Ideas to Make Herb Garden Markers

Ideas to Make Herb Garden Markers

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love herbs and I love making things, especially simple craft projects with immediate gratification. Combining them in the garden makes me happy.

This year, I’m overwhelmed by garden marker ideas. So many choices that I may choose different styles for pots and gardens.

I thought, for this post, I’d let pictures tell the story. Each craft is fairly self-explanatory and different approaches will appeal to different gardeners or different locations.

Corks star twice, first on skewers with names written in permanent marker. And, perhaps more decoratively, on fork tines with my best printing in black ink.

20170511_191210Silverware makes a second appearance with names stamped on flattened spoons. This is perhaps the most time consuming of my efforts. My dad flattened the cutlery in his workshop and I bought the stamping supplies at Joann stores. I’ve also seen them on

Speaking of spoons, last year I painted wooden spoons and printed names on them. Bright red added a festive touch to our patch of kitchen herbs and peppers.


Craft - Spoon markers (14)

20170515_180816And, finally, it felt a bit like cheating, but I stalked the “dollar spot” at Target and found a variety of different options. These chalkboard stakes were among them.

Show us your favorite garden markers – handmade or purchased.

Prepare Garden Soil for Growing

Prepare Garden Soil for Growing

By Kelly Orzel, author, master gardener and owner Bowery Beach Farms

soilTest.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyWhen most gardeners think about their garden, they picture big beautiful blooms or perfectly ripe tomatoes…I think about what’s underneath: Dirt. (Sidenote: I would bottle that scent and wear it if I could!)

But first things first, test your soil. The importance of soil testing cannot be overstated. Most vegetables prefer a pH of 6.5, but without a starting point you won’t know whether you need lime to raise it, or sulfur to reduce it. Your results also tell you which amendments to add if you want to grow brassicas, nightshades or something else. Soil test kits are available at your local extension office and for a nominal fee you’ll get all sorts of helpful information (it’s worth the investment).

Don’t scrimp on soil. I saw it time and again when I worked in the nursery, weekend warriors trying to save a few bucks on inferior soil, while spending huge amounts of money on dahlia tubers, new seeds or bright, colorful annuals and perennials. This ADES (All Dirt Is Equal Syndrome), affects many new (and experienced) gardeners, and can be disastrous in the garden!

soil.compostAmended.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyLet’s dispel soil myth #1 first:  Topsoil is not the answer. “Topsoil” means the dirt was scraped from the top, including troublesome weed seed. It doesn’t indicate if it has organic matter (which you want) or what percent of sand, silt and clay is in the bag. What you really want instead is loam. Loam has just the right balance of soil particles, giving you excellent drainage and improved nutrient and water-holding capacity (yes!). Look at soil bag descriptions and look for something that drains well.

Every year I start with a soil test to determine what my plants are going to need and add accordingly (blood meal for foliage, bonemeal for flowering plants and lime/sulfur to adjust the pH). Just follow the directions on the bag and apply.

A note on digging. Unless you are starting a brand-spanking new bed, DON’T DO IT ! This is soil myth #2: Rototilling mixes your soil. No. It doesn’t. Actually, it breaks apart your soil’s structure and kills the beneficial microbes and worms living in your garden.

soil.Feat.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyInstead, top dress your beds with a few inches of compost and let the earthworms do the work. It’s what they want to do anyway and they’re good at it. They’ll sense that delicious, nutrient-rich compost ladled on top of your garden bed and crawl up, around and down as fast as they can to digest nutrients, leaving castings and distributing nutrients throughout the soil. Why would you want to mess with the natural order of the universe?

For new raised beds, fill them with a 50/50 mixture of garden loam and compost, topping it with a few inches of straight compost. Otherwise, all the same principles for amending and no tilling apply.

Soil myth #3: You need to aerate your soil. Wrong-o. While you want some space in your soil for air, water and roots to tunnel through and reach nutrients, let the soil microbes handle that. This is why good soil structure is so important (remember that mix of sand, silt and clay we talked about?). You don’t want too much sand because that will cause all your water and nutrients to drain away before plants can get a hold of them, and you don’t want too much clay either, which causes root rot. With the right blend of soil particles, earthworms and microbes not only till, but they aerate as well, leaving behind hundreds and thousands of channels as they slide, inch and wiggle their way through your garden.

Osoil.Bed.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographynce your bed has been made (ha!) and planted in, try to avoid stepping on and compacting the soil. Each time you compress the soil, you’re squeezing out all those air channels and suffocating the roots.

