One of the many ways I’ve found to save money on meals, is growing herbs at home. Spending three dollars on a clam shell of pre-cut “fresh” herbs that usually only make up a tablespoon or two per recipe, is I’m sorry just frustrating! I’m talking to you American grocery stores. Especially since pre-cut clam shell herbs never seem to last long enough to make it to a second recipe before turning brown. Still you might be wondering, is it really possible to save hundreds even thousands of dollars by growing herbs at home?
Let’s see if I can do a little math to back my claim. Call me on it in the comments below if you disagree or see a calculation that seems off.
Let’s say with weekly meal planning, which I highly recommend doing, three to four herbs are needed a week. Assuming the basics of fresh Basil, Rosemary, Thyme and Oregano, lets take 3.5 as our average. If an herb pack is on average $3 each, that’s $10.5 a week on herbs. With 52 weeks in the year, fresh pre-cut herbs could easily run the home cook over $546 a year.
Now, herbs planted from seeds easily lasts six months. However, someone new to growing herbs at home will likely use starter plants instead seeds because it’s easier. Taken care of properly, starter plants can last three months. Let’s get a bit more extravagant and say in additional to Basil, Rosemary, Thyme and Oregano we add Parsley. That’s on average 4.5 starter plants at $3.99 each, every three months. Rounding up, that’s $18 every three months or around $72 a year for herbs.
In other words, that’s equivalent to spending $474 less a year, just on herbs alone. Sure, deducted from the savings should be planters and soil, but that’s still going to save at least $400 a year for the home cook. Still sound like pennies? Try investing $400 a year instead of spending it. With a 7% return compounded over 20 years, know what you have? $17,546.07. Even for people who cook less frequently, investing just $200 a year with the same 7% return means more than $8,000 over 20 years.
In other words, every parsley counts.
How to Grow Herbs at Home
As someone who loves to cook, growing herbs at home is a necessity when it comes to saving money on meals. I’ll be honest, every plant I tried to grow before herbs died from neglect. My food motivation however, means I can keep plants I can eat alive!
Years after nursing my first starter plant along, I can say with confidence, growing herbs at home is easy enough, anyone can do it! How do I know? If I can grow herbs in a 200 square foot Gramercy Park apartment, anyone can do it. See, look close. On the window sill, see them? Yep, my Manhattan herb garden circa 2010.
4 Tricks to Growing Herbs at Home
- Step 1: Find your pots! Clay is great but get creative. Wood, resin even rust proof metal will do. Just make sure there is drainage for excess water to run out. Root rot in a small space is not ideal.
- Step 2: Buy starter plants. For Gardeners seeds are the way to go; but let’s be honest, Master Gardeners are not reading this?
- Step 3: Re-pot starter plants with potting soil, which is often made with plant food in the mix.
- Step 4: Be consistent. Water and harvest on regular intervals. The hardest part!
How to Care For & Harvest Herbs
Basil is one of the most common and easy to find herb plants. It’s also one of the easiest to harvest incorrectly. Want a big, full, lush basil plant? Resist the urge to pluck fat leaves off the bottom. Doing so forces the stems to grow tall and thin in search of sunlight for the fat bottom leaves. Ideal body shape, not so for basil plants.
I’ve found the most success by pinching basil off just above the second set of leaves sprouting from the stem. Flowers budding on the basil plant mean you’ve waited too long to harvest, pinch those quick!
Each herb is specific in care and harvesting. I recommend checking out an Herb Gardening planner like this one before getting started.
Best Planters for People Who Travel
As Paolo and I started traveling more, I kept coming home to plants with soil drier than the desert we’d returned from. This simply would not do. I began researching and asking family and friends, how they kept plants alive when traveling. The obvious, have someone stay in your place while you’re away. A less obvious way, overwater them a bit and place a beer bottle (washed and rinsed of all beer traces) full of water inverted into the soil. While this worked for short trips, I needed a better solution.
After moving to Jersey City, I finally had a tiny little patio with just the right amount of space and sun exposure to really grow herbs. At a local garden center I found the solution to my quest. Lechuza self-watering planters. I started out with one because these are not cheap. It didn’t take more than a month to convince me though, I ran out and purchased a second one right away.
Now, we can travel for 10 days before I start to worry. Mind you, after a trip, the minute I’m home, I don’t even stop to turn on the lights on or go to the bathroom before I’m watering my thirsty plants. A tad dramatic? Maybe. Then again my little herb garden gives me rewards that compound over time.