How to Grow Tomatoes

The hope of spring feels stronger when it is finally time to start seedlings indoors!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am always to impatient this time of year, wanting to get some seeds started – and now that March has arrived, the time has come!

Tomatoes and peppers should be planted in March so they have enough growing time to produce once our short growing season starts in the North.

Depending on the variety you plan to grow, the tomato plants will need anywhere from 60-100 days until you can harvest mature fruit.

And yes; I just called tomatoes fruit!

I know it can be a huge debate and I tend to call tomatoes fruit sometimes and vegetables other times, depending on the reference.

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Why grow tomatoes?

Tomatoes are a versatile veggie (see what I did there?) that are used in everything from ketchup to spaghetti sauce to salads to pizza… The list goes on and on!

Whether you like raw tomatoes or not, I would be willing to bet that you like at least a few of the other recipes they get added into.

Also, there is just something so satisfying about the beautiful colors you can grow; classic cherry red, bright yellow, and even some that are a dark purple!

Another great reason is the fact that tomatoes are easy to grow once you have all the know-how (which is why you are reading this blog).

But the biggest reason of all?!!

The incredible flavour is NOTHING like you have ever tasted from a grocery store tomato!

It will make you feel like you have lived your entire life in black & white and finally see (taste) color for the first time.

It will make you feel like you have lived your entire life in black & white and finally see (taste) color for the first time.

There really is just something about homegrown that kicks the taste up to a million times better! Especially if it is a hot tomato straight off the vine…

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So let’s get to it!

Germination

Tomato seeds need light, fluffy potting soil for ideal germination – DO NOT USE GARDEN SOIL!

The reason for this is that potting soil is easy for the new plant to poke up through without fighting through heavy-packed garden soil (plus potting soil tends to hold the moisture better).

Speaking of moisture, you should moisten the soil so it is damp, but not wet.

If you over-water the soil, your seeds will rot and you will find yourself spending $5 a pot for tiny plants at a garden centre.

HEAT: this is a big factor that I overlooked as a beginner gardener. Your seeds need enough heat to germinate and household temperatures aren’t always warm enough.

Tomato seeds can germinate at 60 F, however they prefer 80 F as an ideal temperature.

I use a heating pad with my covered seed starter kit to make sure they have the idea temperature and humidity – and let me tell ya! It makes a world of difference!

Not only do I have a better germination rate (a.k.a. how many seeds sprout), but my seeds also germinate much more quickly than they would at a cooler temperature.

You need to keep the soil moist (once again, make sure it’s not wet) while the seeds sprout.

Once the seeds poke through the soil and are close to touching the lid of the seed starter kit, remove the lid.

Lighting

Now that your tomato plants are up, they need proper light!

Early March where we live typically does not give the ideal amount of light, even with our huge South-facing picture windows.

I invested in a grow light that gives my plants the extra energy they need to get established during the “leaner” months of daylight.

Grow lights should be 4-6 inches from the top of the tomato plants to get the maximum benefit.

I won’t go into detail on the specifics of choosing a grow light on this post, so be sure to follow me here, on FaceBook and/or subscribe to my YouTube channel for when I go over those details

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Hardening off

Once the weather warms up to temperatures that are consistently above freezing, it is time to begin hardening your plants off.

If you are new to starting plants from seed, you are probably wondering what I’m talking about.

Hardening off means that you gradually get your plants used to the temperatures outside, any wind they may be exposed to, and direct sunlight.

Most windows will block a certain amount of UV rays from the sun (some will block almost all of it), which means that your plants aren’t used to it – and can get sunburn, just like people!

Who knew?!

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If you have really strong winds (like we do on our acreage here in Saskatchewan) you will have to be very careful with taller plants to ensure they don’t just get blown over or get broken tops. Your best bet is to keep them as sheltered as possible outside during the hardening stage.

When you are hardening off your plants, place them outside for about an hour the first day and then bring them back inside. Repeat this step for the next few days before extending the time to a couple hours for the next several days.

The goal is to slowly get them used to the environment they will be living in.

When I plant my tomatoes in a greenhouse, I typically skip this step. There can still be some minimal sunburn, but nothing major.

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Planting tomatoes

Once your tomatoes have been hardened off, you are ready to plant!

First things first, we need to talk soil.

Tomatoes prefer soil that is slightly acidic (6-6.8 pH range), well drained, and high in organic material.

They love humidity and plenty of water, but (like most plants) don’t want to be drowned.

I use about a 50/50 mix of peat moss and soil in my beds; the peat moss is light, fluffy, and drains well.

When I plant my tomatoes, I add a banana peel (or even a whole banana if we won’t be eating it), a scoop of used coffee grounds, egg shells, compost, and a tablespoon of epsom salt in each hole.

Composting is another topic I will be discussing on my blog, so be sure to follow me so you don’t miss the “black gold” of gardening!

Why should I add any of this?

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The bananas add potassium that the tomatoes will tap into and it helps prevent blossom end rot, which is a deformity caused by deficient nutrition.

The coffee grounds add nitrogen and the eggs offer calcium, which also help prevent blossom end rot.

Compost is pure energy for the tomato plants to feed off of and the epsom salt offers calcium and helps promote blooming.

When you actually get down to digging your hole, take into account how tall your tomato plant is.

Every hair on the stem of your tomato plant is a root just waiting to grow, so you want to maximize that root base as much as possible.