As you plant into your beds and notice an increase in earthworms, that means you are doing something right! Earthworms are a sign of healthy, biological activity in your soil. If you don’t see as many worms as you like, you can add casting to help improve the fertility, buy actual earthworms and toss them into the garden or raise your own in a homemade earthworm bin (there’s lots of free plans available online).
Personally, I use drip tape and landscape fabric (rated for 12-15 years) with holes burned into them, and plant directly into these little pockets to help control the weed situation.

BackyardGardenerBook.KellyOrzel.-¬KellyOrzelPhotography 2While most of us hate weeds because they make the garden look sloppy, but they’re extremely dangerous because they steal all that organic matter and water from your plants, and overcrowd your garden. To make it look more aesthetically pleasing you can cover the fabric with wood chips, straw or gravel.

For more information on soil, its amendments and nutrients, compost, as well as everything you can (and can’t) imagine about organic growing and the kitchen garden, pick up a copy of Kelly’s book, The Backyard Gardener, available on Amazon
Barnes+Noble’s or get your signed copy on her site, Bowery Beach Farm.

Kelly.Orzel.BoweryBeachFarmKelly Orzel is an author, girl-farmer, garden speaker, Master Gardener and life-long grower of green things. With more than 20 years of experience and a master’s degree in Horticulture, Kelly’s obsession for plants and flowers has culminated with Bowery Beach Farm in Maine. As a sustainable, organic farmer she specializes in culinary herbs and scented geraniums.  

Aside from dirt, Kelly loves bread and cheese, over-sized sweaters and Jane Austen novels. For more information on Kelly and her garden lectures, contact her here! You can visit her and her farm at

Consider the Ultimate Kitchen Appliance

Consider the Ultimate Kitchen Appliance

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Residential 001In 2001, when my boys were toddlers I read This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow. Considered the mother of the “eat locally” paradigm (other than Alice Waters, of course), the nutrition professor tracked a year of eating locally and organically with the seasons. If she’d been southern California it might have been easy. But she was working with the short growing season on the Hudson River not far from New York City. She was convincing with her experience, made it sound like an adventure. So, to the best of my ability, I pursued a similar lifestyle in Northeast Ohio.

Imagine if I’d had the budget for an Urban Cultivator, a fully automated kitchen garden?  I love kitchen toys and this is the ultimate … a climate-controlled greenhouse that slides under the kitchen counter. Looking a bit like a wine mini-fridge, the fully plumbed appliance makes it possible to have fresh herbs, greens and veggies year ‘round without leaving the kitchen. Think Caprese salad with just-picked basil?! In winter.

I hadn’t heard of the appliance until this year, but the Urban Cultivator has been around almost 20 years. Its precursor was a “box” for growing medicinal cannabis. In an ironic twist, growers wanted a product for kitchen gardens and so a new company was born.

UrbanCultivator_KitchenExample-06Chefs were interested because they could control quality and source expensive, hard-to-find herbs and microgreens, says Tarren Wolfe, company spokesperson.  (No relation to this blogger.) He recommends leaf lettuces, sunflower sprouts, micro-arugula and more. “You can go beyond your everyday, average salad with a far more nutritional product.”

“When you pick something you lose quality and up to 50 percent of nutritional value in 24 hours,” says Wolfe. “With the Urban Cultivator you can do it cheaper and get a tastier, healthier product.”

The mini-greenhouses, which hold up to four flats of plants, are self-contained and self-regulating. They top up watering reservoirs and control heat, light and humidity.  I’d be growing parsley, basil, lemon thyme, mint and so much more if only I had $2,500 to add one to my current kitchen. The restaurant version is much bigger and costs closer to $10,000.

Baby It’s Cold Outside …

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Did you bring herbs into your house for winter? How do they look? It may be discouraging if you’re in Northeast Ohio like I am. But, leggy or slowly fading herbs aren’t your fault.  And, there may be hope. Operative word: “May.”

The indoor herb garden requires extra effort in colder climates, according to Karen Kennedy, education coordinator for The Herb Society of America. By extra effort, she means supplemental light and attentive watering.

Briscoe White, co-founder and head grower at The Growers Exchange, an all-natural, online garden center that specializes in rare and traditional herb plants for culinary, aromatic and medicinal use, says,   “Most herbs require six to eight hours of sunlight per day. We recommend an unobstructed, southwest or east-facing window.”

And, that’s more likely in areas further south.  In growing zones six and seven, winter sunshine can be elusive. In fact, if sun powers the plant’s energy production, imagine reducing that power 78 percent, from nine hours per day in July to roughly two hours per day in January. Not only do days get shorter in Northeast Ohio, actual sun siting dwindles.  Less sunlight means reduced photosynthesis and sun-loving herb plants starve.

rosemary-winterSo, what might look like success in October and November, could fail in January and February. That’s fine, if you have Kennedy’s expectations. “My goal is to keep some herbs alive through the holidays, when I use it most,” she says of rosemary.

