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growing herbs

The Complete Seed Starting Guide for Herbs & Edibles

When we begin to approach our last frost date, I start to get all kinds of excited because it means that, soon, I'll be able to start harvesting things from my garden again. Spring is beautiful here. The crocuses and daffodils and hyacinths have flowered and now the tulips and pansies are filling the neighborhood landscapes with color. Flowering trees are filled with blooms and fresh new leaves. Hardy plants are happily growing in the garden and the perennials have started to wake up. Everything starts to look like it’s hopeful again, ready to see the sun, prepared to send its energy back out into the world. Seed trays have been sown and are incubating in our mini greenhouses. This was my first full winter in an area where things look drastically different in the wintertime, and, while I enjoyed spending a restful season inside, away from the chilly temperatures, I also really anticipated the days I could start getting plants in the ground again. Since many of you are now entering prime seed-starting season, I thought I'd put together a comprehensive mini guide to starting seeds for you.

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Starting Seeds 101

The first thing you need to figure out when you sit down to dream about your garden for the year is what you want to grow in the space you have available. Which veggies would you love to pick fresh right from your garden? Which herbs would you like to have on hand for your kitchen? Are there any medicinal herbs you’d like to grow this year? Once you know what you want to grow, you can determine which varieties will do best in your growing zone, purchase seeds, and schedule out your optimal planting dates. These are things I like to do during the months of December and January, when things are a bit quieter in the garden, but you still have time if you haven't had a chance to do your planning yet.

I like to map out my growing space and decide how much of each plant I'm going to grow and where I'm going to plant it. Having a master plan helps me to plan crop rotations, to not to over-fill my beds and to use my space efficiently. Knowing what I'm going to plant ahead of time allows me to create my planting schedule for the year so I don't fall behind on seed sowing, plant feeding, succession sowing, etc..

Starting Seeds Indoors vs. Outdoors

If you live in an area with a shorter growing season, you can get a head start with your seeds by starting them indoors 4-8 weeks (sometimes up to 12 weeks, depending on the plant) earlier than you would be able to get them going outside. Things like tomatoes and peppers and warm weather loving herbs like Basil can all be started indoors and then planted out after your area has finished its frosty season. If you're starting seeds in the house or garage, make sure you have a good daylight balanced bulb or a bright spot near a big window to give seedlings the light they need to get going. Plenty of light will keep them from getting leggy.

If you’re blessed with a warm growing zone and a long growing season, you can still start seeds indoors and then successively sow more seeds outdoors a month or two later to take advantage of that long season, or you can start your seeds directly outdoors once the nighttime and soil temperatures have warmed up a bit.

When we lived in southern California, I started all my seeds outdoors, but because we live much farther north now, I like to start most of them indoors or in our mini greenhouses to extend my growing season.

Seed Starting Containers

I used to use 72-cell propagating trays to start my seeds. They were super convenient and efficient. I could easily label each row of seeds and each tray was automatically watered through the flat tray that would sit beneath it. Since we started to transition away from plastic, though, I’ve come to love handmade wooden seed starting boxes even more. They’re tall enough to give my plants enough room to develop a really healthy root system right from the start and the plants seem to like them a lot better.

I also use biodegradable seed starting pots on occasion. They're usually made from coco coir or peat and are especially useful for plants that don’t like to be transplanted (think Borage, squashes, etc.) because they can be planted directly into the ground after gently removing the bottom of the pot without disturbing the roots of the plant.

Special SEED Treatments

Stratification

Some seeds need to experience a cold season before they can properly germinate. If you live in an area where you already have a cold season, you can probably plant most of these seeds out in late fall, directly in the garden. But if you’re wanting to plant in spring, you can simulate the cold season by placing the seeds in a labeled container in the fridge with some barely moist soil or sand and allow them to chill there for a month (or two, or three, depending on what the plant needs) before planting the seeds outside in early spring.

Scarification

Some seeds have a super protective seed coat that keeps the seed from germinating for a while. If you want those seeds to germinate quickly and more consistently, you can nick that seed coat with a piece of sandpaper or the edge of a blade to help the seed wake up. This can be difficult with seeds that are very small and hard to keep a grip on, but if you are patient and stick with it, scarification will improve your germination rate. Certain seeds can/should be scarified with freshly boiled water, but most will need to be treated with a blade or sandpaper.

