Herbs are one of my passions in life. This is why I have over three dozen different herbs growing in my herb gardens. Most of my favorites are perennials that require almost no care other than harvesting and being "put to bed" in the autumn.
Lemon balm is called a balm for a reason. It has amazing healing properties, beginning with its intoxicating fragrance. If you rub it between your fingers, it spreads an aroma exactly like freshly sliced lemons.
Lemon balm is not one of those herbs that you have to be careful with or avoid eating too much. You can use as much as you want as often as you please.
The old-timers used to call Lemon Balm the "child tamer" because a little lemon balm tea before bedtime tends to knock kids out. It's also a great tea for folks who are suffering from sleeping disorders. To make lemon balm tea, simply let it steep in boiling water. If you cut it up and put it in a tea strainer, it will be ten times more intense and flavorful. To make ice tea, simply put it in the fridge.
Some of the other many uses of Lemon Balm include:
Stuff chicken breasts with it and top with parmesan, italian bread crumbs, and fresh lemon balm sprigs. When cooked, lemon balm has the consistency of spinach and is full of fiber and vitamins.
Chop and sprinkle over fruit salads to add a unique bouquet of fragrance and flavor.
Use as a garnish in summer drinks or put a sprig in ice water to dress it up when company comes over.
Add lemon balm to floral bouquets for a brighter fragrance and fuller presentation.
Use as a garnish or added greens in cold summer salads.
Lemon balm loses its flavor when you dry it, so you can not preserve it this way. However, it is easy to freeze. Simply pack your cuttings in tupperware or ziplock bags so you'll have fresh lemon balm tea all winter!
Unless you live on the North Pole, lemon balm will thrive and spread in your USDA zone. It's usually the first herb to greet me in the Spring time and the last to check out in Autumn.
Start lemon balm from a cutting, not seeds. Ask a friend for a cutting (make sure it has some good roots on it) or buy a plant from a nursery.
Lemon balm is a perennial and it spreads quickly. Its roots can quickly take over a small garden, so give it room to spread or keep it in a large pot.
Lemon balm is in the mint family, so always cut from the top, not the sides. The last two leaves below where you cut will start to produce two new shoots in about a week. This means that every time you harvest it, it will literally double its efforts. By the second or third year, it will be so bushy you won't know what to do with it, as in the top picture of this post.
In the late Autumn, cut your lemon balm down to the ground after the frost. If you live in a colder climate, throw a few leaves on top to insulate it.
Lemon balm may be grown in pots. However, you may want to plant a whole bed of it once you discover how useful it is. I used large rocks as a border to keep it out of my garden path.
Lemon balm makes a therapeutic tea for folks who suffer from sleeping disorders. It's also an amazing addition to many different summer dishes.
Provide ample space between perennial herbs when you design your herb garden. This will give them room to spread and make it easier to keep them where they belong.
It is incredibly easy to build a compost bin out used pallets. This is one pallet project that won't require you to disassemble them, which is a frustratingly impossible task. My compost bin is made of three pallets and an old piece of sheet metal. Simply wire your pallets together, drive poles into the corners to hold it in place, and top it off with a board or piece of sheet metal to create a handy garden storage area. You can also add slats to the front to make it look custom-made if you want to go the extra mile. However, the slats should be removable so that you can shovel it out when it's done "cooking."
Nasturtiums are one of my favorite garden flowers. If you plant them near tomatoes and peppers, they'll help keep pests away because the critters don't like their hot flavor. They will also add color and contrasting height to your vegetable garden. Nasturtiums are delicious in salads and you can eat both the flowers and the leaves. If you're like me, then you'll eat them like candy when you walk through your garden in the morning.
Nasturtiums can be direct sown in full sun or started in pots a month before you plan to set them out. Once the weather warms up, they'll take off. They're also available in long trailing vines or as compact bushy plants so choose your varieties carefully. When you plant Nasturtium seeds, you have to "scar" them. This means that the exterior of the seed is so tough that the seedling can't break through it without help. A bit of rubbing on sandpaper usually does the trick.
Technically, Nasturtiums are classified as an herb because they were used medicinally in medieval times. The early settlers brought them to America with them.
Nasturtiums and fresh greens from my Spring garden make for a KILLER salad!
