Category Archives: Herbs

Coriander to Cilantro: Harvesting your own seeds

Coriander seedsI’ve always been confused about the difference between coriander and cilantro (I thought coriandre was just the French name for cilantro – maybe it was just me, haha), and I LOVE fresh cilantro in fish tacos, salads, etc., so I looked it up and discovered that coriander is the seed planted to grow cilantro, and when ground, is a spice used for cooking.

I’ve been getting into harvesting my own seeds more this year, mostly because I find it interesting, and I’ve read that seeds harvested from you own garden are already better suited to your soil and location (and their relevant issues). And hey, it’s economical – no need to buy seeds next year!

So this year, I’ve harvested seeds from our cilantro, lettuce, tomatoes (grown from seed last year) and purple beans (grown from seeds we’ve been harvesting for 5 years). Here’s a quick summary.

To harvest cilantro seeds: wait till they go brown in the garden, then hang to dry. I just wrap a bunch with twine and hang it from a nail over my interior doorways. I do this with lavender too, and it makes for lovely fall decor! In a few weeks, pull off the seeds and either save for next year in a paper towel sealed in a small Ziploc bag, or keep for grinding and using in recipes.

To harvest lettuce seeds: let one plant go to seed. It will become tall and start flowering, and eventually, little bits of fluff will form on the ends of the buds. Bring them inside and rub the fluffy bits together with your thumb and forefinger (with a paper towel underneath to catch the seeds) and keep as above. I’m also letting another plant stay in the garden to see if it will “self seed” (for early spring lettuce) if and when the fluff falls off the plant. We’ll see!

Harvesting lettuce seeds

To harvest tomato seeds: just pull the seeds out of any tomato and let them dry in a paper towel. Fold it up and keep in a bag as above – you can even plant the little bit of paper towel along with the seeds next year if they don’t want to come off. But mine picked off the paper just fine.

To harvest bean seeds: leave some of your beans on the vines in the garden till they look dead and shriveled. Pick them, bring them inside and let them dry a few days or weeks longer, until they’re crispy to the touch. Break them apart to release the seeds and keep as above.

Sounds easy right? It is! So go spread the love! I’d love to know what other seeds you harvest and how they turn out.

Learnings from the dirt: A mid-season garden review

On exactly the same day two years ago (unintentionally), I wrote a “mid season review” post, complete with proud photos of everything growing so successfully. I just re-read it, and to my total surprise, the weather has been similar and the garden is fairing almost exactly the same. I could have sworn that we’ve had less sun and more garden annoyances this year, but it appears that an “un-seasonally” hot May and miserable June are actually quite standard around here. So I’ve had a closer look at what’s worked, and what I could learn from the problems and failures. To start, here’s what I planted when:

Early – mid April – Spinach, Chard, Arugula, Kale, Basil (indoors), Tomato (indoors), PeppersKale
Late April – Potatoes, Kale #2, Spinach #2, Carrots, Little Gem lettuce, Chard #2, Cukes, Zuchs
Garden in July
Early – mid May – Yellow bush beans, purple beans (from seeds we started harvesting 4 years), tomatoes (from plant) and tomato from last year’s self-harvested seeds, indoors.Tomato From Seed

Little Gem lettuce

Little Gem lettuce – soft like butter lettuce

And here’s a few things I learned or have discovered consistencies with:

  1. Lettuces almost always deliver! If planted early and continuously, you can have greens for your salad all summer, and into fall.
  2. Spinach and chard don’t! I love spinach in my smoothies, but when planted in April with a hot May, they seem to either not come up, or start to flower (bolt) in the heat before they even grew larger enough to eat. I guess I need to plant spinach FIRST and EARLY. The chard is still limping along, but after 2 months and no real discernible growth, I have to assume the same rule applies.

    Flowering Potatoes

    Flowering potato plant

  3. Give everything enough room. I really thought I’d learned this previously, but I can’t help it – I get greedy or sometimes I forget how much space each veggie needs. I figure I’m still ok as long as I thin the kale and carrots out to about 12″ and 2″ apart respectively, by the time they’re a few inches tall.
  4. Aphids seem to like kale and fruit trees, and ants like everything else!
    (note: another post to come on this subject!)
  5. Not all potatoes flower – I figured there was something wrong with my first plantings, as they didn’t flower, and then I remembered that in a panic to get something in the ground, I just threw in some old potatoes left over from the cupboard. I also forgot to hill them up after 4 weeks and just did it recently at about the 8-10 week mark (I didn’t keep track – what can I say, I’ve been busy this year). I only discovered this once my second planting (from a bag of purchased potato seedlings) started to flower – they’re so pretty, but if they both produce good spuds, I guess it doesn’t matter!  