Soaking

Many seeds need to be soaked in water overnight (sometimes even longer) to help them germinate. Sweet peas come to mind. During our rainy seasons, I’ll sow them just before I know we’re going to get a few days of good rain and let the showers give them all the moisture they need. I've had success with this method, but if you’re expecting lots of sunny weather or if you're planting large amounts and you're dependent on your crop, it’s best to give them a soak indoors before you want to plant them. Fill a ramekin or a small dish with lukewarm water, drop the seeds in before you eat dinner, and, in most cases, they’ll be ready to plant out by the time you’re ready to head out to the garden the next morning.

Choosing the Best Spot in the Garden

Take heed to what kind of environment your plants like best. Do they prefer full sun? Part shade? Rich soil? Well-draining soil? Wet feet? Choosing the best place you can for the plant will give you the best results when it comes time to harvest. Knowing what conditions each plant prefers will also help you plan out your companion plants and permaculture-style garden layers as well.

Some plants that love full sun:

Tomatoes, peppers, dahlias, poppies, cosmos, Basil, Parsley, Thyme, Lemon Balm, Rosemary, Lavender…

Some plants that can also thrive in part shade:

Peppermints, Turmeric, Ginger, Chives, Cilantro, Oregano, Skullcap, Calendula…

Some plants that can grow in the shade:

Parsley, Cilantro, Chives, Chives, Thyme, Peppermint, Bleeding Hearts…

Many resilient plants can grow in either full sun or part shade. Try experimenting with a plant in each area to see which one does better, then you can plant more in the better-performing spot the next year.

What are you hoping to add to your garden this year?

Much love,
Erin

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The Differences Between Lavender Essential Oils

This article has been excerpted from The Lavender Guide, a new book by Erin Stewart. The excerpt has been adapted for use here and was also featured in the August issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

I've never met a Lavender plant I didn't love. When they pop up in garden shops around here, they are quickly snatched up by adoring plant-tenders and whisked away to their new homes where they're lovingly planted up and made a part of the family. My German Shepherd even loves them. There was a house on our block in CA that had a large, vibrant, seemingly ever-blooming Lavender plant in the front yard and it spilled over the picket fence into the sidewalk. Every day on our walk, my pup had to stop and stick her nose into that Lavender plant and just breathe it in for a moment before we continued on our way. Every time. It's rather adorable, really. She's a smart one.


Did you know we made a film with the lavender farmers of southern Oregon? Click on the image below to watch it - it’s free! You’ll get to go behind the scenes at working lavender farms and learn directly from the farmers as they teach you how to grow, care for and distill lavender!


Lavender is a flowering shrub in the Lamiaceae (mint) family and boasts over 40 known species with an ever growing count of over 400 cultivated varieties. While it's native to areas near the Mediterranean, Lavender is now grown all over the world and the various species provide us with several different essential oils. While they are all "Lavender" essential oils, the different species (and varieties) yield essential oils with slightly differing chemical compositions that might make one more suitable for certain issues than the others. Let's focus in on some of the differences between some of the most commonly available Lavender oils.

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TRUE LAVENDER

Botanical name: Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis

The main Lavender used for therapeutic purposes in both herbalism and aromatherapy is Lavandula angustifolia. There are many cultivars of L. angustifolia, with flowers ranging in color from light purple to dark purple, white, and even pink. This Lavender is sometimes referred to as English Lavender. I have also heard some people call it French Lavender, but since that term has also been applied to Lavandin (L. x intermedia) and to L. dentata, it is best to refer to it via its botanical name, L. angustifolia, to avoid confusion.

 
 

L. angustifolia plants produce less essential oil than the hybrid Lavandin plants do. A friend who distills Lavender daily has found that 6 to 8 plants' worth of L. angustifolia flowering stalks will fill the basket of a 15 gallon copper alembic still and will yield about 70ml of essential oil per distillation.

While not considered ideal for florists and designers because of their shorter stems, the angustifolias have a sweeter, softer aroma than other Lavender varieties and are considered superior for therapeutic use. The plants themselves are much shorter and smaller than Lavandin varieties.

My favorite L. angustifolia cultivars include: 'Bowles Early,' 'Buena Vista,' 'Hidcote,' 'Loddon Blue,' 'Miss Katherine,' 'Opal Rain,' 'Royal Velvet,' and 'Sachet.'