Nasturtiums and Marigolds work together to keep pests away from my tomato garden.
I topped this chocolate cake with fresh spearmint and nasturtiums for a fun summer treat.
My spring fever begins as soon as we pack up the Christmas and Hanukkah decorations. I start scouring seed catalogs to find new varieties and I map out my spring, summer, and fall gardens. Our home has two bright south-facing windows in the master bedroom which work great as a "greenhouse" until the weather warms up enough to move the seedlings outside.
I always start about twice as many seedlings as I need so that I can share them with friends, neighbors, and Levites.
Here's a few tips for starting your own seeds on a tight budget:
Save every pot, planter, and tray that you get from nurseries every year so that you won't have to buy expensive trays from the hardware store.
Buy a pack of 6 ounce plastic cups. Cut a "v" shape with a paring knife in the bottom of each cup for drainage and you have a perfect (and affordable) place to start your plants!
Rinse out white milk jugs and cut them into strips for plant markers. (Burpee charges $3.99 for 25 plastic plant markers.)
Save your own seeds for plants that are easy to work with, such as beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and marigolds.
If you have never started your own seedlings before, here is all you need to know.
Starting your own seedlings will breathe life into you in the dark days of late winter.
Starting your own seedlings is incredibly easy.
Read the directions on the back of each pack. They will tell you how deep to plant each seed.
Buy a sprayer for watering your plants. It's much gentler on young seedlings.
When you water, soak them thoroughly. Then, don't water again until the soil is completely dry.
Use a card table on a south facing window or buy a grow light (The window is a better option).
Cover your trays and pots with saran wrap so that it works like a "mini greenhouse" to quickly germinate the seeds. Take off the saran wrap as soon as they break through the soil.
Plant two seeds in every pot. Then, take out the extra one as soon as they spring up. This is an insurance policy against poor germination rates.
Pre-mixed seed starting mix is really cheap. It's usually even cheaper than mixing your own. It's already formulated for great root development and fertilization. Name brand seed-starting mix is about $4.00 for 8 quarts of soil, which is plenty for most people.
Common Pitfalls of Seed Starting:
Don't overwater! Overwatering will rot your root systems and bring a fungal disease called "damping off" where the stem itself falls apart.
"Harden off" your seedlings. When your seedlings are ready for planting, introduce them to the outdoors gradually over a week. First bring them out for an hour, then two or three hours, then all day. Last, let them stay outside over night after all danger of frost has passed. It takes a week or so for them to adjust to temperature changes, full sunlight, and wind.
Why I can never go back... I have yet to find a nursery that offers more than ten varieties of tomatoes or more than 20 varieties of herbs. If you start your own seeds, you can choose from thousands of varieties of every kind of plant imaginable. In future blog posts, I will show you what I'm growing this year. Meanwhile, here's some great websites for heirloom seeds.
These seedlings are ready to rock and roll.
I start most of my seedlings in 6 ounce cups. It's cheap and it gives them room to grow.
Don't forget the end result! The FLAVOR is worth all the effort.
Varieties like "lemon cucumbers" usually can't be bought as seedlings as nurseries.
These are the sites that I trust and have bought from for several years:
Winter gardening is actually much easier than summer gardening because you only have a handful of plants to look after instead of endless rows and beds. Instead of being labor-intensive, winter gardening is joy-intensive. After all, what's more fun than a fresh salad from the garden in January?
There are three simple strategies that I use for successful winter gardening:
Choose plants that can tolerate frost such as kale, root crops, grains, spinach, brassicas, mache, cilantro and parsley.
Plant winter crops in early Autumn to give them a strong start before the really cold weather sets in. The exact time will depend on where you live. In Charlotte, North Carolina, I begin to plant winter crops in late September.
Provide protection such as glass cloches or cold frames made from old windows. If you give them a little protection, plants such as cilantro, parsley, and greens will thrive. Root crops are already protected by the soil, so they don't need any additional help from us.
I live in USDA zone 8b, so winter gardening is much easier here than further north. However, you can successful grow winter crops even in colder regions. You'll just have to choose your plants and plan your protection more carefully.
If your climate is too harsh to do anything outside in the winter, then you can still grow some herbs and greens in pots in a South-facing window. Basil can't handle cold weather or frost, but it will thrive in a sunny window at any time of year.