The Herb Clothesline

I grow a lot of herbs in my garden, and one of the ways I preserve them for winter use is by drying. Last summer I dried most of my herbs quickly in an electric dehydrator. While this did work, it wasn’t really necessary. Most herbs (maybe all) will air dry quite nicely without the use of any machinery or electricity.

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about hanging bundles of drying herbs from the rafters of her home in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass”. I love that image of herbs hanging from the rafters. It feels very beautiful and romantic. For months I daydreamed about how I wish I had rafters in my home, so I could hang herbs from them. I thought about retrofitting some rafters. Then I thought about getting another job so I could afford to retrofit rafters, and then I thought about what would happen to my farm and my quality of life if I did that… no thanks. When the idea finally occurred to me it was painfully simple. Build another clothesline!

Thus the herb clothesline was born, the third in a series of special purpose indoor clotheslines I have built in the past year or so. For the cost of three nails and a few feet of cotton clothesline rope (all of which I had on hand, leftover from other projects) I now have an elegant and energy-free herb drying system.

The Details

I installed this clothesline in the wall studs, but as close to the ceiling as possible. This is so that the herbs will hang high above heads and also above windows, so they’ll be out of direct sunlight. Into three separate studs, I hammered a nail half way in, and knotted the rope onto the protruding part of the nail. A screw would work just as well or better than the nails, but I was out of screws when I made this project. This knot system will allow me to tighten the rope later when it slackens, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I had pierced the rope with the nails.

To hang the herbs, first bundle them together with a rubber band. Then, depending on how careful you want to be, tie them to the clothesline with a piece of string, secure them with a clothespin, or split the bundle and straddle it over the line. My nature is to be careful so I went with string + clothespin.

I think it’s lovely, and my herbs have been drying very well so far.

herb drying clothesline

Just for fun, here are pictures of my other clothesline projects:

This is my patio bistro indoor clothesline. This was the first one I built, and it’s actually for clothes. It doesn’t hold a full load of laundry, but it’s perfect for air drying special delicate clothes or blankets, or for use in combination with a clothes drying rack. I still aspire to building a big outdoor clothesline like my grandma had someday, but this one was much easier and cheaper to construct.
Kitchen Clothesline
This one is my kitchen clothesline. I use this one to hang my reusable freezer bags, regular ziplock bags that I’ve washed for reuse, plastic wrappers washed and destined for ecobricks, nutmilk bags, and cheesecloths. I wrote a whole article about this clothesline if you’re interested in learning more about it.

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Winter Snow Day Reading List : 5 Favorite Books on Ecology, Botany, and Gardening

This winter started out so mild that I was able to continue my work outdoors with the land through the end of January. But cold weather finally arrived, and my work is now buried under about six inches of beautiful white powder. The garden soil is frozen solid, the mulch pile is buried, and aside from my daily nature walk and a few daily outdoor chores, I find myself spending most of my time inside. The forecast shows nothing but more cold and more snow, so now is a great time to curl up with a warm blanket and a big stack of library books. These are some of my favorite books about plants and gardening and more.

1. “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This book is one of the best things I’ve ever read from any genre. It combines great storytelling, fascinating botany and ecology, deep insight, and beautiful writing into a totally lovable package. The audio book is excellent, read by the author.

2. “The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times” by Carol Deppe. There are a lot of books that discuss growing salad ingredients, but this book will tell you how to garden for real sustenance. People need calories, carbohydrates, and proteins to survive, and this book is phenomenal if you’re interested in venturing beyond the salad garden to begin growing more of your main course fare. It also includes fascinating history and science lessons. I’ve read this book three times, and am planning a fourth.

3. “Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use” by Rosemary Gladstar. I’ve become very interested in herbal medicine over the last few years, and if you are looking to dip your toe into this expansive field of study, this book is an excellent place to start. Rosemary Gladstar is one of the most highly respected herbalists of our time, and many of the herbs mentioned in this book are familiar culinary herbs that are delicious, accessible, and easy to grow.

4. “The New Organic Grower, 3rd Edition: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener, 30th Anniversary Edition” by Eliot Coleman. Wow, this book blew me away! Eliot Coleman is a master organic vegetable farmer, an innovator, and an excellent teacher. I gleaned so many insights, ideas, and tips to improve my own success as a grower from this book. On his advice, I purchased a soil blocking set and I am currently growing all my vegetable and herb transplants using that method. So far, this is the healthiest and best set of transplants I have ever raised. I am eager to try out some of his other advice later in the season.