The essential oil of L. angustifolia plants is rich in linalol and linalyl acetate, among many other constituents (possibly as many as 450 or more) and is considered the choice Lavender oil for use in aromatherapy. Professional aromatherapists will rarely use a Lavender oil produced from another Lavender variety, except, perhaps, for Spike Lavender (L. latifolia / spica) in cases where 1,8-Cineole and Camphor are preferred constituents for application. The different varieties of L. angustifolia produce similar, but still subtly different essential oils. ('Buena Vista' and 'Hidcote Pink' are two of my current favorites.) A discerning nose will be able to notice slight differences in aroma between the different oils, but in general, L. angustifolia essential oil is not sold with the variety name included unless it is being purchased directly from a small farm that distills their own Lavender on site. Most larger distillers, even if they grow several varieties of L. angustifolia, will co-distill the different varieties together and sell the finished product labeled simply as 'Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia' essential oil.

I have found that L. angustifolia essential oils consistently boast the following therapeutic properties (among others): analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, carminative, cicatrisant, diuretic, emmenagogue, nervine, sedative, and uplifting. They are generally useful for any kind of skin ailment, nervous tension, anxiety, lack of restful sleep, aches, pains, and spasms, and a variety of more serious complaints [covered more thoroughly in the full chapter found in the book].

While Lavender is safe for even neat use on the skin, some clinical aromatherapists now recommend using it undiluted only for acute ailments (like a bee sting). When used regularly over time, it may be best to dilute even the friendly Lavender essential oil in a carrier.  

True Lavender essential oil is costly to produce and is often adulterated with isolated (or synthetic) linalol or linalyl acetate, synthetic Lavender oil, and even Lavandin essential oil. Know your source well to be sure you're purchasing a true, 100% L. angustifolia essential oil.

 
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LAVANDIN

Botanical name: Lavandula x intermedia, Lavandula hybrida, Lavandula x burnati

Lavandin (L. x intermedia) is a Lavender species that is cherished by growers and distillers around the world. Lavandin plants are created when a Lavandula angustifolia and a Lavandula latifolia plant are cross-pollinated. The resulting hybrid is a much larger plant than the L. angustifolia varieties and yields a great deal more essential oil. Lavandins make beautiful garden hedges because of their impressive size and color. They bloom later in the season than L. angustifolia varieties, so adding Lavandin to your Lavender garden is an easy way to extend your blooming season.

A few of my personal favorite Lavandin varieties for the garden include, 'Fred Boutin,' 'Grosso,' 'Impress Purple,' 'Jaubert,' and 'Lullingstone Castle.'

Like the L. angustifolia essential oil varieties, Lavandin essential oil is usually offered as simply 'Lavandin - L. x intermedia' or 'Lavender - L. x intermedia' essential oil, though you may be able to find specific varieties like 'Grosso' and 'Super' labeled individually, especially if purchasing directly from a farm that distills onsite. Lavandin essential oil is not as commonly used in the aromatherapy industry, but it is produced worldwide for the fragrance industry. It is a common ingredient in soaps, laundry detergents, skin care, perfumes, and cleaning products. It's far less chemically complex than L. angustifolia essential oil and is considered to be somewhat inferior therapeutically, so not many professional aromatherapists use it. Still, the aroma is lovely - a bit sharper than an angustifolia, due to its higher Camphor and 1,8-Cineole content. Some people prefer its aroma because it's more similar to the traditional Lavender smell they're used to while others, who think they don't like the smell of Lavender until they smell a true L. angustifolia, shy away from the Lavandin scent.

Therapeutically, Lavandin essential oil is used for its antibacterial properties and to support the respiratory system. [Further therapeutic uses are covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 
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LAVANDULA STOECHAS

Botanical name(s): Lavandula stoechas

L. stoechas is sometimes called Spanish Lavender, but since that term is also applied to L. dentata and L. stoechas is also called French Lavender (a term also applied to L. angustifolias and L. x intermedia varieties), it is best to just refer to it by its botanical name: L. stoechas.

L. Stoechas makes a stunning compact hedge in the garden and tends to bloom continuously beginning in late spring. My absolute favorite variety is 'Kew Red,' but I also love 'Cottage Rose,' 'Otto Quast,' and 'James Compton.'

