Tower of Terra

As spring has finally arrived with some degree of confidence, it is time to turn my mind to my garden. As Ray mentioned in a previous post, he likes to Aerogarden, and although I have one as well, my preference is to garden in containers located on my patio. Few things are better when cooking than to quickly step out the door and emerge seconds later with a freshly picked vegetable or herb.

I have a couple of large elevated planters which are wonderful, but as the years have gone by, I have added container after container, resulting in a patio that my husband Tom would call “cluttered”. I’m not sure if there is such a thing in my mind, but I don’t suffer the type of tunnel vision that would make me immune to the perception of others. One could objectively call it “cluttered”.

Recently, when caught up in my reveries, I began to think about how nice it would be to grow some strawberries. I thought about where I would plant some, and of course, I thought about containers. I’m sure I have an old strawberry pot or two in that garage of mine, but I don’t imagine they would be big enough for a meaningful amount of strawberries, so what else was out there? This lead me on a surfing journey that lasted quite a while as I waded through various types of planters and solutions, but there was one that stood apart from the others. It was the Greenstalk planter.

The Greenstalk is a vertical planter. The company is based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the planters are made from food grade plastic, and made in the US. There are two types of container. The Original is 10 inches deep and holds 1 cubic ft. of potting mix. There is also the Leaf , which is 7 inches deep and holds .75 cubic ft. of potting mix. Each type is 19 inches in diameter and holds 6 plants. The containers are stacked on top of one another with a unique watering disk between each level and a watering reservoir on top. There are various configurations that can be purchased with a maximum of 5 levels of the original or 7 of the leaf planters. After digging around the internet and YouTube, I was able to find quite a few reviews and shared experiences about the planters, and that made me want one.

The next step would be to convince Tom that this was a good idea and so my campaign started. First thing was to tell him about the cool gardening product I found. Then of course, I had to reinforce by mentioning it again. All along, I knew what would convince him that we “needed” this. I would have to sacrifice some other planters! But remember each level has a 19 inch circumference and holds 6 plants, so really, I wouldn’t be giving anything up. So, I made my final play, and it was well received. In my ideal fantasy, I would be getting a 6 tier mix of original and leaf planters, but realistically, at 5’2″ on a good day, that might be a bit much for me to handle, and after several weeks of high winds, I had to agree with Tom that the 3 level planter would be the best way to start. The great thing about this compromise is that because this system is modular, if I should want to add another level in the future, I can purchase the planter and watering disk separately and make it happen.

Greenstalk Planter

And so, my new season of gardening has begun. We enjoyed a nice of visit to the garden center for the first time in a year. I got my planting mix and a selection of herbs and flowers. The planters assembled easily and I have planted Thai basil, chives, English thyme, Greek oregano, parsley and rosemary. I planted 6 marigolds for beauty and beneficial properties, and I planted fennel, basil and dill seeds directly to the planter. Strawberries? The thing that brought me here in the first place? Not a one!

Thai Basil

What gardening implement have you discovered that you can’t live without or are excited about trying? Please share. Gardeners always inspire other gardeners!

Fresh Herbs Year Round

I love using fresh herbs when I cook. The flavor is often more pronounced than when using dried herbs and they truly do add a nice feeling of freshness to anything you make. This doesn’t mean I don’t like dried herbs, there are in fact instances where I prefer them to fresh! One herb that immediately comes to mind is oregano – I find the flavor of dried oregano to be much more bold and I really don’t care for it when it is fresh.

One of the biggest problems with using fresh herbs is the expense that comes with it. Frequently the herbs you find in your local market are quite pricey for a small bunch and the appearance and condition of them for such elevated prices often leave something to be desired. So what is the alternative? Growing your own of course!

The joy of gardening runs deep in our family. My father grew amazing vegetable gardens every year. He didn’t have a lot of room to work with, but he knew how to fill every inch of space to produce high yields. This love passed on to my sister, so much so that she returned to school a few years ago to attend a program on becoming a master gardener. I’m not sure that my brother enjoys it quite as much as she does, but he and Karen do grow some very nice stuff in planters on their patio and I know he enjoys researching and trying different varieties of things.

Then there’s sibling number three – yours truly… The one branch on the family tree that doesn’t enjoy gardening at all! I have tried… and tried… and tried! I’ve planted gardens the regular old way right out in the ground and didn’t find the joy. I’ve had small self watering tomato planters that I used on the deck of my first apartment long ago before I was married. Easy enough to use, but I still didn’t enjoy digging in even that little amount of dirt and I found halfway through the season that I stopped adding water as often as I should have.

A few years ago we decided to try again with a nice wooden planter on our deck – the perfect location to keep it from becoming a deer salad. We grew tomatoes, peppers and a small variety of eggplant. The garden, much like my earlier attempts, was successful but once again I didn’t find any great joy in the whole experience. I also learned that my wife and son were not huge fans of the process either. So after two years, the next great hope for an exciting garden experience was put to rest as we disassembled the planter.