Every hair on the stem of your tomato plant is a root just waiting to grow, so you want to maximize that root base as much as possible.

By planting your tomato with as much of the stem in the soil as possible with the topmost leaves above the ground, you will have healthier, more vigorous plants.

Be sure to remove any leaves that are on the part of the stem that will be buried.

If you have an especially tall tomato plant, you can actually plant it sideways so the stem runs horizontally in the soil and then bends upward for the part you want above ground (I do this ALL the time!)

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Varieties of tomatoes

Before we get deeper into the daily care of your tomato plants, let’s talk about my favourite varieties!

You can choose from determinate or indeterminate varieties of tomatoes; determinate means they will only grow to a certain size bush and indeterminate will never stop growing taller, if given the growing season.

All the varieties I list below are indeterminate.

Each year I end up with plants so tall they touch the roof of my greenhouse.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Aside from just being so pretty to look at, cherry tomatoes are such a tasty snack to munch on while I am watering the garden.

They are prolific producers and have such a juicy, full-bodied flavour that my husband and I enjoy all summer long – and winter, too!

Winter Too?! Let me explain: I am such a sucker for plants, I just had to bring a few cherry tomato plants into the house last fall… And they have been giving us DELISH tomatoes in the middle of winter!

There are many different varieties to choose from, which can range from 45 – 80 days to maturity.

I recommend doing research on varieties that do well in your particular zone and growing environment.

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Beefsteak Tomatoes

Beefsteak Tomatoes

These gigantic tomatoes are amazing for so many reasons!

They are traditionally what you would have on a burger, but they also have a lower water content than many other tomatoes – which makes them great for sun-dried tomatoes, pasta sauces, pizza, ketchup, etc.

Their flavour is milder than the cherry tomatoes when eaten raw, but when cooked down in recipes it is a nice, rich taste.

Plus, who wouldn’t feel a swell of pride while picking a huge basket of these from a plant that is bending from the weight of all those beautiful tomatoes?!

Beefsteak tomatoes average about 85 days to maturity, depending on variety.

Warning: they have more of a risk of blossom end rot than other tomatoes, so watch out for that.

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Pear Tomatoes

Aaah… Pear Tomatoes…

These are one of my absolute favourites because of their unique shape and color!

They are so pretty and their flavour is the sweetest of any tomato I have ever eaten.

Pear tomatoes are smaller than cherry tomatoes and have a similar growing season.

They can be difficult to find at times, so save your seeds if you want to be sure you can grow them year after year!

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Daily Care

I give my tomatoes a good soak daily, but try to be sure they are not “drowning.”

Typically, I will trim the bottom leaves off the plant up until the place the lowest set of tomatoes are growing.

Why? Plants put their energy into everything attached to them. If they have leaves, they send energy there.

I hated this concept until I tried it the first time. I thought, “Leaves produce energy for the plants, so I am going to keep them!”

While it is true that leaves produce energy for the plant, they also require energy. By cutting the lowest leaves off, the plant forced more of its energy into the top part – including the formation of tomatoes!

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Fertilizing

I have found that I have much more success when I am diligent on weekly or bi-weekly fertilizing.

I like using a combination of compost, liquid fertilizer, and pellet fertilizer from one week to the next.

If you choose to go organic, you can still use a compost tea weekly rather than the traditional store-bought fertilizer.

Pruning suckers

This is another counter-intuitive thing to do…

Suckers will produce tomatoes. Eventually.

We do not have a long enough growing season here to allow the tomatoes to spend all their energy producing suckers, so they have to go!

If you haven’t grown tomatoes before, suckers are the part that starts growing at the junction between a leaf and the stock of the tomato plant.

(Note: do not confuse suckers with blossoms; the blossoms will typically start growing on the stock where there isn’t a leaf growing)

I use small garden shears to cut the suckers off to make sure the plant isn’t damaged. You can also carefully twist the sucker until it breaks free from the plant.

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Read to the end for my secret to create more tomato plants using suckers!!!

Pollination

Tomatoes are self-pollinated, which means that they do not need a “male” and a “female” flower to create fruit.

They do, however, need wind or vibrations to get the pollen to fall into the stigma of the flower.

They do, however, need wind or vibrations to get the pollen to fall into the stigma of the flower.

If you plan to grow your tomatoes in a greenhouse or indoors, you will need to give a gentle shake or taps to your plants every few days to make sure they have been pollinated.

Within a few days, if the yellow part of the flower falls off, but the stem remains, you likely have a successfully pollinated tomato. If the green part attached the flower or the entire stem falls off as well, you will not get a tomato from that blossom.

Support

Indeterminate tomatoes need support so they do not fall over or break under the weight of the tomatoes they produce.

Some gardeners will use tomato cages, however I have found that my tomatoes typically grow much taller than the cages.

Instead, I tie a sturdy string from the ceiling of the greenhouse and use clips to secure the plant to the string, adding more clips as the plant grows.

I have also seen bamboo poles used; for this method you will need to have a deep enough bed for the bamboo pole to offer sturdy support.

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Ripening geen tomatoes

Frost is on the way; can you pick green tomatoes and ripen them?

Well, the answer is YES – and NO!

It really depends on how well developed they are.

If they are mature enough, they will ripen to a beautiful red with amazing flavour on their own.

If they are not mature enough, they will turn brown and rot.