The essential oil is not as easily found, but it can be sourced. Generally speaking, it is not well suited for use with little ones and comes with a few safety contraindications. It is rich in Camphor (even more than Spike Lavender), 1,8-Cineole, and Fenchone, and has an affinity for the respiratory system. Since it is so rich in ketones and oxides, it should be used with caution. [Further therapeutic information covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 

SPIKE LAVENDER

Botanical name(s): Lavandula latifolia, Lavandula spica, Lavandula spicata

Spike Lavender grows at a lower elevation than the L. angustifolia plants and is sometimes called Aspic. The essential oil has a sharper, more camphoraceous aroma than the essential oil from Lavandula angustifolia, with a camphor content that can vary based on where the plant was grown, sometimes reaching concentrations up to about 35%. It also contains higher amounts of 1,8-Cineole. Its aroma hints at its antiseptic qualities and smells quite medicinal. It is often utilized in respiratory support blends and is especially useful when you're feeling a bit stuffy. It can be helpful for pain and inflammation. While not nearly as calming as a True Lavender oil, it does stimulate circulation and effectively gets stagnant energy moving through the body again.

Because of the camphor content, it is recommended that this oil be avoided when pregnant.

Therapeutically, Spike Lavender essential oil is analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, antispasmodic, circulatory, and expectorant. It is sometimes used in skin care preparations and is often included in blends that support skin ailments, cramps and spasms, headaches, and minor wounds. [Covered in more detail in the full chapter of the book.]

 
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CONCLUSION

There are many other Lavender species and varieties that are grown around the world. Our personal collection has many beautiful varieties. Some of my favorites that aren't listed in this particular article include L. multifida and L. x christiana (pictured above).

There's just something so special about Lavender. Once you've spent some time with it, you can't help but want to be around it all the time. Plant one or two varieties in your own garden. Before long, you'll probably be growing your collection too!

Are you growing any Lavender in your garden? Which varieties? Let me know in the comments below. =)

Much love,
Erin

 

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It's Lavender Season! A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at Lavender Farms

When you ask an herbalist or an aromatherapist to choose a favorite herb or essential oil, most of them preface their response with a statement somewhat like, "What!? How could you ask me that!? I could never choose just one!" I'm the same way. But if you were to ask me what my favorite herb to grow is, I would say Lavender, without hesitation. Walking out into the garden and seeing her happy, purple-topped stalks makes me feel so at home and so peaceful and so joyous that I would choose her first for my garden every time. I always come home with a batch of new varieties when I visit our local Lavender experts (I just can't help myself!) and Jon and I dream of planting at least an acre of it after we purchase our land. Since I'm fairly certain that I'm not the only one who feels this way about this special plant, I thought I would set aside a day to take you on a relaxing, behind-the-scenes stroll through some of our local Lavender farms here in the PNW. Here are a few of the photos I've been taking at some of our dreamy, purple hot spots this season.

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If you're ever able to visit the PNW during Lavender season, try to visit near the end of June or the beginning of July. We have Lavender festivals and events most weekends during that time frame throughout both Oregon and Washington!

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I could get lost in these rows for hours and be quite content. I recently told a friend that if I were a mouse or a fairy, I would want to live in a Lavender garden.

Every plant in a Lavender garden is alive with pollinators. Thousands of them flit about throughout the fields, happily working the day away. Wouldn't you like to have their job?

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One last photo, from my own garden. It's not a field of blooms, but I just love this dark variety. <3

I'm currently knee-deep working with lavender spikes and with some of these beautiful dreamland locations to bring you some extra special Lavender surprises very soon, so stay tuned! If you love Lavender too, make sure you're on our email list so you'll be amongst the first to know when we're ready to share more info. <3

Much love and wishes for Lavender-filled days,
Erin

Medicinal Properties of 12 Culinary Herbs (that You Can Grow Yourself!)

As you saw last week, I'm currently in the midst of planning out my garden spaces for the year and getting everything planted up. Realistically, this also means that I've been trying to keep my wish-list down to a manageable selection of plants and refrain from purchasing every pretty little bulb and seedling I see when shopping around town. (Our local garden centers are full of fragrant hyacinths and lilacs at the moment. They're practically irresistible!) Quite a task for a plant lover! I've been looking forward to being able to grow more of my own herbs this year.