    Finally, here’s a few photos of some relatively happy spaces in the garden around mid-season. Not too much to harvest just yet other than kale and lettuce, but with a little more sun, we should be on our way. Enjoy!

    Growing basil

    Hurry up tomatoes, so I can make tomato-basil-feta salad!

    Zucchini flowers

    First zucchini flowers – love watching them open up

    Non prickly blackberry bushes

    Our non-prickly blackberry bushes (unlike the weedy ones you find beside railway tracks ;-). The passersby seem to like them as much as we do, but hey….spread the love.

    Harvesting blackberries

    Blackberries and raspberries in my bowl – yay! The blackberries are 1-1/2″ long, I kid you not!


    Although not a flower gardener, I just can’t ignore the gorgeous hydrangeas in the yard right now!



It’s May and the garden is underway

Forgive me, for I have sinned…it’s been a YEAR since my last post. I’ve had reams of material idling in my brain for months, even during winter, but as I’m sure many people can relate, life gets in the way, so I’ve focused my energy recently on my yard instead of the writing.

Grow your own veggiesI’m happy to report that the garden IS underway, with green bits popping up all over, and I continue to try to push seeds into whatever soil I can get my hands on, trying not to be too greedy and plant things too close together, as I’ve learned it doesn’t pay off in the end.

Pictured here is the back garden featuring tomatoes (from plant), kale and arugula, and the light green bits in the front are little gem lettuce that I planted last fall and we’ve been enjoying since March! I did plant the tomatoes close to them, as they’ll be finished as the tomato plants grow and start to shade them. And the little spec of yellow is a marigold – I like to pop those in between the tomato plants to keep the bugs away a bit.

The front garden is also getting a facelift this season. Until a week ago, it was one big weed pit, except for the veggie boxes of course, after having pulled out most of the grass and weeds last year and running out of time to do anything with it. Instead, this year, we’ve hired our friend’s Garden landscapinglandscape company, Ecologik, to make magic out of the dirt. Nothing fancy – just some ground cover to keep the weeds out (or down), some gravel paths and a few pavers. Our kids use the BACK yard for running around, so we had no need for a maintenance-heavy lawn, and I’ve taken up every inch of sun-touched space for growing. I’m a happy woman. I’ll post “after” shots soon!

Hopefully there will be a bit more “green” in the garden by the time the landscaping is done in a few weeks. I’ve been experimenting with trying to stretch out my intended harvest a bit more this year. Just planting a few things every week, and waiting till they pop up to plant more. It’s been 7 weeks since I put the first seeds in, our May long weekend is coming, and I usually like to have everything in by then to ensure a good harvest by August, so we’re on the right track! The best part is seeing a little bit of growth every day now, with the tiny seedlings becoming stronger and thicker, so I can start thinning them out. The daily progress is what keeps me going, and I stave off the antsy-ness by planting greens and herbs early so we can enjoy them in our salads now while we patiently await and tend to the rest of the hopeful bounty.

Hope to see you here again soon.

Progress: A Mid Season Photo Gallery

Well! Here we are in July already! I figured now was a good time for a review of all that’s gone on in the garden so far this season – complete with “progress to date” photo gallery.

It seems so early to even be eating from my garden yet, as last year the abundance all happened in late August, but really, that’s only 6 weeks away and there’s lots of growing still to do. And while I’m still experimenting, I did do some more timing-type planning this year to try for a longer “eating” season, and so far, it’s (mostly) working.

I started planting on April 12th to be exact, a bit late really in most peoples’ books, but I like a later harvest in the hot days of late summer. Just spinach and some lettuce to start, peas and potatoes a week later, with kale and more lettuce the week after that. I only know this because, for the first time ever, I scribbled in my calendar with a sharpie whenever I planted this year. Whatever works!

In the gallery below, the “early on” photos were from about mid-May, around my second favourite stage of the season – the seedlings are such an adorable little burst of victory!
And you can likely guess what my favourite stage is, right? Eating!

We got to harvest the spinach first – it came so quickly, but low and behold, it was so hot in May that we only got through 2/3 of it before it bolted! We do get hot spells in May now and again, and then “June-uary” is usually rainy and colder. So next year, I’ll start the spinach earlier, really I will! In fact, I’ll start it again soon, so I can have spinach for my smoothies in fall and winter!