5. “The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture” by Wendell Berry. This book was originally published in 1977. It gives a detailed account of the history of the industrialization of the American farm system over the past century, and the impacts of those changes on farmers, rural communities, and our country as a whole. I recommend reading the newest edition; additional commentary has been added to cover the four decades of agricultural changes that have occurred since the book was first published. The audio book is narrated by Nick Offerman. Need I say more?

Honorable Mention: “Native Plant Agriculture vol. 1” by Indigenous Landscapes. This is a short book with beautiful photos that shines a light on certain native food plants of the Eastern United States. If you live in this part of the world and are interested in growing more food while also supporting maximum biodiversity and ecosystem health, this book is worth seeking out. On a personal note, I am grateful to Indigenous Landscapes for teaching me the term Native Plant Agriculture. At the time when I first encountered their work, I was midway through planting my wetland restorative food forest, which is entirely composed of native plants, and I had fallen deeply in love with the native food plants of the region. Finally receiving a name to attach to the work I was engaged in doing made available new information, resources, and connections that I might not have found otherwise.

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Tiny Root Cellars

I keep a detailed garden journal, and I’ve used the same notebook for years. In the back of the notebook, I maintain space for a list of ideas that I think I might try someday. One such note caught my eye this year. The note reads: “Makeshift root cellar- bury a 5 gallon bucket up to its rim. Fill with carrots, top with plastic, cover with hay.” Unfortunately, past me did not leave a citation, so I can’t trace the lineage of this idea and provide proper attribution. But, I think it’s going to work. I have previously enjoyed great success storing carrots packed in buckets of damp sand in an unheated attached garage. I no longer have that garage and I didn’t grow carrots this year, but I did grow a great abundance of sunchokes. I decided to test this idea on them.

I considered a number of factors when deciding where to locate these buckets, as I hope to use them for many years. Digging the hole is not a massive effort, but it is a non-trivial amount of work, and I prefer not to re-do it every year. I wanted a location that would be easy to access, protected from most animal predators, and one that would not reduce my available gardening space during the growing season. I eventually decided to bury them right in the garden, with one bucket between each pair of raised beds. I don’t think the buried bucket will impede passage between beds as long as the lid is on.

A note about buckets. There’s a restaurant chain called Firehouse Subs. If you live near one of these places, you can get a wonderful recycled bucket complete with lid from them. They use 5 gallon plastic buckets to store their pickles, and when the pickles are all eaten, they sell the bucket and the lid for a low price, and you get to rescue a discarded item from the waste stream. Win-win.

All-in-all, I burried four buckets and layered them all full of sunchokes and damp sand. That’s three buckets of sunchokes for eating, and one bucket of sunchokes for replanting in the spring. I look forward to enjoying this healthy, delicious, native plant root vegetable all winter long. As always, I’ll keep detailed notes and let you know how this goes!

One fun perk of this project is that I finally had an excuse to dig below my topsoil and into the subsoil. The subsoil feels just like modeling clay! While I was already digging it to make holes for the buckets, I filled a couple of bags with the clay for use in other projects. Clay subsoil is ideal for mixing the building material known as cob, and I have a few projects in the works that will need plenty of it!

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A Micro-Farm for Microgreens

After a whole summer of planning, testing, number-crunching, and preparing, I’m finally ready to begin offering my first farm crop for sale. It’s November now, our growing season is almost over, and I have no greenhouse. But that’s just fine, because I’m going to be growing this farm crop right inside my kitchen!

Microgreens are one of my all time favorite crops, and I’ve been growing them for years. They take up very little space, require a low-tech setup, and they are ready to harvest within weeks. They’re also very delicious, exceptionally nutritious, and I have never seen them for sale at the grocery store. I usually grow a few trays on my window sills, but I need much more growing space if I want to grow enough to sell. So today I built these shelves to increase my window growing area. This new system will hold 30 trays of microgreens (a tray, for me, is a loaf pan).

How To:

To build these shelves, I used two 1x8x10 boards, and fourteen 15/8 length screws.

I measured the inner width of my windows (16.25″) and cut ten pieces of that length. Your cut length and number of pieces will vary based on the size of your window. These pieces will be the shelves.

I then cut fourteen 1.25″ pieces from the remnant board to serve as supports for the shelves. The number of support pieces you will need is equal to the number of shelves you intend to build that are positioned above the window sill.

The bottom shelf lies flat on the window sill, so it does not need any supports. I chose to do this instead of placing my trays directly on the window sill as protection from any water or stains that may dribble downward.

The higher shelves each rest on top of two support pieces. First, measure from the shelf below to reach a height above the tallest plants you want to grow. I give 13″ of vertical space to taller greens like peas and sunflowers, and 8″ of vertical space to shorter greens like broccoli and cabbage.