As I narrowed down my seed selections, I realized that I had a few herbs on my "must have" list. These plants are so easy to grow and so versatile that I think every herbal enthusiast ought to give them a try.

[Edited to add: My top 7 herbs to grow yourself or purchase from a local farm for best quality are Calendula, Yarrow, Chamomile, Tulsi, Peppermint, Red Clover, & Astragalus. The difference between herb purchased from even the most reputable suppliers vs. homegrown for these herbs in particular is incredible.]

HERBS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER GROWING THIS YEAR
+ A FEW WAYS TO USE THEM

Note: I could obviously add more to this list, but I think that these 12 herbs encompass plants that can be put to use by almost everyone, so they're the ones I'm choosing to feature today. Which herb(s) would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments section at the end of this post.

  1. Calendula
    Calendula is a beautiful, sunny, flowering, skin healing herb. It's often infused into Aloe or carrier oils and used in salves, lotions and creams meant to help support the skin as it deals with irritation, inflammation, injuries, or other skin issues. It's an ingredient well suited to skin care products for all skin types. It's also excellent for the lymphatic and digestive systems and can be taken as a tea. It's easy to grow in the garden and the freshly harvested and dried blossoms look lovely in the apothecary.
     
  2. Peppermint
    Reputed for its affinity for the digestive system, Peppermint is one of those delightful perennial herbs that is very easy to grow. It's best to propagate via cuttings and is one of those "leave it and it'll spread" type plants. If you don't want it to take over your garden, plant it in a container where it has a little bit of extra room to grow. Harvest leaves as needed for fresh Peppermint tea and for use in fresh salads and dishes that need a little something extra. Chewing on a leaf of Peppermint mid-afternoon when you're longing for a nap might be just the thing you need to feel refreshed and energized once again.
     
  3. Rosemary
    Another plant easily grown from cuttings, Rosemary is a hardy perennial herb in many parts of the US. It's obviously perfectly suited to cooking, but it's also valuable for memory and concentration, improving circulation, and is known for its ability to tone the nervous system. It's strengthening to the heart muscle and is also used in skin care products and hair products. Reputed to stimulate hair growth, it's often employed in herbal hair rinses its essential oil is included as an ingredient in natural shampoos. I love it because it tastes wonderful, smells amazing, and is so willing to be included in formulas. The smell of fresh Rosemary with fresh Lavender is probably my most favorite aroma.
     
  4. Lavender
    Who wouldn't want to grow Lavender? The plant is absolutely beautiful (even my German Shepherd adores it) and the flowers can be used in so many different ways. Lavender honeys, lemonades, cookies, teas, and other dishes often include this herb. I like to dry the fresh flowering stalks and use them to make wreaths. The dried buds are perfect for herbal pillows - I make them for our family to use in the bedrooms and keep one for use in the car for my pup. She is an intelligent, high energy dog and the pillow helps her to stay calm when we need to drive for a longer period of time. An uplifting nervine, Lavender can be employed for relaxation and supporting sleep. I like to use it in eye pillows and foot baths when I have a headache and I include it almost every skin care formula I make.
     
  5. Dill
    A pretty culinary herb, I like to include Dill in potato salads and homemade sauerkraut recipes, as well as in herbal digestive aid formulas (it's a great carminative). I also think the plant itself is quite lovely, with its delicate fronds and cheery little yellow flowers. I like to rub its leaves to release its essential oils when I pass it in the garden - its smell is so refreshing.
     
  6. Thyme
    Thyme is another culinary favorite of mine. It pairs well with Rosemary in many dishes and has an affinity for the respiratory system. Refreshing and uplifting, thyme stimulates the thymus gland, a significant part of our immune system, and is also well suited for coughs, sore throats, and related complaints. I like to infuse it in olive oil or honey with garlic and a few other culinary herbs and take it when I've been around people who are sick to boost my immune system and help me stay healthy. The freshly made tea, tincture, and essential oil are all employed in various cleaning formulas.
     
  7. Basil
    Pesto, pizza, caprese salad... Basil has so many uses in the kitchen that it's almost silly not to grow it. It's a beautiful plant and the more you use, the bushier it seems to grow. It's uplifting and antispasmodic. I've seen it included in formulas for the digestive system and for supporting restful sleep. The essential oil is well suited in blends for focus and concentration. It's sometimes included in herbal hair rinses to promote hair growth and bring balance to oily scalps.
     