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So how do you know the difference?

Maturing tomatoes on the vine will turn from their juvenile color of dark green to a lighter green and will be roughly the size they should be when fully ripened.

If they have a twinge of pink or red (or yellow in the case of pear tomatoes), you can certainly pick them and allow them to ripen in the house.

The larger the tomato, the more forgiving they are when picked early; beefsteaks can still be very green and will be okay, however cherry tomatoes and pear tomatoes have to be a lot closer to maturity in order to finish ripening in the house.

One myth that has been prevalent for many years is that ripening tomatoes need sunlight.

Not true!

I have ripened many green tomatoes without any sunlight just fine.

Tomato touched with frost
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What about frozen tomatoes?

If your tomatoes froze, I really hope you have a compost pile set up already… because they need to get chucked!

Okay, okay… I know some people may still try to use them, but let’s be honest here… they turn to mush.

So how about if you covered your tomatoes before the first frost and want to know if they are still good?

The photo above is an example of the veined pattern that shows up on tomatoes that have been touched by frost.

If they froze solid, they will turn to mush as soon as they thaw, however if they have just been touched by frost they can still be firm.

The tomatoes touched by frost will not ripen into a nice red; if you want to salvage them, you need to use them ASAP – otherwise they will go bad.

Pinterest has some interesting recipes and I may post some here later as well.

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Companion planting

Bugs can be a huge struggle in gardening, which is part of the reason companion planting is a thing.

Other reasons to companion plant include flavour, shade, and even added nutrients!

Planting marigolds with tomatoes helps reduce the pests that like to feed on your tomato plants. The flowers may smell stinky, but they are kind of pretty!

I LOVE (let me reiterate – I LOVE) basil with tomatoes!!!

They grow well together and I love pairing them in the same foods.

Some people swear by the fact that they enhance each other’s flavours when grown together…

My unconventional companion is green beans.

Why green beans?

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Beans are a “nitrogen fixer,” which means that they pull nitrogen into the soil and the tomatoes can then “eat” the nitrogen.

Runner beans also act as a natural support for the tomatoes if done correctly.

The downside is the fact that the green beans have large leaves that can block out sunlight, so I keep mine well trimmed.

Want to learn to grow green beans? CLICK HERE!

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Harvesting tomatoes

Congratulations!!!

You have successfully planted, cared for, and grown your own tomatoes!

Here is the fun part.

Your tomatoes are ready to harvest when they are a nice, deep color – whether red, yellow or purple will depend on the variety you are growing.

Their skin should still be glossy and they should be firm.

If you do not plan to eat your tomatoes immediately, either cut them off or break them at the knob above the tomato on the stem; they store better this way.

If you plan to use them right away, you can gently twist the tomato off the stem.

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Propagating suckers

Remember earlier when I said to read to the end for my secret on using suckers to make more tomatoes?

Well, here it is!

Suckers are the easiest way to expand your tomato crop – after you have pruned them!

Just like when you plant a tomato as deep as possible to use the hairs on the stem to expand the root system, the suckers can root on their own using those hairs.

You can either place the sucker in water for a week or two to get roots established or you can plant them directly into drenched soil.

They require enough heat and sunlight to do well if you plan to put the suckers directly into soil.

Whichever method you choose, they typically will wilt over and look as though they may have died for a couple days.

That is normal.

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Sometimes they may die, but I would have pruned them off in any case… so all the suckers that grow are just more free tomato plants!

Most times, however, the suckers will perk back up an a day or two and start developing roots.

It is important at this stage to keep them borderline “drowned.”

After the first 2-3 weeks, they should be ready to be transplanted.

At one point, I had pruned a sucker off a tomato in my greenhouse and simply chucked it at the base of the plant to decompose… And it ROOTED IN! While it was just laying on top of the soil!

Tomatoes are tough, resilient plants that just don’t give up.

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Preserving & Recipes

If you are interested in learning more – including preserving your tomatoes and different recipes, be sure to follow me!

I will also be posting about saving seeds to save you $$$ in the future, problem solving, and more!

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How to grow peas

Cold-hardy crops in Canada are a staple because of their resilience in frosty temperatures – and even snow!

Aside from radishes, lettuce, and spinach, peas are my next favourite thing to plant in early spring (long before other plants would germinate in the chilly weather).

Some years I have volunteers coming up before I have even planted, sprouting from pods I missed during harvest the year before!

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Peas are a diverse vegetable that can be used in a number of ways.

You can eat the sprouts and young shoots fresh on salads (or as a garnish on hot dishes), munch on the pods raw or throw them into a stir fry – or even save the dried pea seeds to add to a hearty soup or stew during the winter months.

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There are also some fun varieties to choose from; anything from a standard green shelling pea to a tender edible pod variety to a vibrant purple option!

The fact that they are not only hardy, but also prolific producers and easy to grow make them a solid winner in my book!

Oh, and did I mention incredibly nutritious? Because we’re supposed to get our green veggies and all, right?!

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Seeding and Germination

Part of the what makes a plant easy to grow is how simple it is to get them started without transplanting – and their fast germination that will tolerate cool temperatures is a plus.

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Peas do best direct seeded…

… or even just tossed onto good soil (I have done this with extra seeds a number of times with great success).

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Being sewn outdoors is actually a must in our windy area as the plants get used to the wind from the time they come up versus a tender, pampered plant from a greenhouse that quickly withers or breaks in the strong gusts.

