How to Make a Window Herb Garden From Reclaimed Wood

I am finally ready to admit that life can get in the way of blogging. Sometimes I let it, but not today.

We have a little catching up to do. For my birthday earlier this month, my boyfriend built me a window herb garden out of a hundred year old piece of cedar and some mason jars. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Once it was finished we both just sat and stared at it for a while. I try to face it at all times when I am in the living room. I’m just drawn to it in every way.

Needless to say, my cooking has benefited from this enchanting home improvement as well. Instead of battling the winter alone, I’m heading in with something fresh by my side, and I could not be happier.

Top to bottom: oregano, basil, flat-leaf parsley, thyme

From start to finish it only took us about half an hour to build, and the materials did not cost much over $50. I know because $50 is our birthday gift cap. The whole idea of the limit in the first place was to spur a little creativity. Total win.

Here are the instructions for the one we made. It’s pretty user friendly, so you can adjust based on whatever materials you have available.

Materials:
piece of hardwood for a base (piece shown is 3″ thick cedar)
4 widemouth mason jars
4 four inch diameter metal hose clamps
4 one inch sheet rock screws
screw gun
decorative planting stones or small rocks
herb seeds or small seedlings
extra potting soil
khaki colored spray paint, satin finish

Step 1
In a well-ventilated area, spray paint hose clamps and let them dry fully.

Step 2
Mount hose clamps to your base using screws and a screw gun (we did not pre-drill the holes.) Place clamps them where you want the center of each jar to sit. These ones are at an angle so our plants face towards the sun. Leave screws loose enough so that jars can be rotated to upright for watering.
hose-clamp-mounted-to-wooden-herb-garden

hose-clamps-mounted-to-window-herb-gardenStep 3
Line each jar with an inch or two of stone. This will keep the plant from getting waterlogged since there is no drainage hole in the bottom of your container. Then add a thin layer of potting soil.

Step 4
Remove seedlings from their containers and gently break apart the root balls a little bit with your fingers. Place each plant in a jar. The base of the plant should rest just below the mouth of the jar. Add more soil on top of the rocks if necessary. Once placed in the jar, fill in around the root ball of the plant with extra potting soil, using your fingers to push soil it into any gaps. Make sure the soil isn’t too compacted.

basil-in-mason-jar-window-herb-gardenStep 5
Slide jars into the hose clamps and then tighten clamps.

basil-mason-jar-window-herb-garden

Note: Wall mounting materials will vary based on the type of walls you have and how thick your base is. We screwed the base to the wall before mounted the jars, however this can be done in reverse as well.

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Smile, You’re Tomato Canning

Every August that I can remember has ended with a long, hot day of tomato canning. It’s summer’s most fantastic ritual. All of my extended family members gather in someone’s backyard to sort, cut, boil, crush, jar and seal boxes and boxes of warm, fresh tomatoes (local, but not homegrown I confess.) The smell is more wonderful that you can possible imagine. It’s like all the fantastic things you are going to cook this year, mixed with love and basil. Since last Friday was canning day, I’m kick-starting this blog with an entire week devoted to its namesake, the tomato. Today, we start at the beginning.

How to Can Tomatoes
What you will need:

  1. plum tomatoes
  2. fresh basil
  3. sharp knife
  4. large pot
  5. glass jars with lids and rings made for canning
  6. slotted spoon
  7. tomato grinder (manual or electric)
  8. tongs
  9. large bucket/container
  10. funnel
  11. strainer

Before you start, make sure that all of your jars, lid rings and other tools are clean and sterile to avoid trapping bacteria in your jars that will spoil. Running the jars and lids through the dishwasher is an easy way to clean a bunch at once.

Tomato Selection
Plum tomatoes are ideal for tomato sauce because they are pulpy and contain less water than other varieties. There are many types of plum tomatoes, but we usually buy Romas because they are grown locally. San Marzano is another prized plum tomato for canning. Processing tomatoes are commonly sold in 25 lb bulk cases, which each yield about 6-7 quarts of sauce each. So, decide how many quart jars you want to fill before purchasing your tomatoes.

selecting ripe plum tomatoes for tomato sauce canning
Aunt Andrea and Aunt Marie find a fine batch of tomatoes!

Sort
Since one rotten tomato can spoil the batch, you need to inspect each one individually. If you are not going to actually can on the day you pick up your tomatoes, take them out of the box and lay them to air out. This way, you can find and remove any rotting ones before they spoil the ones around them. Sometimes the tomatoes can use an extra day or two more to fully ripen, so you can leave them out until they seem ready.

sorting plum tomatoes for tomato sauce canning

Wash
When you’re ready start, go through all the tomatoes again and toss any rotten ones. Look for bruises and blemishes, and cut out any bad spots. Smell any questionable ones to see if they are sour. Then, fill a large container with water and place all the remaining tomatoes inside to rinse.

washing and sorting plum tomatoes before canning

Boil
Next, take your large pot and fill it with four to five inches of water. It does not need to be filled to the top. Bring the water to a boil, fill the pot with tomatoes, and cover. Steam each batch until they look cooked and are soft. Some will start to split when they are done.

boiling the plum tomatoes before canning

Crush
Using a slotted spoon, scoop the cooked tomatoes and transfer them to your strainer to drain. Prick each one to get out excess water. Place a large bucket or container underneath the grinder to catch all the juice. Then, run the tomatoes through your grinder to separate the pulp and juice from skin and seeds. When you’re done, run the skin and seeds through one more time. This helps to thicken up the finished product. If you have a compost area, you can toss the remaining waste right in.

running sauce tomatoes through an electric grinder before canning

Jar
To prep your jars, spread them out on a large flat surface. I like to put 3-4 fresh basil leaves in each one for flavor. Using a funnel, fill each jar with your crushed tomatoes to within about 1/4 inch of the top. Make sure to wipe any excess off the rim of the jar to ensure a proper seal. Put a seal lid on each jar and loosely screw a ring on. Don’t make it too tight, just tight enough to keep the contents of the jar from spilling.

filling glass jars with crushed tomatoes for canning

Seal
Put enough water in a pot to just cover the lids of your jars, and bring it to a boil. Place jars in the water and boil for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the jars with tongs or a jar gripper and lay them out to cool. You should hear a series of “plinks” as they beging to cool and the tops depress, forming the seal. Check all of your jars as they cool to make sure the tops have depressed. Any that don’t seal properly should be refrigerated and used within a day or two.

boiling tomato sauce cans to seal them during canning process

Finally, thought it’s torture to wait, put all the jars aside for about 2 weeks and check the lids daily to make sure they are ok. If none burst after a couple of weeks, your seals should be safe and adequate and you can feel free to enjoy!

freshly canned plum tomatoes

Coming up during tomato week…
We’ll pop open a few jars, make a basic pasta sauce and try out one of my all time favorite splurges!