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So you’ve reached the point in your cooking career where store bought herbs aren’t cutting it anymore. When fresh is best and store bought bottles don’t cut it and homemade is the only thing that will do. Time to start your own herb garden!
The great news is, it’s easy! And can be as cheap and frugal and versatile as you need. So let’s walk through how to start a frugal herb garden of your own!
The first step is figuring out what herbs you need! It’s tempting to grow them all, and it’s even tempting to buy kits, after all they save money right? They might, but only If those are the herbs you want! So make a list. Feel free to make it a long list and shorten it later if need be.
Here are some questions to help you think about your list:
- What dried herbs are in your cupboard right now?
- These are fantastic herbs to start growing as you know you will use them!
- What fresh stock is in your fridge?
- Even better herbs to start growing because you went out of your way to stock them!
- What types of dishes do you make often and what herbs go great in those?
- These are great way to introduce yourself to new herbs, and use the same old-same old in a new way!
- Do you suffer any ailments such as depression, anxiety, headaches, inflammation etc?
- If so, research which herbs may help to alleviate these symptoms in a natural, healthy way!
- Are there any pests you need to keep away from the home?
- If you’re growing outdoors, its great to keep in mind that bee’s are attracted to some herbs, and repulsed by others! Same with mosquitoes, wasps, and certain pests that love to eat your veggie garden!
- What teas or essential oils do you use?
- Some herbs can be dried and used for teas! Others can be turned into homemade essential oils* NOTE: essential oils take MASSIVE amounts of herbs, so if this is your intent, do some research on growing for this purpose before planning your garden!
Generally it’s recommended to start your garden smaller the first year, but don’t be afraid if your list is long, you can do it! Besides you can also narrow the list down as we go!
WHERE TO GROW
The next step is deciding where you want to grow your garden. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Kitchen counter
- Window sill
- Vertical wall/Hanging
- Vertical wall/Hanging
- Raised Bed
- Mixed with vegetable garden
There are TWO things your herbs need to thrive: space and light (well, okay three: water but that can be provided manually). To figure out if an indoor or outdoor garden will work better for you, consider your home and the amount of herbs you want to grow. A small kitchen isn’t the perfect place for a dozen herbs, but a big patio is! At the same time,a large kitchen means lots of room, but if there is not enough sun it will mean you need to supplement light. Doable, but something to keep in mind for frugal needs!
Another important thing to consider before growing outdoors, is your zone. Areas in North America are divided into hardiness zones, which can tell you what plants will grow well there and which won’t. It’s important to keep an eye on this because climate changes have caused shifts in the zones throughout the years. You can find your zone by searching your zip code at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map Website! Once you know your zone, you can get a slightly more personalized guide to how to garden in your area!
Make sure you research the herbs you’re considering to find out how much space and light they each need! As you are making these considerations, carefully look over your list and remove any herbs that might not work for you after all.
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PREPARING YOUR GARDEN
Now that you know WHAT you will grow, and WHERE you will grow it, you need to figure out HOW you will grow it! Here are the basic supplies you will need:
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- Light source – this can be the sun, and/or a growing light
- Soaking spot
- Starter pods (if your garden will ultimately be outdoors)
- Something to grow in
- Water source
- Note pad
Now lets break this down one-by-one!
To grow anything you’ll need seeds. Some plants can be regrown from store bought plants. I won’t touch on this, so feel free to google your plants to see if that’s an option for you! If it is, it can be a great resourceful and frugal way to start a garden!
You can buy seeds practically anywhere, especially during spring time! I buy majority of my seeds from the grocery store (Winco sells them for $1 a packet!) and MIGardener – they have a fantastic supply of heirloom seeds for $1 a packet (not an affiliate, I just love the resources, prices, and have had over 95% germination with their seeds)! However, there are many fantastic seed companies out there so look around and check reviews! But I don’t recommend buying from hardware stores, as they tend to be the most expensive around and the least variety!
I also don’t recommend buying bulk seeds your first year. Find out what you enjoy growing, what grows well where you are, and what you end up using the most and least! After the first year, you can buy seeds in bulk and save money going forward!