I soak my peas in lukewarm water overnight or up to 24 hours to help speed up their germination.

Within a week or two of planting, my peas are typically poking above the ground.

Remember how I said they are frost (and even snow) tolerant?

This year, we have had -6º C (21º F) temperatures at night – with light snow!

That would kill most plants, but didn’t touch my peas!

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Spacing

I find that a very close grouping does well for me as the plants will vine together and hold themselves up fairly well without a trellis.

If you would prefer a trellis, they can be a beautiful accent piece to your garden or yard – so go for it! (Don’t forget to follow my blog for the upcoming addition of our Garden Arbor and Trellis Archway DIY builds!)

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Harvesting

Time to harvest the peas will depend on which variety you chose and what you are harvesting them for.

If you would like to use the tender, young shoots on salads you can start harvesting them within a couple weeks of the sprouts emerging from the ground – just make sure you don’t take too much and kill the plant.

If you are planning to harvest edible pods, make sure you pick them before they become tough and stringy.

You can start harvesting pods within a couple days of the blossom dying back; they don’t take long to mature and the younger the pod, the more tender they will be.

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Pea blossoms
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Saving seeds for split pea soup..? Well, you’ll have to wait a little longer for that!

As with all seeds, you need to wait until they have fully dried before storing them.

I typically allow the pods to mature and dry right on the plant, harvesting before they become so brittle the pods will split open when I am picking them.

Pea ready for harvest to eat with the pod
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I allow them to dry in the house until they hit that ready-to-split-on-their-own stage; this makes shelling the peas easy (plus exploding pea pods makes it fun, too)!

On that note… It takes a LOT of pea pods to save for food.

I typically save the peas for seed to use the next spring with the small amount I keep each year.

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What is my favourite recipe with peas?

Well, that is a tough question…

I grew up with Creamed Peas and Potatoes fresh out of the garden and will ALWAYS love that dish.

BUT only with fresh, homegrown veggies! Store-bought vegetables don’t taste the same, which is a big part of why those childhood recipes only work with the right ingredients.

(FOLLOW MY BLOG FOR THAT RECIPE TO BE POSTED LATER THIS YEAR!)

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My second favourite recipe with peas..?

I would have to say an easy side dish of tender pea pods sautéd in butter with salt and pepper, then finished off with parmesan cheese is a close second!

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What is your favourite recipe with peas? Drop a comment below!

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How to grow radishes

In this day and age of instant gratification, what gardener doesn’t like a quick-growing veggie?!

I know I do!

There is something so satisfying about seeing the very first seed pop through the soil in the spring…

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I honestly think I love radishes more for this quality than actually eating them!

Don’t get me wrong – they make a bright, tasty addition to salads and open-faced sandwiches!

BUT that first plant coming up after a long winter is oddly encouraging.

Germination

Radishes can take mere days to germinate and will tolerate cold much better than most other plants.

As a cold-weather crop, they relish the cool spring temperatures!

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Seeding

Another thing I love about radishes is the fact that you can plant them directly in the ground outside; I have even just scattered them without covering them with soil and had wonderful results.

There is no hassle with starting them indoors weeks and weeks before hardening them off and planting outdoors.

Easy is a wonderful thing.

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That being said, if you wanted to plant them indoors before the snow melts so you can grow and harvest them in your own home, you certainly can!

They tend to be much more drought tolerant than many plants, as well.

Like I said, easy is a wonderful thing.

By planting in intervals, you can have a steady harvest of radishes all spring (and fall).

I typically like to plant every 1-2 weeks during those times of the year.

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Harvesting

They are such a fast-growing veggie that you will be harvesting within a few weeks.

Last summer, Jake saw me munching on a radish while watering the tiny little seedlings of other plants just starting to come up and couldn’t believe that the radish was from my own garden!

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They do not do well in the summer heat, so take advantage of spring and fall temps.

When harvesting, you are best to use them the same day as they are best fresh.

Oh! And you can use the radish tops to make a zesty radish pesto so nothing goes to waste!

Make sure to harvest the radishes before they get hard and woody; they tend to bolt and get tough during hotter weather.

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Saving Seeds

I allow a few plants to bolt and go to seed each year so I don’t have to continue relying on stores for next year’s plants.

Their flowers are absolutely beautiful little blossoms that smell lovely.

Once the pods have been fully formed and the plant starts to die off, the seeds are almost mature.

I allow them to dry completely before shelling.

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As with all seeds, make sure they are stored in a cool, dry, dark place to help preserve their quality.

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So what do you think? Is this a fun project to try with your kids or are you already an old hand at growing radishes?

Drop a comment below!

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Building a raised bed DIY

In this day and age, gardening isn’t just a plot of land that you till and plant.

Modern gardens range from traditional in-the-ground gardening, to window herb gardens in an apartment, to decorative raised garden beds that add to the back yard’s aesthetics.

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Raised garden beds not only look nice, but they are easier on the back when planting, weeding, and harvesting.

They also keep the soil slightly warmer than ground-soil temperatures and make it easier to keep the pathways nice and tidy.

While you can buy kits to build your own raised beds, creating them from raw materials really isn’t that hard – and is a lot more cost effective!

You just need a few tools and a bit of know-how.

Obviously, the first part of planning is deciding where you would like to put the raised bed and the size you want.

