Grow Your Own
by Cathy Rich
My husband and I are growing more Earth Aware these days; we recycle, compost, have an outside garden, greenhouse, and a growing herb garden inside. We’re not nature activists or environmentalists per se. But we are Earth Spiritualists who recognize the importance of giving back as we take. We consider ourselves stewards of the land and do what we can to take care of our little portion of Mother Earth. For example, each Yule for the past three years we have purchased a live dwarf evergreen tree to transplant after the holidays. More and more these days, we are hearing, “the economy is bad, save wherever you can.” Gas prices are higher. Grocery prices are going up, too. Cutting corners and tightening purse strings is not always that easy, but let me share with you a way that is quite easy, not terribly expensive and is enjoyable.
A few years ago my thumb was any color but green. I had the seemingly black thumb of death; even plastic plants in my apartment could not survive. I didn’t know the difference between basil and sage. That all changed after I met my husband and our Wiccan study group held a workshop on growing herbs. Herb gardening is a pretty inexpensive hobby and the more you do it, the more you learn. And I have found, helps to feed my spirit as I develop a deeper connection with the Earth.
You don’t need an acre of land in order to find your green thumb or to become more connected to the Earth. A sunny windowsill works just as well. During the winter months, we use plant lights to help provide energy for photosynthesis and seed germination, as tender winter plants need light and warmth as well. I was surprised to learn that not all seeds need to be planted deep into the dirt to get them going. Anis and basil seeds, for instance, need only be planted about 1/4” deep. While Italian oregano can simply be sprinkled on top of the soil as it germinates with ultraviolet light. We use fertilized potting soil which helps to feed our plants for months at a time. Daily watering is, of course, essential too. Generally, there are instructions on the back of the seed packets that will tell you how deep to plant seeds and how much sunlight the plants will need.
If you’re interested in starting an herb garden, or even just growing one plant, go simple first. A few pots, potting soil and seeds are the basics you will need. I’ve found that parsley, cilantro, basil, feverfew and oregano are plants that are not only easy to get started, but also grow fairly quickly and easily produce a good harvest. Feverfew, in fact, will take over your entire back yard if you are not careful. Once it gets started, it grows and spreads very quickly.
We plant and grow what we plan to use. I have a green tea plant that is very young yet, but in a year or so it should have enough leaves and be strong enough that I can harvest the leaves and make my own very-caffeinated, very-antioxidated tea. Try growing spearmint or orange mint and add a fresh sprig to your tea. And of course fresh and dried herbs are wonderful in your cooking.
To dry your own herbs, use a food dehydrator. You can put both the leaves and stems in to dry. In an hour or so, just when they are a bit crunchy, the dried herbs are removed and ground in a coffee grinder and then placed into an air tight container for storage. Both coffee grinders and food dehydrators
are commonly found in many store’s cookware department. It is quite satisfying to use the herbs that you have grown to garnish your own homemade dishes.
Sunflowers in the Farmhouse Garden
Even when not in season, growing herbs allows you to enjoy salads all year round. While you may have to purchase lettuce from the grocery, lovage and salad burnet are fresh herbs you can grow and add to your salads; one tastes like cucumber and the other celery. We are experimenting and growing sesame this season. It is very easily started, likes direct light and soon after the fl owers are finished, the pods will house sesame seeds. Our current favorite plant is Pesto Perpetuo, a member of the basil family that we brought it home from a nursery. It is a hybrid plant that does not flower nor does it go to seed, but instead is propagated through stem cutting. This process involves clipping a healthy stem of up to 8” from the plant and placing it in a glass of water to root. After the roots develop, it is transferred into soil. This plant loves to be watered, grows well in direct light and produces delicious leaves that you can use anywhere basil is used in a recipe. As its name implies, it also makes a wonderful Pesto!
Fragrant plants can be dried for potpourri; lavender, white sage, patchouli and feverfew. The drying process is a bit different for these plants. Bunch them together with a rubber band and hang them upside down to dry. This way, their essential oils drain into the leaves. Even months after drying, one can rub the leaves together or break a stem and still smell their fragrance.
There’s no big secret to having a successful garden. Your intent is very important. Put into it what you want out of it. There is a lot to learn and with experimentation comes some failure and much success. With each plant you grow, you will learn something new. Start your herb garden with the simple, inexpensive and even recycled materials you already have. A coffee cup can be a pot. Cut a plastic milk container or water bottle in half and use the bottom of it. Place a few seeds in the dirt, identify the window in your home that receives the most sun and wait. Be patient. Seeds often take up to 14 days to sprout but it is worth the wait. It is exciting to watch these new plants grow and develop. ey go through diff erent stages of development from new sprouts to mature plants ready to harvest. Be thinking about ways to use your harvest, try a new recipe or liven up an existing one. When your plants are done, be thankful. The stems that will not be used for cooking can be dried and become an offering of thanks, to be burned in a ritual fire.
Our time on this Earth is limited. The plants we grow and harvest have limited lives too. We can choose to be an observer of this cycle of life or we can be a participant. One way to participate is to do – become a part of the cycle, get your hands in the dirt. Grow a plant. Grow two plants. Churn up the soil and establish a garden of your own. Plant to feed your family and your Spirit. Plant even more to share with your friends. Becoming a means of connecting with Earth and reconnecting with yourself, the steward of your own garden as a celebration of Life.