My garden was outdoors, because of this, I needed to start my seeds indoors while the outside temperature was still low (check your zone for these details). If you’re starting an outdoor garden inside, you’ll need a temporary set up to allow your seeds to germinate. A south facing window is the easiest and cheapest option! Allowing your plants to get lots of sunlight for the longest amount of time. If you can’t swing it, or shade comes early, you’ll have to supplement with a growing light. There are tons of options out there, I bought a simple dual head strip light:
It has worked fantastically to provide a little boost of light after my window has gone to shade. Plus you can’t beat the price! They have various sizes including one head, three heads, even full spectrum hanging lights that provide full coverage if you have a lot of plants!
If your garden is inside, then the same rules should apply to you. Hopefully you have an area in your kitchen with lots of light. If you don’t you’ll have to grab something that can supplement it!
Soaking your seeds prior to planting is not a necessity, but I highly recommend it! Simply get cups or muffin tins. Drop the number of seeds you need for each plant into each cup and fill with HOT water – not boiling, but as hot as your tap will go! Make sure you label each cup so you don’t get the seeds mixed up! Soak at least 12 hours to break up the outside protective layer on the seeds, but no more than 48 hours. 24 hours is the perfect sweet spot for your seeds! Doing so should cut down germination by at least a week! Plant your seeds immediately after soaking!
Starter pods are strictly for plants you plan to grow outside. This means you’ll be starting them inside, so they need something to grow in temporarily. You could always grab some seed starter cells such as these Burpee Seeding Cells.
So lets look at some frugal options as well!
- Egg shells: Crack an egg as normal, use the larger half of the egg shell, rinse and wash lightly, fill with soil. It can be planted directly into the soil! Acts as a natural fertilizer!
- Egg Carton: Recycled Paper pulp egg cartons are perfect for seed starting! You can fill the egg slots with soil, and once they are ready to be transplanted, simply cut each egg lot out, and plant directly into the soil! Acts as a natural weed barrier!
- Newspaper Pods: Newspaper sheets can be rolled around a can, pressing the bottoms in to create little cylinder pods. You can also do some fun origami to create little boxes! A quick google can get you detailed instructions and videos for both! Fill them with soil, and transplant directly into the ground. Newspaper acts as a natural weed block!
- Plastic containers: Leftover plastic containers such as the ones holding fruits, yogurts, and cookies work great to start seeds in. Simply wash, fill with soil and plant! Once your plants are ready to transplant you’ll have to carefully remove them from the plastic before planting. But the plastic containers with clear lids (and air holes) work great as mini green houses!
- Glass Jars: Leftover glass food jars such as the ones for baby food, pasta sauces, and pickles work great as well! Simply wash, fill with soil and plant! Once your plants are ready to transplant you’ll have to carefully remove them from the glass before planting.
- Toilet Paper Rolls: After your roll is finished, cut the cardboard piece in half to create two short cylinders, this will give you TWO seed starters. Place on a tray and fill with dirt. You can transplant the cardboard directly into the dirt as it acts as a natural weed block. Careful carrying though as they have no bottom! You could also cut fringes along the bottom and fold in to create one, but you’ll slowly make it smaller and smaller so careful!
- Cups: Plastic cups, paper cups, wax paper cups, even ceramic mugs, all work as easy planters! Simply wash, fill with soil and plant! You will have to remove the plant from the cup before transplanting but it works great to grow in! You may have them around the house, or a quick trip to the dollar store can get them cheap!
- Muffin Trays: Fill your muffin tray with soil, and plant the seeds! You will need to be extra careful when removing plants for transplanting but cheap and easy way to start your seeds!
If you’re planting inside, skip directly to this step! If you’ve already started your seeds, now you’re ready to plant them! We’ve talk about it briefly above, but lets get a little more specific for frugal ideas! Remember, each herb will have a preferred size and height so keep that in mind as you choose where and how to plant it!
- Glass Jars/Ceramic Mugs etc.: Cozy, but chances are you have some around you could spare! Simply fill the bottom with rocks, the rest with dirt, plant your seed and water! The rocks will allow some drainage on the bottom level so your roots don’t get too soggy!
- Plastic Containers/Cups/Bottles etc.: Maybe not the prettiest option, but free and resourceful! Simply fill with dirt, plant your seed and water! If your container has holes in the bottom make sure you set it on a plate to allow extra water to go somewhere! For bottles, cut off the top half of the bottle to just use the base!