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For my most recent raised bed project, I wanted to have 2 identical raised beds that were 4’x10′ so I could add a decorative trellis arched between them for my beans and peas. (CLICK HERE FOR “HOW TO GROW GREEN BEANS!”)

You can make your raised bed whatever depth you would like; I wanted mine 12″ deep for this project.

We used 2×6 boards rather than 2×12 because not only do they tend to warp less, but it was also less costly to do it that way.

Next, we cut our boards to length – 4 boards 4′ long and 4 boards 10′ long per bed.

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Then, we screwed the lower part of the box together and then added the top boards.

We added some supports in the middle and “toenailed” a few screws on an angle to hold the top and bottom sections together.

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Staining was next! This was definitely the fun part! I personally love red tones, so we went with a deep red stain.

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Not only does stain add to the overall look of the raised beds, but it also helps protect the wood against the sun and rain.

Once the beds were both built, stained, and dried, we moved them into place and squared them off against the greenhouse so the paths would be even and everything in line.

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Filling the beds with dried out tomato plants, squash vines, and other plants from the summer before helped add some bulk to the base layer and add organic matter to break down over time.

We also had shavings and wood bark that needed to be cleaned up from around our wood pile, so we threw that in too! (I love the “two birds with one stone” projects like that!)

Finally, we topped it all off with a layer of good garden soil.

The project only took a few hours to finish in total and the updated look for my greenhouse area was well worth every minute of it!

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Follow my blog for the trellis project yet to come!

So what do you think? Have I inspired you to give it a try yourself? Drop a comment below!

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How to grow Basil

Basil has so many varieties to choose from – some with a classic “basil” flavour, while others have a lemon hint… Some with small pointy leaves to huge green lettuce leaves to beautiful purple leaves.

The fragrant herb is tasty on salads and is a key ingredient in many Italian recipes, not to mention the health benefits!

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It helps reduce stress, promote memory retention, and boost the immune system, among other things.

Growing it at home is not hard and it makes a nice addition to any kitchen garden; there are few things I like better than running out to the garden to grab a few fresh herbs (and veggies) while I am cooking dinner!

Starting Seeds

When starting the seeds, you need to make sure they have enough heat or they will not germinate. I have waited… and waited… and waaaaaiiited for my basil to come up, only to have a warm summer day and suddenly there they were!

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Starting them inside, I would recommend getting a heating pad to help them germinate quickly; just at room temperature they seem to take their sweet time.

They like a reasonable amount of water, however like most plants, do not like to have wet soil with standing water.

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When it comes to soil, go with soft, well-drained soil with plenty of composting for the best results.

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Pruning

Did you know that pruning basil helps them produce more? It seems counterintuitive, but it is true!

When you prune, you want to look for the nodes just above a set of leaves; cut just above the nodes. This forces the plant to produce a new shoot out of each of those nodes, doubling the stems!

This helps produce a nice, bushy basil plant.

If you don’t prune, it will try to go to seed. I mean, that is the whole purpose of a plant, right? It is trying to gain enough energy to go to seed to produce more plants.

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Oh! And while you’re pruning, why not propagate a few new plants?

How cool is it that you can take the top you just pruned off, put it in water, and it will start growing roots?!

When propagating a new plant, make sure that you have a young stem; if it is hard and woody, it will not start roots.

It needs to have about 2 inches worth of stem to propagate well.

Also, you do not want to have leaves beneath the water line as they will get slimy and pollute the water.

After a few weeks, you should have a good root base and can transfer your new basil plant into a pot.

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Harvesting

Pinch the leaves off right at the base of the stalk.

They are best used fresh as soon as they have been harvested; basil tends to wilt rather quickly.

You can seal the leaves in a plastic bag, removing all air, and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Preserving

One of the easiest ways to preserve basil is to dehydrate the leaves.

A food dehydrator is typically not an expensive purchase and can be used for so many different fruits, veggies, and even jerky!

Fill the trays 3/4 full and run at 175º for 4-5 hours or until leaves are crunchy and dry.

Another easy way to preserve the leaves is to finely chop them, fill ice cube trays with the leaves, and add olive oil.

These make perfect single-serve cubes for pastas and sauces.

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Saving Seeds

I typically let a few plants go to seed before the end of the season so I can save some seeds for the following year.

The pretty purple or white blossoms turn into small seed pods along the basil stalk.

Once they have swelled in size and started to die back, I will cut the tops off to bring into the house to finish drying.

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The seeds are tiny, black seeds.

I use a colander with very small holes to help sift the seeds from the chaff.

Store in a dark, cool, dry location for the winter.

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Did I miss anything you had questions on? Drop a comment below!

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Making seed tape DIY tutorial

Want to know how to make your own seed tape to save money?

One very blustery spring day, I got fed up with trying to plant carrots by seed in the relentless wind.

And we aren’t talking about just any wind here; I was in the Bahamas for Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and it reminded me of the winds we often get here in Central Saskatchewan in the Spring – and we were in a HURRICANE!

There is something wrong with that picture, thinking it was similar to home at a time like that…

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Needless to say, I couldn’t even open the seed packet outside without the wind catching the seeds and trying to carry them away – let alone try to get them planted!

However, I am not one to give up on a project that I am determined to accomplish.

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My solution? DIY Seed Tape!