Once you find the height of your shelf, make a mark using a grease pencil or chalk. Use a box level or a ruler to make an identical mark on the other side at the same height. Secure one support piece to each side of the window frame along the mark you made with two screws each. Place your board to rest on top, then check to make sure that the shelf is level enough for your purposes.

I chose not to attach my shelf boards to the support pieces. They feel pretty sturdy resting on top, and I think the whole system will be easier to clean and maintain if the shelves are removable. However, if I find that they need to be more securely attached, I can always use an extra screw or two to attach them to the support pieces, or attach extra support pieces above the shelf boards.

Repeat adding additional shelves in this manner until your window is full or you have as much shelf space as your growing needs require.

Growing The Microgreens

I may write my own tutorial on growing microgreens someday, since I’ve been growing them for years now and I have developed my own style over time. But meanwhile, if you’re interested in learning how to grow your own, check your library for Peter Burke’s book “Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening”. That’s the book I used to get started.

And here are photos of some of the delicious microgreens I’ve already grown in my kitchen!

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The Kitchen Clothesline

We really can’t get away from plastic waste, and it hasn’t gotten any easier in the COVID-19 era. When ordering groceries for curbside pickup, there’s no option to skip the plastic shopping bags. And while frozen veggies can help to simplify our increased meal planning and prep work, they all come wrapped in plastic. It’s so important to steward the plastic that enters our lives in a responsible way, which is why I continue to try to limit my plastic consumption when possible, and recycle all the plastic I can’t avoid. A big part of this effort includes ecobricking, because most plastics aren’t recyclable. It also includes washing and reusing things like ziptop bags until they wear out. Rinsing out used plastics is easy, but drying plastic bags for storage or ecobricks is awkward and takes up valuable counter space. Well friends, I finally have the solution! Hang a mini clothesline over the kitchen sink. This is one of the easiest DIY projects. All you need is a couple of eye hooks, maybe a pair of drywall anchors, and a length of string. Add a few clothespins, and you’ve got yourself a state of the art dryer! I love the look of mine, and I think it’s going to be quite the conversation topic whenever I start inviting people into my home again.

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DIY Recycled Seedling Pots

Life on our home planet looks rather alien right now. Our sense of normalcy has been disrupted by the tiniest of creatures. And right now, like many of you, I find myself at home, newly unemployed, and a little shaken. But even with the stock markets in free fall, nature remains a constant and steadying force. Seedlings still grow towards the light. Hens still lay eggs. Flowers still bloom. And seedlings still outgrow their starter pots.

I didn’t plan this project just because of the recession, or because I’m tightening my own budget due to my recent change in income. I’ve been collecting cans for months with this project in mind, and I’m especially glad of that preparation given the current circumstances. But if you don’t have all the materials shown here, that’s ok! Exercise your creative muscles and think about the materials you do have, and what you could make with them. People make planters from juice cartons, milk jugs, origami newspapers, yogurt cups, and pretty much any container imaginable.

My Materials: Potting Mix, Worm Castings, Water, Power Drill, Empty Tin Cans

Step 1: Eat the soup, tomatoes, green beans, or whatever is inside of the can. Ideally, you would do this at your leisure. The point is not to eat 16 cans of whatever in one afternoon so you can make this project.

Step 2: Clean the cans in the dishwasher, or in whatever manner you usually clean your dishes. Smooth the cut edge of the can if it is sharp. I have a fancy can opener that cuts a blunt edge, so I didn’t need to take any further action on these cans. However, you could probably use a metal file or maybe even a sanding block to smooth them. Please be careful not to cut yourself on any sharp edges.

Step 3: Drill holes in the bottom of the cans. It is a good idea to wear protective gear during this step, like a dust mask, eye protection, and gloves. It may also be a good idea to clamp the can in place or brace it against something so it doesn’t run away from you when the drilling begins.

Empty Soup Cans with Drainage Holes Drilled In The Bottom To Be Used As Planters

Step 4: Prepare your planting mix. Start with a neutral substrate, such as peat. Add a small amount of the worm castings if you have them, or whatever fertilizing ingredients you prefer to use on your plants. If you’re using the worm castings, aim for about 2-4 tablespoons per gallon of potting mix. A little goes a long way, and too much can overwhelm your delicate plants. If your potting mix is dry, rehydrate it before moving on to the next step.