  8. Oregano
    I love to include antioxidant-packed Oregano in Mexican food dishes and things like quinoa or rice. It's sometimes included in skin care formulas and is also known for its value in remedies for the digestive system. A potent antimicrobial, it's used in natural 'antibiotic' type preparations and is also employed for its anti-inflammatory properties in formulas used to address painful and inflammatory conditions. The herbal infused oil is said to be effective at keeping creepy crawlies away (among many other things), though I haven't personally tested this yet.
     
  9. Hawthorn
    Ah, Hawthorn. If I had to choose an herbal best friend, it would probably be this plant. The berries, flowers, leaves, and twigs are used in herbal medicine as a heart tonic, bringing balance and strength to even the healthy heart, but especially to the heart with some sort of ailment. If I could only use one herb for the rest of my life, it would probably be this one (but oh, how I would miss the flavorful others!). It works excellently on both physical and energetic planes and, because it is considered a tonic herb, should be used consistently over time for best results. It grows as a shrub or tree and can be employed in herbal teas (and other herbal medicine forms) and in culinary preparations (the berries are perfect for jams). I like to combine it with Hibiscus and Milky Oats for tea.
     
  10. Aloe vera
    If you're not in a sunny, warm growing zone, Aloe vera can be grown indoors, potted up on a sunny windowsill. The fresh juice/gel are used internally for all sorts of digestive complaints and externally for all manner of skin issues. A highly versatile first aid plant, I think everyone ought to be growing it. (Though it should be avoided by nursing mommas and women who are pregnant.) Freshly harvested leaves are squeezed into morning smoothies and green drinks, slathered onto acneic skin, and used in skin-healing creams. Its rare flowers (usually produced once per year after the plant reaches maturity) are a delight as well.
     
  11. Plantain
    Chances are you won't need to actually cultivate this plant. It's probably trying to spring up in your garden pathways and through cracks in the pavement right now. Well known for its skin healing abilities, it's also employed for a variety of digestive and lymphatic complaints. It's a drawing herb that can be used to draw out splinters and is also valuable for irritated, inflamed skin. I've written about it in more detail here.
     
  12. Dandelion
    Another tenacious herb that won't need to be cultivated if you allow it to grow when it appears, Dandelion is an herb supreme for for the liver and kidneys. The entire plant is used medicinally and its leaves are high in vitamins and minerals. It's used as a food herb as well, often included in dishes where a bitter green would be suitable: stir-fries, soups, salads, etc.

Other favorites to consider: Parsley, Cilantro, Sage, Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric, Pepper (the trees are so beautiful), Rose, Hibiscus, Feverfew, Red Clover, St. John's Wort

WHICH HERBS ARE YOU GROWING IN YOUR GARDEN THIS YEAR?

Let me know in the comments section below this post. If you're interested in purchasing organic herb seeds (or veggie seeds) for your garden, click here to read about some of my favorite seed sources.

Much love,
Erin

Planning Your Herb & Food Garden for This Year

It's that time of year! Spring is officially here and the garden sections at our local co-ops and hardware stores are bursting with bright annual colors and fragrant spring bulbs. I've been spending some extra time planning out my garden for this year and getting seeds started. Adjusting to four distinct seasons (instead of my southern California-ingrained "almost everything grows year-round here" mindset) is new for me, so I've been devoting a lot of time to the study of local planting calendars. As I've been mapping out my own little plots and sketching beds and boxes for my talented husband to build, I've come across some really excellent gardening resources that I thought I'd share with you. I'd also love to hear about your favorite tools and resources - share them with me in the comments section at the end of this post!

GARDENING RESOURCES

  1. Kitchen Garden Planner - This website has the best online garden planning tool that I have ever come across. It is so easy to work with. You start by designing a single raised bed, planter box, or garden space. Drag and drop the plants you want to include in the space and the program will automatically plug in the correct amount of seeds you need (based on square foot gardening methods). Save the bed when you are finished and then work on the next one. After you've saved each individual garden bed/box/space, you can drag and drop the finished beds into your "site plan" and place them where they'll be in your yard. If you scroll down after finishing each bed, you'll find growing guides specific to each plant you've placed in the space. It's such a handy tool and you can save your plans and access them later as well! If you don't want to start from scratch, the site also offers pre-planned raised bed and planter box charts available. It's an insanely handy tool! It doesn't include drag-and-drop medicinal herbs, but it does include many culinary herbs, along with a host of veggies.
     