Post-holiday success is when modern light sources become important. That’s because traditional incandescent lighting is too hot and lacks the blue rays that plants need to move electrons and produce their own food. Grow lights, most often fluorescent, can supply the right waves.  But, even then the precious light must be within inches of the green, and so the bulbs must be elevated gradually as the plant grows taller.

Over the years I’ve found that bay trees are the most likely herb to survive a Northeast Ohio winter indoors without a grow light, while basil, a hot weather annual, is least likely. Still, with careful coaxing by grow light, Kennedy has nurtured enough basil for a caprese salad in February.

Skeptical of the effort, White suggests buying this gift of summer from a grocer during the snowy, cold winter days. And, Kennedy says it’s unlikely to take root in a pot from the living plug sold at the store. So, keep your expectations low if you decide to try.

White offers tips to help your indoor herb garden succeed

  1. Find a permanent location, somewhere away from hustle and bustle of socializing, kids, and pets. Moving plants often can unsettle their soil and root structure, and weaken them.

  2. Locate away from cold drafts or hot air vents. Avoid dry air by either misting plants regularly or by filling the drainage tray with pebbles and adding water.

  3. Move plants into a brighter window if top growth gets leggy and thin. If you can’t, then pinch the ends to encourage bushier growth.

  4. Turn herb plants regularly so that all sides are evenly exposed to light.

  5. Clean tops and bottoms of leaves with a damp cloth to remove unwanted dust buildup or insect eggs that may hinder health.

  6. Remove pests with a mild soap solution. For a difficult infestation, try an all-natural pesticide or fungicide.

  7. Water with a weak but regular application of soluble fertilizer, but not if dormant. Too much fertilizer will decrease oil production. That means less flavor and aroma.

Don’t restrict yourself to nurturing last year’s plants to keep summer alive throughout the year. You can treat yourself to a pot from the Grower’s Exchange and enjoy it while it lasts. Many herbs can be started indoors in winter and transplanted outdoors in spring. Get seed catalogs and start dreaming.

Herb Garden Springs from Grandma’s Legacy

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

After a four-week hiatus, I’m refreshed and re-energized. Before I launch into herb-centric posts, I’d like to share my reflection on an intense, emotional week.

grandma-with-d2We buried my grandmother this week. She would have been 98 in a three weeks. It was her time to pass, though we earthbound spirits were sad to see her go.

She gave birth to 12 kids and raised 11. I was one of 23 grandchildren and gave her two of her 23 great grandchildren. Her family lived on my grandpa’s income as a coal miner and road crew, supplemented by their small sustainability farm – from fruits and vegetables to livestock and hunting. By living simply and close to the earth they paid off their four-bedroom farmhouse, avoided debt and managed to save enough for her to live and die in her own home.

This wasn’t a fashionable hipster lifestyle choice. It’s what they did to survive; and they did it well.

In her humble, God-fearing ways she was a role model for many outside the family, though I suspect our large, extended family is related to everyone in Northern Cambria County, Pennsylvania.

grandma-as-a-young-womanI can’t even imagine the changes she saw in nine decades of life. One time she told me she felt as though we’d jumped from the horse and buggy to the airplane without pause. Think about the speed of change from 1918 to the mid-1980s when she said that and you can understand why she’d felt overwhelmed. I can’t even imagine the technological shocks of the new millennium.

Her passing makes me reflective. My favorite memories of her involve food. Her gardens. Her fruit trees and bushes. Her kitchen. Her table.  Her homemade bread, chocolate cookies, apple pies. Her shelves of canned goods in the cellar.

She showed me that food is a journey as well as a destination. She showed me that the table is the altar of family. Because of her, gardening is part of my DNA.  And, that is why my herb garden has been so precious to me.

Thank you grandma Rita C. Wolfe. Rest in Peace. I love you.


Who has inspired your gardening journey? I’d love to know.


No Erasing the Edible, Herbal Pencil

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Watering the pencilsOnce a day I journal my thoughts in a pale green steno notebook. I use well-sharpened pencils because I like the tactile experience of laying down thin lines of graphite. Pencils move more slowly than ink pens and don’t leave sloppy ink blobs when I pause to think.

At one point an advisor recommended adding color to my journal. So I bought expensive colored pencils … using black for ordinary thoughts, red for heartwarming musings and blue for cloudy entries. Sometimes I change color by paragraph. I believe it nurtures my creativity. My then-15-year-old son liked my colors and now I can’t find those pencils.