Next came the lettuce, and then the kale. I planted a fair bit, as we eat lettuce and kale almost every day in our salads and smoothies. I thinned a few out, and the rest I’ve just been harvesting the outer leaves, and as promised but always to my surprise, they are growing back!
I got a LITTLE more kale than I could handle, so I just steamed it up, pureed it with the hand blender, froze it in ice cube trays and put in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for later. This time, I actually measured and surprisingly, a whole cup of fresh spinach makes about 1 cube frozen! Just pop one cube in your blender and you’ll have the right amount of greens for your next green smoothie. I have LOTS of great things to say about Simple Green Smoothies, but it’s too much for this post, so I’ll just link to them here and leave it for another day!

The herbs have started to come, and my favourites are the ones I can put in cocktails, like mint for mojitos!

I don’t usually plant peas, and may not again, but my sister gave me some seeds from last year, so how could I turn her down?! They take up a lot of space for a small harvest, but they are so sweet, and the kids love shelling and eating them straight from the garden, so I sacrificed some space this year for this lovely treat. The peas are almost done now, so I’m hoping to plant something else there in its place in a week or two.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what HASN’T gone well in the garden so far. Humph.

I tried a bag of mushroom manure in one of the front boxes this year, and guess what mostly grew there? Right……mushrooms. Almost exclusively. Arggghh. So I re-fertilized, threw in some animal manure and replanted chard, spinach and a row of carrots around mid June. It might have been too late, and the soil may have been suspect, but my fingers are crossed. Not all of the seeds have come up, so something is definitely a little off in that box.

My cukes, squash and carrots have been in the ground for 5 weeks already, near each other, and they seem very small to me. Hmmm. I left lots of room for the patty pan squash, but I think I gapped out and planted the cukes and zukes way too close together.
Solution: get out a few pots and transplant them elsewhere so the strong seedlings don’t go to waste!

The beans are doing fine, and are mostly ornamental anyway, as I just grow them in pots or let them climb the fence and don’t allow too much space for them, and I’ve never grown potatoes before, but aside from the odd yellow leaf, I’m still hopeful they will produce!

And lastly, it’s the glorious tomatoes that I’m really holding out for, and like the rest of my garden, I planted them in succession so I could enjoy them longer. One in May, two in June. And to my delight, exactly 60 days since she went in the ground, I glimpsed the first ripe little gem this morning.

Time has gone so fast, I can’t believe it’s 12-1/2 weeks into the season already. I do wish a few things were further along, but I’m trying to let go and just trust they will provide.

What’s happening in your garden today?

More For Your Money, Pumpkin: High Yielders I Love!

Vintage pot
I’m a big believer in yield, or being able to produce as much edible food within as small a space as possible. Some might even call me a “yield hog” because I’ll scoff at the idea of planting some veggies because their yield just isn’t big enough. Ok, I just made that term up, but why not maximize the amount of FOOD you can grow in your space? More on how you don’t even need a garden to grow food here.

I’m not really into flowers. I love my rhododendrons and azaleas because they’re already there, and all I have to do is pick off the dead stuff at the end of the season to ensure beautiful blooms next season. But otherwise, I don’t invest my time and space in pretty. And about 3 blocks away, this cool old flower gardener (who obviously has alot more experience than me) has a sign in his yard saying he’ll GIVE away his flowers if you ask (and don’t steal).

There are several high yielding veggies out there to consider growing. Here is a list of my favourites:

Cucumbers and zucchinis – or as I lovingly refer to them, cukes and zukes. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with more zucchinis than you know what to do with, but I never worry about overabundance! And I have tricks for keeping these space hogs under control! Planted with purpose, these babies will net you a cuke a day in the late summer, perfect for all sorts of salads and veggie dishes (or even pickling!).

Tomatoes – as I mention on my intro page, eating a tomato off your own vine is just about the best thing going. Especially when the price at the Farmer’s market is $4/lb. They don’t need to be cooked, they go great with above-mentioned cukes (and about every other recipe out there), they are super healthy, and are so much more sweet and juicy (and local!) when you grow them yourself! I’m always excited for the growing season to roll around so I can stop avoiding the tomatoes from Mexico at the grocery store from November to May. No offense Mexico, you’re just a little far away for my “enviro guilt”.
Tomatoes are a bit more finicky than other veggies (or technically fruit, in this case), but with a few simple tricks, you can have enough for salads and recipes every day or so.

Kale and friends – the reason I love kale so much is because it keeps producing all season! As do its other leafy green buddies like lettuce and spinach. You pinch off what you need and a week later, more is growing in that very spot. You may not (think you) like the TASTE of kale (I didn’t used to either), but it’s all about how you use it.

