Create a "Pot" Garden and Save Money

by Johnny Gunn

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I live in a small apartment that has an attached patio area, and I raise eyebrows every year when I talk about my "pot" garden, which in reality is just that. I have several flowerpots scattered about the patio, filled with basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and various other herbs that grow and grow and grow. In fact, they will grow even faster when trimmed back regularly. I have the luxury of being able to cook with fresh herbs all summer and fall for a pittance in dollar output.

But, there's more to this story. A very good fishing buddy's wife taught me how to dry my herbs. This is where the real savings came in. I haven't bought a little bottle of dried herbs for years, and when you grow them fresh and then dry them, the fresh taste stays with them. The stews, soups, and sauces drive my neighbors nuts all winter.

I picked up half a dozen little wicker type baskets at the dollar store, each measures about eight or nine inches across and are three or four inches deep, and I lined them with nylon mesh. When I bring the crop in, several times during the summer and fall, I put the various leaves in the baskets and leave them on shelves in the apartment. As the herbs dry, I get full pleasure of their aroma. It takes a few weeks for the herbs to dry enough that they can be crushed and put in the little bottles. Make sure basil goes in a basil bottle, or label your own.

Don't hurry the process along. If the leaves are not dry and they go in the bottles, they will mildew. If you live in a high humidity climate, dry your herbs in your hot closet or in the driest area of your home.

Rosemary, thyme, and oregano are the easiest to grow and take very little time or effort. I buy rosemary plants rather than starting them from seed, but all the others I start from seed. Basil is a very tender plant when it is young, and you'll lose several each year. They grow very slow at first. They need to be planted fairly close to the surface, a quarter inch or so down. They can become dislodged and die from a hard wind, from over watering, or from poking and prodding fingers. But the flavor of fresh basil on a tomato will make all the effort worthwhile.

Buttermilk biscuits spiked with some fresh thyme and oregano right in the dough delight the palate when sopped with spaghetti sauce made with fresh basil and oregano. A beef stew in which a sprig or two of rosemary is cooked into the sauce will make you very hungry while it's cooking. Basil gives off a minty flavor, and when fresh, it flushes out the flavor of a nice cut of lamb every time.

And the real pleasure is that packet of seeds cost less than a dollar in most cases. With fresh herbs all summer and fall and dried herbs that you grew all winter and spring, you can literally thumb your nose at your friendly local grocer who charges so much for them.

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