Erin Carlson’s Simple Seed Starting Tips for Beginners

My friend Erin Carlson put together a great seed starting guide for beginners. Now is a great time to get your hands dirty and grow some stuff, whether in pots or in a garden!

Erin has been very helpful with advice for getting our garden going at our new house and we’ve shared seeds for the past couple years. And she makes very cool fiber art! If you don’t follow her, you should.

Check out Erin’s guide here in her Instagram stories.

Harvesting and Drying Sage

We had a lot of sage in our garden plot this year. Despite regular use all season, we had quite a bit left before the first frost. We decided to dry it and grind it up for the herb rack, which we’d never done before.

Here is one of the many sprigs we picked:

Step 1: Remove the leaves from the stems.

Step 2: Rinse off the dirt.

Step 3: Pat the leaves dry with paper towels.

Step 4: Dry the leaves.

We used a dehydrator that I received for Christmas a few years ago. You can also dry them on a cookie sheet in the oven.


After. They lose quite a bit of volume!

Step 5: Turn into powder.

I suppose you could use a spice grinder for this step, but we don’t have one, and I don’t want my coffee tasting like sage for the next week, so I’m not using my coffee grinder. Amanda had the idea to grate it against a mesh strainer, which worked great!

After about 20 minutes of patient grating by Amanda, we had quite a bit of sage powder:

Tips for Canning Tomatoes

Amanda and I canned two varieties of tomatoes from our small garden for the first time. Someone stole them all last year and we didn’t get many the year before):

We also canned some beautiful heirlooms from our Peace and Carrots Farm CSA.

This was our first time canning tomatoes and here is what we learned:

  1. Tomatoes can be canned via the water bath method as long as you acidify them. We used 1/4 tsp of citric acid per pint.
  2. We use whole canned tomatoes much more than we use paste or crushed tomatoes, so we canned all of ours whole.
  3. We opted to put them in pints because most of the dishes I use canned tomatoes for take either 1 or 2 pints.
  4. All of the San Marzano tomatoes in our cabinet had salt and a basil leaf added, so we mimicked that and added those things to ours, too. We have basil growing right here in our apartment, so it worked well.
  5. The best way to peel tomatoes is to cut a small X in the bottom with a knife (doesn’t need to be deep, just break the skin), drop them in a pot of boiling water for 45 seconds or until the skin starts to peel away on its own, then fish them out and put them in an ice bath until they are cool enough to handle. The skin should peel right off easily.
  6. The funnel included with the AeroPress doubles as an excellent canning funnel.
  7. You can tightly pack tomatoes down into a jar and they will create their own liquid as you squeeze them in. You shouldn’t need to add any.
  8. Jar lifters are a must. You WILL burn yourself if you try to MacGyver a solution like I did. They are only $5 and very useful. Get one.

We got 8 pints this year! We know it isn’t a lot, but we are pleased to have gotten so many out of our small garden. We’ll savor each and every one of them this winter.

Using Garlic Scapes

If you planted your garlic late last fall before the first frost, you are probably ready to harvest the scapes–the twisty little pointy part growing on the stalk from the middle of the leaves. Scapes are the flower stalks of the garlic plant, though garlic doesn’t produce actual flowers. 

We cut them off early in the season so that the plan uses its energy in growing large bulbs instead. Also, earlier cuts have milder flavors. The flavor of the scapes get stronger and more harsh the longer they grow. 

Instead of throwing them out, here are five ways you can use them:

  1. Slice them up like regular garlic. The flavor isn’t as strong as regular garlic, but it is still there, so you can slice up the scapes and include them in any dish that you want garlic in. Or, since the flavor is mild, you can cut them in larger segments and use them like you would use green onions in a salad. 
  2. Add them to aioli. Garlicky aioli is a wonderful dip/spread. Use some garlic scapes in place of garlic cloves. The final mixture will be pale green. 
  3. Make a pesto. This is a great addition to a homemade pizza
  4. Pickle them. Cut them into 2in segments and use your favorite vinegar pickle brine
  5. Add them to scrambled eggs (1/8-1/4in segments) or to omelettes (1/2-1in segments). Sauté them in a little butter first to soften them up, then add them to your eggs. They add a wonderful mild garlic flavor to your breakfast. We like adding salt, pepper, and grated pecorino. 

I used one in scrambled eggs right after I picked ours:

We’re probably going to use the rest of ours in omelettes. How do you like using garlic scapes? Let me know in the comments!