  2. This book. I've been reading through it as I plan out my space and am finding it useful, especially for calculating yields and determining how much I need to plant. I'm also reading this book and I have some vintage favorites like this one that I plan to review next.
     
  3. Master Gardeners Groups - Back in southern California, we frequently visited a demonstration garden that was kept by our local branch of Master Gardeners. There was always a Master Gardener available there during the daytime to help with answering gardening questions. Each one was knowledgeable in our local growing conditions and common local pests and diseases and was able to help gardeners identify the issues they were experiencing in their garden so they could determine how to target the problem in an effective way that wouldn't harm the ecosystem. I've just recently located the local MG branch in our new hometown and am looking forward to visiting them soon. It seems like many areas have a Master Gardeners group, so I'd highly recommend checking to see if there is one near you. They often host gardening classes as well.
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MY FAVORITE SEED COMPANIES

  1. Renee's Garden - She has a lovely selection of florals, including butterfly and pollinator blends, as well as a wide variety of organic edibles and herbs. I've had great germination rates with their seed.
     
  2. Botanical Interests - I've had good success with this brand as well. The organic selection is excellent. In southern California, we had a garden chain called Armstrong Garden Center that would clearance out their seeds at the end of each year right around Christmastime and we would always stock up on this brand. We've had great germination rates with these too.
     
  3. Strictly Medicinal Seeds (formerly Horizon Herbs) - If you're wanting to grow organic medicinal herbs in your garden, beware - their vast array of seeds will pull you in until you look down at your shopping cart and realize that you need to drastically pare down your selection. ;) I've ordered live plants from them in the past (my baby Hawthorn tree made the move to the PNW with us and is just starting to show signs of spring growth) and have also just purchased a selection of medicinal herb seeds from them. I've got them in sprouting trays right now and will keep you updated on my success with them.
     
  4. Siskiyou Seeds - This is a local seed company in the PNW. I came across it at our local co-op and picked up a few packets of seed to test. I highly recommend purchasing seeds from local companies whenever you can. If they are growing their mother plants locally, your seeds will already be well adapted to your area.
     
  5. Baker Creek - This company boasts a large selection of unique heirloom seeds. I haven't purchased from them since they updated their name, but their available varieties look as lovely as ever.

MY FAVORITE TOOLS AND SUPPLIES

Compost

I prefer homemade compost fresh from the vermiculture bin, but when I don't have enough of it available and need to supplement, I like to use this brand. Whatever you have available locally that is organic or OMRI listed will do. Sometimes the local compost available in your area is the best option. Talk to other gardeners in your area to see what they recommend and watch out for companies that include plastics and glass in their mixes.

Organic Amendments

If you care for your soil properly, you'll have healthier, more nutrient-dense plants that are far more resistant to pests and diseases than conventional plants or plants grown in depleted soil. I like to use lots of organic worm castings in my soil, along with organic or OMRI-listed amendments. I've heard great things about including rock dust as well, and will be experimenting with that this year.

OTHER PRACTICAL TIPS

Trade with locals

If you're attending classes or meetups with other gardeners or taking time to get to know your gardening neighbors, chances are you're making friends who you'll be able to trade seeds, cuttings, and plant starts with!

Check out the local digs

Trader Joe's stores often stock organic starts of the harder-to-germinate herbs. Local natural foods stores often do the same.

Some herbs can be planted via organic starts from the produce department of your natural foods store or farmer's market. I've had good success with growing Ginger and Turmeric that I purchased from a local store and have heard many stories of folks successfully growing garlic,  potatoes, green onions, and even some other herbs sourced this way.

Local farmer's markets can be a great place to find organic seedlings. Look for certified local farmer's markets - they're the ones that are full of local farmers selling their locally-grown plants and produce. Our local farmer's markets include a couple of local organic farms that are selling in-season organic seedlings.

WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO GROW THIS YEAR?

Let us know down in the comments below!

Much love,
Erin

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