Beets – normally I wouldn’t put beets in my high-yield list because they only produce one “fruit” for every 6 or so square inches of space (hogs!). But they made the list because they are actually TWO foods! You can eat the fruit, as well as the greens, which are delicious steamed or sautéed with a bit of butter and garlic (note, you’ll see the butter and garlic trend a lot in this blog, as part of my M.O. is getting food to hungry grubbins FAST, and there’s no easier way than starting with butter and garlic). 🙂

Squashes – I know I covered zucchinis above (part of the squash family), but I’m adding squash to the list for another reason – the same as beets above – you can eat the fruit, AND believe it or not, the flowers! And won’t you look fancy when you dole out a fresh salad with a squash flower garnish or make tempura squash flowers for your family or guests!
Pumpkins land in this category as well, but they’re even better because they produce a ton of flesh, flowers AND SEEDS – all edible! They don’t get their own bullet point because they require an equal abundance of space to grow in, but you’ll get mega bonus points from your kids when they can brag that they grew their own jack o’lantern for Halloween.
Another high yielding favourite is the lesser known scaloppini or patty pan squash. These little delights produce many bright yellow fruits from a single plant like other squashes, and the bigger they grow, the more food they provide. Similar to cucumbers, you can net a squash per day at harvest time in as little as 2 square feet total! Plus, they’re delicious and adorable.

Scallopini summer squash
– as mentioned in my post about “free” space, when Rhubarb takes hold, it can take OVER and produce a lot! But it’s at the bottom of my list because it has less recipe options and is a bit of an introvert – it needs a fair bit of its own space to grow and doesn’t much like neighbours. 😉

Herbs – planting perennials like rosemary, chives and mint (on your balcony, close to your kitchen) can yield you fresh herbs to use in recipes for months at a time.

Which of these high yielders would be a hit on your table?

Free Food is Good!

Herbs, beans, patty pan squashSince I started gardening several years ago, my motto has been to create as much food for as little cash as possible. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to own a few of those beautiful pre-fab, raised garden boxes, but I’m all about gardening to save money, not spend it. You need to grow a LOT of cucumbers to get a return on your $300 box!

You can grow on balconies, in planters if you don’t have a yard. If you have the luxury of some land, many hardy types of veggies will grow just about anywhere. After experimenting for years, I’ve discovered some easy ways to get growing and eating faster, and hopefully with better results.

Let’s start with how you can grow and eat your own food without even having a garden. I call this your “freebie garden”. Here are three examples:

Growing rhubarb1. Borrow from other gardens:
My cousin let me dig up some rhubarb growing at their summer home (thanks Sandra!). Rhubarb is a bit like a weed, so I just dug it up, found an empty space alongside some other plants, planted it, and it took hold! I’ll wait till this year to harvest it to ensure it has established itself, but it was free after all! Sidenote, I said “borrow”, not “steal”. NEVER, and I mean NEVER, steal from someone else’s garden. You are just asking for bad garden karma. And most gardeners will give freely if you ask.

Scarlet Runner Beans2. Start small and build:
Beans are pretty hard to mess up. I plant scarlet runners in the grass along my fence line and not only do they look great (the scarlet part is for the great red flowers they produce), but I get enormous beans that aren’t taking up precious garden space.

And I haven’t had to purchase the seeds for 5 years, as every year, I save a few beans and harvest the seeds for next year (more on harvesting your own seeds later).

3. Try some herbs:
Throw some herbs in on your balcony. They do fine in smaller pots, they will be handy, close to your kitchen, you don’t have to run to the grocery for a bunch of $3 cilantro every time you need a pinch for a recipe, and you won’t waste any as you can just snip off the amount you need each time. I think I’ve become a better cook just having lovely fresh herbs on hand. And as per point #1 above, herbs like mint are screaming to be shared. They are practically weeds, and a cutting from someone else’s plant can yield you several seasons of mojito fixings! More on growing herbs in later posts.

My motto is go cheap and only add equipment once you have gained some success, almost as a reward for your diligence (I ran a successful photography business this way too and no one ever knew my studio lights were homemade ;-).

Chris Guillebeau (author of The $100 Startup), who I’m a big fan of, would vouch for this. He writes small business advice books and recommends just “getting that first sale” before spending any real money. The same principle applies here. Just plant something, and if it grows, eat it, and then re-evaluate for next season.

Have a look around your yard and suss out if you have any “freebie space”. Before you know it, you’ll be reaping the benefits of free, organic, local food you grew yourself!