It was 100% a DIY creation all of my own. I decided to test out a theory in making my own seed tape using nothing more than the seeds themselves, regular old paper towel, and a bit of water.

In order to make the seeds stay in place, I decided to wet the paper towel just enough that it was damp.

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Then I sprinkled the seeds onto the paper towel and folded the rest of the damp paper on top of the seeds to make them impervious to the wind.

This seemed like it would work quite well, so I started the process with several different varieties of lettuce, kale, and arugula as well.

I left some sheets whole, whereas other sheets of paper towel I decided to snip into thin strands to test which worked better.

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Let me tell you! The carrots benefited from being planted in thin strips; the large sheets that I planted had to be thinned far more and still grew too close together (I also used organic composting for the carrots planted in thin strips, subscribe to hear more about the results in a later post).

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I HATE wasting! And having to thin carrots after planting seems like a TERRIBLE waste!

On the flip side, if you do not thin them when they have been planted too close together, you end up with plenty of spindly carrots… Which is just as bad…

So the solution I came up with is to start by planting the carrots in the best spacing you can, using this homemade seed tape.

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When you are sprinkling the seeds to make the tape, think of how large you would like your carrots to grow in comparison to the spacing between the seeds; it will seem like you are barely putting any seeds in the tape, but TRUST ME!

Spacing seeds for the size they will reach when fully grown is one of the most difficult garden planning aspects, in my humble opinion.

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What steps did I take after making the seed tape?

I placed the homemade seed tape in my raised beds where I wanted each different variety to grow, then covered them with a thin layer of soil.

After that, I kept the soil moist (but not wet) for the next couple weeks. Certain varieties of salad mixes came up very quickly (arugula, I believe was only about a week to start popping through the soil), while others took a few more weeks.

At one point I was rather skeptical whether the seeds would be able to break through the paper barrier and make it to the surface, however as I checked the seeds (daily, might I add – it is an addiction, I know..) I watched as each different variety of carrot, romaine, iceberg, grande rapids, arugula, and kale found their way through the paper towel and soil into the warm sunlight.

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I will definitely be employing this method again next year and the years to follow, given the headaches it solved for me living in a windy area!

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Did you find this tutorial helpful? Leave a message below! I would love to hear from you!

Carrots planted with my homemade seed tape

Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to find out about the organic composting results for my carrots!

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How to Grow Green Beans

As the weather gets warmer, I am sure many of you are excitedly thinking about planting your garden.

I know I am!

Wax beans and purple runner beans
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Green beans are one of my favourite things to grow; not only are they so easy to grow, but they also produce like crazy all summer long!

With green beans, there is no need to start them indoors. You can just plop those seeds right in the ground.

There are so many varieties to choose from, whether you are looking for a determinate, bush style plant or an indeterminate vining plant.

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There are also some amazing color options to choose from! I love having a mix of yellow wax beans, purple runner beans, and of course good ol’ green beans. You can even find some interesting looking speckled varieties.

I find my yellow wax beans, a bush variety, tend to produce earlier in the season than my runner beans. My runner beans absolutely take off about half way into summer and are heavy producers the rest of the season.

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Planting

Once you are beyond the risk of frost, you can start planting!

The night before you plan to plant your seeds, soak them in lukewarm water overnight. This will give them a head start on germination and you will see green shoots pushing through the soil more quickly.

Bean plant

Make sure the soil is moist, but not wet. You do not want to rot your seeds!

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Purple runner beanstalk

Green beans are amazing companion plants as they add nitrogen to the soil. You can plant them with heavy feeders such as eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. Pumpkins, squash, and corn also benefit from companion planting with green beans (check out the “3 sisters” for more info on that).

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Care & Maintenance

Bush beans can support themselves and will not need any extra help.

Runner beans, however, need a trellis to support their every-growing vines. You can take advantage of vertical growing space to maximize your harvest per square foot. Get creative! The foliage is lush and green and looks amazing to use on archways or as part of your landscaping.

Be very careful when watering!!! One of the easiest mistakes to make when growing beans is improper watering. Their leaves are prone to leaf rot if they are touched when wet.

I make sure to water at the base of the plant without getting the leaves wet. If it has just rained, I wait to harvest beans until the leaves have dried.

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Harvesting

This is the fun part!

You can start harvesting the beans at any size, really, but if you wait until they are store-sized you will get more bang for your buck.

The yellow wax beans have a green twinge to the young beans and turn a bright yellow when they are ready to be harvested.

Maturing wax beans
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The purple runner beans have a green twinge as well, turning a deep purple when they are ready. Oh! And did I mention that they turn from purple to green when they are cooked? Super fun!

Mature purple runner beans

When my garden is in full swing, I can harvest a heaping basket every-other-day. It is such a satisfying feeling to cook meals from garden to table. And to have enough to either preserve or share with others.

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If you do not keep on top of harvesting almost daily, you will have some beans get too ripe and they will be tough and stringy. I choose to leave a number of beans on the plant to mature for seeds.

Seeds maturing to store for winter

That reminds me, another reason I love green beans is for how easy it is to save seeds for the next year! After the ripe beans have fully dried on the stalk, it is a fun and easy process of shelling the seeds.

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Dry bean pods, ready to be shelled

Make sure the seeds are fully dry and store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark room for the winter.

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Wax bean seeds

I have been saving bean seeds for about 5 years or so and have very good germination results, so that saves a few bucks on re-buying seeds every spring.

