Gifts from the Garden

I’m no Martha Stewart but I do enjoy making things & creating unique gifts.

I’ve been giving the jalapeƱo jelly that Mum and I made this summer as hostess gifts at holiday parties recently and it tends to go over pretty well. There is something so satisfying about saying “here’s something we made from stuff we grew ourselves.”

I’d seen this other idea in this kind of hippy-dippy homesteading book that I’ve been collecting and alternately buying into wholeheartedly and discrediting as being a handbook for crackpots. This one is a simple idea which has a lot of visual appeal–store you dried herbs in antique glass jars.

Wait, I just realized that this isn’t one of those stories where everything goes awry & we have to improvise because of unforeseen circumstances. Crazy!

I found some lovely antique jars at an estate sale–4 for $1. I later found the rubber rings to seal the jars at a local kitchen store and they even fit. I dried the herbs in my closet for a month or so and when I needed to produce a little hostess gift I pulled the dried herbs off thier stems, collected them into the jars, decorated with raffia & adorable fabric tags acquired from a craft sale and done!

Of course I am glossing over the fact that I left this project to the last minute & so was stuffing sage leaves into jars at like 10:30 at night while packing for a business trip & baking for the cookie exchange or some similar nonsense.

I love the appeal of giving something homemade–it might be a bit kooky or be not quite perfect but there’s great satisfaction in proudly proffering something made by hand, with care and personal creativity.

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Paper Bag Herbs

An essential part of any veg garden is herbs & in our second year of gardening ours was relatively successful. I say relatively because we had some great bounty and some skinny & skimpy little ones.

Basil & coriander? Not so much this year. Now basil & coriander are kind of important to a great summer garden. I mean you can make neither a caprese salad nor delicious fresh salsa with a conspicuous lack of basil or coriander. Succulent summer tomatoes sit neglected with none if these tasty herbs to dress them up and take them out.

Our lack of these essential herbs was so conspicuous this year that I ended up yanking out the spindly, wilted, crinkle-edged basil & coriander plants by midsummer. Salsa and salads were dressed by herbs from the market or even-gasp-the grocery store.

That being said we had an overabundance of marjoram. I’m sorry, let me rephrase that–you know Audrey, the mutant plant from Little Shop of Horrors? Picture that, but a little more fragrant and that’s what we’re talking about here.

We overwintered the marjoram as well as thyme, sage & tarragon. All of these did pretty well & this year we also added rosemary & lavender. All of these herbs did well.

None of these goes great with tomatoes.

However these herbs are great in lots of other recipes which is why our herb harvest is now drying, upside-down, housed in paper bags in my closet. If I had another dark, cool place like a basement or a pantry they’d be drying there, but no. Now every time I reach for a sweater I have to push some the makeshift drying rack (a wire hanger) out of the way.

Oh, and my clothes smell kinda earthly & aromatic. That’s not weird, right?

Sproutwatch 2010

Sproutwatch 2010!

Sproutwatch 2010!

So you know how they say you should do something every day that scares you? Well I’m doing just that. I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I’m talking life by the horns, I’m carpe diem-ing.

I’m growing plants from seeds.

I know, it’s crazy. What am I thinking? How radical! How dangerous! It’s practically just plain irresponsible of me.

Yes, I’m being facetious. But truthfully I am feeling quite nervous about my little seed experiment. Mum and Dad were kind enough to give me a herb garden seed starter kit and I followed all the instructions and I’m starting to see sprouts from all my little containers. They’re growing along, but I’m just kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop…

In the past I have tried to grow things from seed and have been sadly disappointed by the results. I think that birds or animals have just plain eaten the seeds out the the ground which is why growing them indoors seems like the right plan.

I planted 2 little pots of sunflower seeds in an attempt at my great white whale of gardening, and they are sprouting too, which is very encouraging. Twice I’ve planted sunflower seeds only to be greeted by crushing disappointment. Not this time, Sunflowers. Not this time.

Apparently at some point I’ll have to “harden them off” which sounds unpleasant and a bit daunting. Practically every time I read about how I’m supposed to make these sprouts grow into real plants it seems a bit hopeless: will they have enough light? Are they in the right soil? Is the temperature right? Too much water or not enough? How do I transplant them successfully? When?

Well I guess with all great gardening experiments all I can do is the best I can: plant them green side up and keep my fingers crossed. With any luck I’ll be bringing you all bunches of fresh herbs by early summer!