I’m pleased that he took them. I needed an excuse for a new set. And, not just any set. HSA Executive Director Katrinka Morgan turned me on to the Sprout pencil. This is one writing implement you don’t want to chew on. At least not right away.  The innovator of the pencil replaced the eraser at the top of the pencil with a special seed capsule. Herb offerings include basil, calendula, cilantro, lavender, mint sage and thyme.

Sprout pencilThese are available standard or colored lead. Color assignments include the following. Additional colors grow vegetables and flowers.

  • Basil – green
  • Calendula- yellow
  • Cilantro – purple
  • Lavender – light blue
  • Mint – brown
  • Sage – periwinkle
  • Thyme – light purple

When the Sprout Pencil becomes too short to write with, stick it – at an angle – into dirt and for reincarnation as an edible. The company has chosen plant varieties that germinate in one to three weeks. Most can be grown both indoors and outdoors. In areas with temperate climates, they should be planted in summer so they get enough light.

Marketed by a company in Denmark, more than 450,000 pencils are sold each month. Among their fans are the Vatican and the French government.  HSA will be selling packs of colored pencils at its Annual Meeting on April 29, 2016, in Asheville, NC. They can also be found on

“Sprout is all about sustainability and is a response to the increasing use-and-chuck-away culture. Our pencils get a new lease of life when they have finished serving their primary function. We are witnessing an increasing desire in companies and organizations throughout the world to signal a greener, more sustainable profile. In that respect, one can safely say that Sprout has perfectly captured the spirit of the age,” says Sprout’s founder Michael Stausholm.

“One of the major strengths of Sprout pencils is their capacity to pull such a complex issue as sustainability down to earth. One of our important tasks is to make sustainability pragmatic and comprehensible – but, most of all, fun. Our plant-able pencils and paper are perfect for spotlighting the reuse of the Earth’s resources. We’re talking micro level, but we’ve all got to start somewhere.”

When I’m done journaling with a Sprout pencil, I’ll feel good on many levels.

How would you use Sprout pencils?


What is Sustainable Seed & Why We Care

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America



Theo Bill, V.P., Sustainable Seed Co


Waiting for my big toe to heal from joint replacement, I spent a little (maybe, a lot) of time armchair gardening. That’s how I stumbled on the Sustainable Seed Company.


The family-owned company offers more than 1,875 varieties of organic and heirloom seeds, including 10 types of basil.I’m ordering the complete basil collection, but only a few of the 300 varieties of tomatoes.

I chose Sustainable Seed Company after quizzing Theo Bill, Vice President, about the meaning of “organic” seeds. It sounds responsible, but what does it really mean? In his words …

What is “organic” seed?
“Organic seed” technically means untreated or organic seeds that were planted, grown and harvested in an organically approved system.  That means no GMOs, no overt pesticide or herbicide usage, and adherence to other National Organic Program rules.  The “Spirit” of organic seed though is much broader – it covers the health of the soil, pollinators, water conservation, runoff issues, and more.

How is organic seed different?USDA organic

Organic seed is grown in an organic method, so it becomes accustomed to organic growing
conditions. Conventional seed, for example, is often grown using a great deal of herbicides and pesticides.  Organic plants don’t use the same kinds of chemicals and have to be hand-weeded or out-compete the weeds to thrive.  They receive more natural fertilizer (often manures or natural minerals instead of anhydrous ammonia or other conventional fertilizer).

Unfortunately, more intensive manual labor and higher input costs, result in higher production costs. That means organic seed often costs more.  However, you are buying a higher quality seed which is more weed-resistant and less reliant on herbicides and pesticides.

Why is organic seed better?
That depends on how you want to grow your plants, and what kind of inputs (including weeding) you’ll be using.

What are the most popular herb seeds sold by Sustainable Seed Co.?Sustainable seed rosemary
Lavender would be our most popular followed by basil and rosemary.

What herb grows best from seed? What herb is the toughest to start from seed?
The easiest would be cilantro. The most difficult is probably rosemary.

What tips would you give for growing herbs from seed?
For Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, lavender, etc.) add clean sand to the soil mix for better drainage.

Thank you, Mr. Bill.

From Sustainable Seed Co. — Discovering “new” heirloom seeds is one of our passions, and we would love to hear from anyone who is growing heirloom seeds that have been passed down for generations. We hope to preserve this part of history and believe that, with the continuing encroachment from large producers of hybrid and GMO seeds, companies like ours, along with our customers, may be a crucial link to saving the future of food.