Then in the spring of 2020 I decided to give yet another garden a try. I started to read more about the Aerogarden and liked what I saw. Hydroponic gardening meant I could leave digging in the soil behind – an instant plus for someone who doesn’t want to dig in the dirt! It also meant that it would be a fully indoor garden which made it easier to check on before I got to work on my other activities for the day. It’s not that we don’t want to be outdoors, we love our outdoor activities and when we go outside we want to be able to do the things we enjoy, which never seems to include working in the garden. So, the simplicity of indoor gardening with the Aerogarden checked another box for us.

We were sold enough to give another form of gardening a try and I can finally say after all these years, I love my little garden! For our first season we grew lettuce, tomatoes and basil and enjoyed them all through the spring and summer months. It was in my second season, for fall and winter, that I discovered what truly made the Aerogarden worth every penny for us when we decided to grow all herbs.

We have a 9 pod model and the ability to grow and have 9 different kinds of herbs on hand throughout the fall and winter months was an awesome experience. Now we are entering our second fall/winter season and I have gone with all herbs again. You can’t beat the value – you can pick up a 9 pod custom herb kit during one of their many 20% off sales for around $14. There’s no way you would be able to buy 4 or 5 months worth of 9 different types of fresh herbs from the store for that price! For this season I have chosen cilantro, sage, dill, basil, tarragon, rosemary, parsley, thyme and lavender.

Day 9 – 6 of the 9 pods have already sprouted.

The herbs tend to grow quite quickly in the Aerogarden and it won’t be long until we are able to cook up all kinds of dishes with them fresh right out of the garden. I’m looking forward to the creations that await us in the months to come! Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

The Herb and Spice Graveyard

My wife decided that she wanted to make potato salad for Memorial Day.  While she was out picking up an order at Target, she texted me and said she thought dill would make a nice addition this time and asked me to check if we had any.  I told her I thought so, but went to the cabinet to check and found our trusty bottle of dill waiting there for us.  I love the smell of dill so before I texted her back, I stopped and opened the bottle to take a whiff and discovered it smelled like….. nothing!  Was my nose broken?

I looked at it more closely and discovered that the vibrant green color had faded to something similar in color to week old cut grass clippings.  I then dared to flip the bottle over and that’s when the horror began to unfold – I discovered our dill had died.  Not recently either – TEN years ago!!  I texted Lori back with the news and said you’d better bring home a new one.  I also said how the heck (I might have used a word other than heck actually) do we have dill that expired ten years ago??  She texted back that she’d get a new one and that she couldn’t stop laughing!

Come what may, I decided it was time to see what other dark secrets were lurking in our spice rack.  Let’s take a moment to remember the dill and some of our other lost herb and spice friends.

Dear friend dill weed, you put us in quite a pickle.  Once a wave of flavor, now you’d barely make a ripple.  Our fault entirely for going full throttle when we should have paused and read the date on your bottle.  We finally did so a decade too late, but don’t feel too bad – we still think you’re great!

Here lie the coarse ground black pepper twins, now departed. One of you mostly used, the other barely started. We thought you were so great that we purchased you twice, but clearly our lives couldn’t handle that much spice! 2012 took one of you and 16 the other, next time we’ll finish one before we buy another.

Meet cream of tartar, neither herb nor spice. You make snickerdoodles chewy and meringue look nice. 2012 brought your end with some sighs, we didn’t even notice though it was right before our eyes.

Crushed red pepper you are so hot and spicy, but in 2010 you turned a bit icy.   We don’t use you often, but that’s no excuse.  We should have known you were beyond your date of best use!

Herbes de Provence what an awesome blend, but I should have retired you in 2012 my old friend.  That’s what the date on your bottle did say, but you’re so darned delicious that I’ll replace you one day!

Chinese five spice powder, you taste so fine.  I read about you in a cooking magazine and then I made you mine.  There was no date on your bottle, but away you had to go because I brought you home to my bachelor pad which I gave up long ago!

Basil you’re an interesting one – not my favorite when you’re dry, but when fresh I’ll use a ton.  Still I have no excuse and it was plain to see that in 2011 I should have set you free.

I’ve definitely had a lot of fun writing epitaphs for our expired herbs and spices, but let’s get serious for a minute.  Let this post serve as a cautionary tale or a simple reminder – your choice – to go and check the expiration dates on your herbs and spices.  While I’m not aware of any harm that might come to you from using them, they will definitely bring harm to the food you are cooking by providing a dreadful lack of flavor. 

The expiration dates on the containers are there for a reason and we should pay attention to them.  Clearly, I have failed in this area with my oldest one being 11 years expired!  Some we don’t use as often as others and I use a lot of fresh herbs from my Aerogarden which means I use the dry ones less frequently, but that’s really no excuse not to check the dates from time to time.

Funny how Lori’s simple question about dill instantly inspired a whole blog entry idea for me.  You know what is even funnier?  The day after Memorial Day we were enjoying the rest of the potato salad with dinner and suddenly it occurred to me, she never did put the dill in! Maybe next year…