Step 5: Plant something in the cans! If you’re planting a seed, then fill the can almost to the top with soil mix. Pack it down gently, and then plant your seed according to the directions on the seed packet. If you’re transplanting a small plant, then start with just enough soil to cushion the plant inside the can. Place the plant inside, and gently fill in soil around the plant. I labeled mine simply with Sharpie on Masking Tape. Another option could be to make these recycled plant markers.

Jalapeno Seedlings Planted Into Recycled Soup Cans

Step 6: Nurture your plant every day. And, enjoy!

Tomato plants growing in recycled tomato can planters

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Operation: Planter Rescue

Many things in life are temporary by nature.  Fresh food spoils, newspapers become irrelevant, and cardboard boxes weaken with use.  For these things, we do our best to take only what we need, and to recycle them into the best possible second life.  But other things were meant to last.  What do we do when one of those things breaks?  Too often, they’re thrown out with the trash or the recycling waste.  New things replace them, packaged in plastic and shipped from overseas.  But what of our old things?  Could they be repaired or re-purposed?  Could they be given a second chance to fulfill their potential?  Many times they can be, and it’s easier than you might think!

Continue reading Operation: Planter Rescue

DIY Recycled Plant Labels

Growing plants from seed is such a hopeful, optimistic thing.  Every year, when I see my first pair of cotyledons, I envision their potential so intensely that I can almost taste the summer’s garden.  Of course, those baby seedlings have a long journey ahead before harvest day comes.  They will battle weather, insects, disease, and hungry herbivores.  If they win all of those battles, only then will I taste the sun-warmed, juicy potential I see in my day-old seedlings.

DIY Plant labels / markers made from recycled soda cans

My first year of gardening, I tried to make plant labels out of popsicle sticks.  At first, it worked well.  But as the weeks went by, water caused the wood to swell and the ink smeared beyond recognition.  I ended up with about a hundred unmarked plants!  I could of course discern the peppers from the broccoli, but I never did sort out all the varieties of tomatoes I had planted.  The next year I purchased plastic plant markers.  They were expensive, but I thought at least I would be able to reuse them.  However, the summer sun baked the plastic until it became weak and brittle, and their broken pieces will probably haunt the local landfill for centuries to come.  Finally I came across this technique of cutting labels out of empty soda cans.  The writing is etched into the metal, so it’s completely permanent.  They are reusable, they can be cleaned in a dishwasher, and ultimately recycled when the garden has no more use for them.  I cut fancy shapes, engraved with decorative designs for my perennials.  When I’m starting dozens (or hundreds) of seeds, I love to make simple rectangular labels.  The creative and useful possibilities are endless!  Best of all this project is:  FREE!  ECO-FRIENDLY! CRAFTY! and PRACTICAL!  A set of beautifully embellished aluminum plant markers could even make a great gift idea for gardeners.
Continue reading DIY Recycled Plant Labels

DIY Plant Stand: How to build a convertible plant stand, potting bench, or boot bench

When I moved into a newly rented house, I had six subtropical trees to fit in my kitchen.  I wanted a storage solution that fit into the space I had, elevated my plants to window height, and had a top bar from which to mount grow lights.  I came up with a sketch for a 2′ x 2′ x 4′ bench with one tall side.  It was easy to build, cost less than a bookcase from Ikea, and looks beautiful in my kitchen.  In the future if I no longer need a potting bench, I can easily convert this to a boot bench with a coat rack by simply installing a few hooks on the top bar and adding some decorative boards to the base.
Continue reading DIY Plant Stand: How to build a convertible plant stand, potting bench, or boot bench

Welcome

This page is a placeholder for what will, one day, become a very informative site for an organic farm.

I am an artist (mostly photography) who is most at home in nature. I used to grow all the fresh produce my family of two could eat, share, and preserve on a large community garden plot.  I am currently gardenless, but every day I tend to a few fruit trees and herbs in containers on my balcony. At this moment, Strawberry Moon Farm is nothing more than scribbles in a notebook, but I’m holding this domain until the day I can make Strawberry Moon a reality.

My goals for the farm are to:
* Grow healthy, organic food using organic self-sustaining practices
* Make fresh, exciting, gourmet specialty crops locally available including native plants and exotics
* Grow a wide variety of culinary and medicinal herbs
* Raise healthy, happy chickens who will provide eggs as long as they are able, and later enjoy sunshine-filled retirement for the rest of their natural lives
* Minimize the use of fuel-powered machinery, relying on physical or renewable energy whenever possible
* Protect natural pollinators and maintain hives of honeybees
* Apply artistic principles to landscape design and create a beautiful natural space to enjoy with friends and family

Until then, stay wild

Founded: 7/23/2013