the house where all 12 of them are flourishing.

    Now, if I can just get strawberrys to do the same in the space in between!

  2. The “What is it?” is Swiss Chard. Treat like spinach. Where are you guys? Find a local garden club, and ask about planting times. Otherwise, you’ll waste A LOT of time and money…like we did this year. Unfortunately, not everything can grow everywhere.

    • Thanks Weslie,
      I like Swiss Chard, but I guess I’m accustomed to seeing it when it has matured and grown. This chard looks a lot smaller than the Russian and Rainbow Chards my dad grows. I tasted the leaves and they do have that tangy taste like spinach so I’ll be cooking with them instead of tossing them into salads.
      We are up in Wisconsin near Appleton. I joined the area MasterGardener’s email list so get tips and news about garden walks. I’m also taking time to just walk around the neighborhoods in town and pick people’s brains when they are out working in their gardens.

  3. Are you sure you haven’t been listening in on our garden center conversations, here? Because Evan and I are absolutely in the same boat when it comes to impractical dreaming about gardens/hobby farms/beekeeping/giant topiary walks. We generally get to the, “Do we want an English formal garden, or something more in the Japanese style?” conversation before one of us points out that we live in an *apartment* right now.

    • Bethany,
      Of course you should compromise and have both an English formal garden AND a Japanese style garden. You could even have an English formal garden but have a perfectly trimmed hedge with a path (a path! a path!) that eventually leads you into an opening “room” walled in by hedges, that will hold the Japanese garden. I can see it all now.

  4. I think it is a type of sorrel, I grew something similar when I live in my little flat in Trumpington. Could pull off lots of leaves and they would grow right back. Just added it to salads. But I could be wrong! Envious of all your herbs though 🙂

    • Roisin,
      I planned on tossing it into salads. The striking red veins alone would add a lovely flair to any dinner table, but the leaves are just a bit too sharp in flavor. I think whatever it is needs to be cooked down to mellow out the edge.

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