- Tin Cans: I’d try to stick with the large #10 can size to give your plants the most amount of room, but smaller can work in a pinch! Simply clean out, fill the bottom with rocks, the rest with dirt, plant your seed and water!
- Shoe Holder: For a unique vertical option, use a shoe organizer attached to the wall. Fill each pouch with soil and then water to check for drainage. If there is none, make a tiny hole in the bottom of each, except the bottom row. This will be used to catch water so your floor doesn’t! Plant your seeds and go!
- Unused items: Get resourceful! Have an extra teapot you don’t use? Try it! Nothing left of your candle? Take out the wax and resuse! Big tub you’re not using? Plant multiple herbs together!
- Mini Buckets: If your local dollar store sells mini buckets, string them along a curtain rod or similar and attach to the wall, above the sink etc. For a simple budget friendly hanging option!
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- Wooden wine crates: You can often pick up wood crates at wine and beverage stores, sometimes for free, sometimes for $5! They are perfect for creating garden boxes for herbs! Simply fill with soil, place your plant, and fill in more soil around it to keep it snug, and water! Make sure you place it somewhere where the sun gets to it often!
- Plastic tubs: Another resourceful, although not as pretty option is using plastic tubs. Great for those plastic tubs you keep long after the top has cracked. Make sure you drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage first! Fill with soil, place your plants, and fill in more soil around it to keep it snug and water!
- Baskets: Have an empty basket lying around? You can find them cheap at goodwill’s all the time, and they are perfect for outdoor garden containers!
- Gutters: If you have some old gutters lying around, this is a great option! Especially if you add chain or rope to the ends for a vertical hanging garden! Don’t forget to cap the sides so the soil doesn’t fall out, and drill a few small holes for drainage!
- PVC Pipe: Large pieces of PVC pipe cut in half lengthwise can offer an affordable hanging garden option as well! Same as above, don’t forget to cap the ends and add drainage holes!
- DIY: Tin cans and pallet wood screwed together could give you a simple and frugal vertical garden option! Don’t forget to add drainage holes to the bottom of the cans!
- Unused Items: Look around your home for older and unused items such as colanders, tires, planters, wheelbarrows, ceramic bowls, buckets, etc. Anything while a bowl shape can be used! Just keep in mind any toxic chemicals that the item might be coated with will transfer to your plant, so stay away from anything with that. And if need be add drainage holes to your item to prevent root rot!
- In The Ground: Whats cheaper and more resourceful than simply using the ground? If you have a front yard/back yard/ or side yard – use it! Dig in and plant directly into the ground. Just make sure the area gets great sunlight, and has drainage!
As previously mentioned, water can be brought in manually, sun is harder (and more expensive) to bring in, so choose your location based on the sun rather than water. A watering can, a hose, even just a cup full of water can work in a pinch for bringing water to your new babies. Make sure you have at least two ways of getting water to your plants in case of emergency! For a frugal tip, try setting up a rain barrel in your backyard to catch rainwater that you can use to water your plants throughout the year. It probably won’t be enough water, but anything helps!
Nothing fancy required! Scrap of paper, notebook, digital notepad on your phone, etc! Just use it to record everything you do for your plants! Every time you water, the day you plant, the day you harvest, any time you add food or fertilizer, anytime you run into a pest or the weather changes etc! These notes may not seem like much in the beginning, but as the season progresses, you’ll need this information to understand why your plants change colors, why certain pests or fungus appear, and you can use that information to fix or at least make sure it doesn’t happen next year!
STARTING YOUR GARDEN
Now that you understand all the basics and supplies to starting a garden, lets put it all together in 6 easy steps!
- Choose your herbs
- Choose your location (indoor/outdoor)
- Soak seeds
- Plant seeds
- Indoors, plant once.
- Outdoors, start indoors and transplant outdoors after established!
- Keep notes!
Remember, each herb will have a set of rules – a time of year it needs to be started or planted, how deep it needs to be planted, the amount of sun or shade or water it requires, an amount of space around it, the height it gets to, and how to prune it! It’s a lot to keep track of, so make sure you keep good notes, its better to keep “too many” than not enough!
After your plants start coming in, don’t forget to check out Herbs 101: Harvesting and Preserving!
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