Purple runner bean seeds
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Once the growing season is finished, I leave the beanstalks over winter. I find it much easier to pull them out in the Spring after they have fully dried out.

And of course, the last step is adding all the dead stalks to my composting to use in the garden later.

An average harvest

Do you have any extra tips on growing green beans? Drop a comment below!

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How to Regrow Green Onions from Kitchen Scraps

Green onions are about one of the easiest kitchen scraps to regrow.

And they grow fast, which is fun to watch!

I love garnishing food with green onions, so why not grow them myself rather than continually buying them from the store?

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Leave about 1/2 an inch to an inch at the bottom of the store-bought green onion.

Starting size

Place it in water, just covering the roots. You don’t want too much water or the stem will get slimy and smelly.

1 week after starting
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You will see the center start to grow within about a day. Within a week, you should have a good bit of green stalk starting to form.

You can pot your green onion in soil once the roots are well established.

3-4 weeks after starting

Within a few weeks, your green onion should be almost full size.

Stages of growth

Harvest, leaving at least one leaf on the plant to keep it producing.

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One question I had when I first started using this method was, “Will the bulbs get large like regular onions?”

Well, the answer to that question is “no.”

They definitely get larger than they come from the store, however do not get any bigger than a golf ball.

Mystery solved!

Have you tried this before? Comment below with your experience!

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How to make a solar chandelier

Step-by-step instructions on how to make your own solar chandelier.

I am a huge fan of repurposing items for the “waste not, want not” concept. And when it comes to my greenhouse, I love fun projects that give it a unique look.

We had a chandelier that needed a lot of TLC if we were ever to get it to work again… and I just didn’t have a place planned for it in the house. I had seen the idea of turning old light fixtures into solar lights, so I decided to give it a try for myself!

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First things first, we had to remove the old light bulb bases that were stuck in the fixture. Then we removed all of the old wiring.

Next, with dollar solar lights, we siliconed the lights in place. Because the silicone does not set up right away, we left the chandelier hanging off the stairs for a day.

All that was left after that was to put the light up and wait for sunset to see if our project worked!

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That evening, as the daylight began to fade, the lights started glowing softly at first and then getting brighter as night crept in. It was an experiment that turned out perfectly!

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During the late summer, my scarlet pole beans get so tall they end up using the chandelier as though it were their trellis, reaching ever higher for the sunshine.

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Have you done a cool DIY garden project? Drop a comment below!

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Top 10 Herbs to Grow in your Kitchen Garden

One of my favourite parts of summer is the ability to run out to my kitchen garden, aka my greenhouse, and pick fresh herbs to add to dinner as I am cooking.

There is just something so satisfying about growing my own food – and you absolutely can’t beat the freshness of garden-to-table meals!

Oh, and did I mention that herbs are also incredibly healthy for you?

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The health benefits range from lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, enhancing memory, calming the stomach, and even boosting one’s mood!

If you live in a small space, you can still easily grow herbs in a window with small pots.

I am a big believer in cooking meals that are packed with flavour, color, and nutrients; herbs (and spices) are the key to transforming a bland recipe into a gourmet delicacy.

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What is the difference between an herb and a spice?

Many people have to clue what the difference is!

So I’ll tell you.

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Herbs are the leaf, whereas a spice comes from the seed of a plant.

Take cilantro versus coriander for example; they both come from the same plant, however cilantro is the name for the leaf and coriander is the name of the seed.

Often the seed and the leaf can have different flavours and are used in different recipes.

Now you know!

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I have a few must-have herbs that I use in soooo many recipes.

These are my top picks!

Basil

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Basil is by far my favourite herb to add to salads.

(Check out my blog on how to grow basil)

It is so flavourful and turns a run-of-the-mill recipe into a gourmet meal with that added garnish.

Once you have a healthy plant started, it is easy to propagate more plants while you are pruning your current plant back.

Pruning is very important to keep your basil plant producing rather than bolting and going to seed.

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By the end of the season, I typically end up with so many leaves that I am almost forced to make pesto to use up all my basil.

It is an annual, so I make sure to allow one or two plants go to seed at the end of the season so I can save the seeds for planting the following spring.

Basil is an anti-inflammatory and is believed to help with digestion, fight depression, and reduce the risk of diabetes.

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Dill

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Dill is a classic because of its diversity.

You can add it to soups, creamy chicken dishes, or – my personal favourite – to garlic mashed potatoes!

And of course you can’t for get it being a perfect addition to potato salad for those summer BBQ’s.

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Another reason Dill is a popular choice for a kitchen garden is the fact that their seeds are used for many pickling recipes – yes, the seeds are what give dill pickles their flavour, NOT the leaves as many would expect.

And did I mention that their seeds are easy to save for planting the next year?

I can never plant too much dill; each year I plant a little more and each year we use all of it!

Dill is high in calcium, vitamin C, and antioxidants.

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Cilantro

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Easy to grow is an understatement for Cilantro!

The last couple years I literally just thew a bunch of seeds in a raised bed and didn’t even cover them with soil!

I always end up with baskets heaping full several times throughout the summer and have to dry a lot of it to avoid wasting the excess leaves.

And speaking of easy? The seeds are a breeze to pick and store over the winter, with amazing germination in the Spring.

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Cilantro brings such a distinctive taste to many cultural dishes from various countries; I use it in the sauce for my fish tacos, the marinade for carne asada, and as a garnish for my fried tacos.

Some people love it, while others hate it. There does not seem to be an “in between” on this one.

(Obviously I am on the “love it” side of the fence!)

Cilantro is believed to promote healthy skin and hair, as well as reduce the risk of cardiac disease, diabetes, and obesity.

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Thyme

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Thyme can be used in cooking or even for landscaping and is a hardy plant that is tough to kill. Plus the bees love the flowers!

The fact that it is hardy to our zone (zone 4) is a big benefit; I love perennials because they cut down on the work and cost each spring during planting.

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I like using thyme in soups and stews – and sometimes even in my scrambled eggs for breakfast.

A couple fresh sprigs of thyme also add a nice flavour profile to premium roast beef.

Thyme is believed to help boost the immune system and is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and iron.

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Oregano

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Oregano is what makes or breaks a good pasta sauce!

Whether you are making spaghetti, lasagna or even pizza sauce, oregano is a key ingredient.

(Oregano can become bitter if overcooked, so add it toward the end of a recipe for optimal flavour)

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I also use it in my jambalaya recipe and even my herbed pizza dough recipe!

Oregano is a prolific plant that produces well all summer long.

Pruning on a regular basis will help keep it from bolting and forces heavier production.

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It is rated to zone 5, so I typically pot my oregano in the fall and keep it in the house until it is warm enough to plant back outside in the spring.

The health benefits of oregano are as incredible as the taste it adds to food!

Not only is it loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, it also packs a punch with vitamin K, vitamin E, manganese, iron, and calcium.

Talk about a SUPER HERB!

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Rosemary

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Mmm! The scent of rubbing this plant alone is so calming! Its pungent fragrance is so soothing and relaxing.

Rosemary is a bit pickier about its watering than some other herbs; it likes well-drained soil, fairly dry conditions – and will not be happy if you accidentally overwater it!

I use it primarily in rosemary rice to add a unique flavour as well as *obviously* in focaccia bread (yum!). It goes well in soups and stews as well.

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Unlike thyme, rosemary is rated for zone 7 (at the coldest) and will not make it through our brutal winters.

I overwinter my rosemary the same way I do with my oregano – by potting it in the fall and bringing it into the house for the winter.

Rosemary is high in both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories; it is believed to improve the immune system, blood circulation, and even help with brain function!

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Chives

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The mild, onion flavour makes for a wonderful garnish on many dishes and the bright green pop of color adds a fancy presentation.

I usually will add either chives or green onions to my loaded hasselback potatoes or loaded stuffed potatoes.

They are easy to grow from seed or from a clump divided from a mature plant.

Growing from seed, they take a couple years to become fully grown and ready for harvesting – but once they are mature they are prolific producers!

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Their beautiful purple flowers are edible and can be added to salads for a bit of extra color.

Rated for up to zone 3, they are a great perennial to add to an herb garden.

For a slightly different flavour, try planting garlic chives.

Chives are high in vitamin K, which helps with bone strength and blood clotting.

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Lavender

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Most people are familiar with the fragrance of lavender and the calming properties they possess, but may not realize it is also used for many dessert recipes.

The leaves and flowers can be harvested for teas, infused oil, and the ever-popular essential oil.

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Bees absolutely love their soft plumes of flowers.

Unfortunately for me, they are only rated to zone 5 – almost hardy enough for our zone, but not quite tough enough.

Lavender has anti-inflammatory properties and is believed to be a mood-booster by relieving anxiety and promoting calmness.

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Parsley

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I hated the huge bunch of parsley served on the side of burgers and fries as a kid, not realizing that parsley is usually just meant as a garnish and not meant to be eaten by itself! (I was raised with the mentality not to waste food, but that big mouthful of parsley is where I drew the line!)

When I use parsley as a garnish, I chop it into small pieces and sprinkle a sparse amount on the dish so the taste is not overpowering; when used correctly, parsley compliments the other flavours in a dish rather than dominating the flavour profile.

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Parsley is know as a biennial, which means it grows the first year and goes to seed the second year.

I like “self-seeding” plants because they are essentially perennials in the concept that I do not have to keep replanting them each year.

As with dark green, leafy vegetables, parsley is loaded with nutrients.

It is also high in antioxidants and is believed to have cancer-fighting properties.

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Mint

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The mint family has a number of varieties to choose from; traditional mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, etc.

Rated for zone 3, they are incredibly hardy plants and difficult to kill.

If left to their own devices, they will quickly take over the area where they were planted and can become a weed if you’re not careful!

They can be added to cold drinks like a rhubarb simple syrup seltzer, used in teas or added as a garnish on desserts.

Mint has anti-inflammatory properties and is believed to help with digestive functions.

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Keeping herbs fresh

Ideally, herbs are best picked just before you plan to use them; they will have the freshest taste, best texture, and highest nutrient content.

If garden-to-table isn’t an option for you, store the herbs in the fridge.

Most herbs like to be placed in a jar with a little water at the bottom, just covering the bottom of the stems – make sure the leaves are not in the water or they can make it murky after being in the water for a while.

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Honorable Mentions

A few other herbs to consider are marjoram, winter savoury, tarragon, sage, and stevia.

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Want to know how to prepare herbs for long-time storage? SUBSCRIBE to see that blog post when it comes out!

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