Sarah’s Kitchen Gardens

growing a bay tree: 6 tips

bay tree leaves lewis collard

Of all the herbs and spices I use in my soup, Bay is the one whose absence is most strongly felt if I happen to forget it. And it’s the only one I don’t grow myself (yet). Why? Because it’s a tree. A warmer-climate tree.


I’ve been wishing for a Bay tree, though. One in a pot that I can bring indoors for winter. Since I’ve been reading up on the topic, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.


1. Bay is slow-growing. Patience is required for germination: it could take up to 6 months, according to one source. (WHAT?!!) Once it’s germinated there’s the waiting for it to grow large enough to actually harvest from (years). On the plus side, it can live in the same pot for 5 years at a time!


2. Bay actually likes living in a pot. This is good news for me, since that’s the only way I’ll actually be able to have my own tree. There are cautions against using terracotta pots, though, which I’m assuming is due to evaporation of water since the next sentence from that source is about using a good water-retentive potting soil.


3. Bay is not picky about soil. Again, great news. I’ll be using organic potting soil with well-rotted manure added. Nice to know I don’t have to do any pH tests on the soil to make sure I’m within a narrow range. Bay can handle a pH of 4.5-8.3. Suggested nutrition includes fish emulsion fertilizer, and kelp. Another source recommends replacing the top layer of potting soil with fresh compost every year.


4. Bay likes to be kept warm during the germination process. There’s disagreement between sources about the right temperature range. If I include them all, the range is 10-21 degrees C!! More research needed here, but my gut says the warmer end will win. 10 degrees? Really? For a warmth-loving plant?


5. Bay needs humidity. Dry air in winter can cause the leaves to drop off. Misting with a spray bottle can help prevent this.


6. Bay used in cooking has the latin name Laurus nobilis. Any other type is not for eating.


Lots to plan for, if my Bay tree is going to grow successfully! I was hoping to grow little Bay seedlings and sell them this spring, but now I think there’s not enough time. And, possibly, I could easily fail in my efforts to actually germinate them. We’ll see how it goes. If I can pull it off, you’ll be the second to know. (Facebook is always first to know the exciting stuff. Join the group. Or like the page.)


Would you buy a Bay sapling next year, if I’m successful? Let me know.


Also: I will be emailing my posts from now on. If you’d like to know what else I’m researching or learning by doing, please sign up to receive the emails. If you know someone else who might like to join the email list, please share it with them. My plan is to post something every week, maybe even up to 3x depending on how the week is going. Lofty goals, I know. Feel free to poke me if I’m inactive.


Join the garden club for more conversation about plants! Everyone is welcome in this group.



More about Bay:


There are plenty more tips on the sites where this information came from.

The Herb Gardener


photo credit: Lewis Collard




andrew leading workshop selection

Our family had a great time this morning at the Freeschool event in Erin, run by the Transition Erin group. They are a chapter of the larger Transition Town movement that emphasizes local food and an independence from fossil fuel as much as possible. I presented an ‘organic gardening overview’ as part of the virtual space workshops event. More on virtual space here.
I’m putting my whole workshop online, for those who missed it and for those who might want to refer back to it.
Here’s the slideshow from the workshop:
OGO freeschool ppt
And here’s a white paper, 1 page PDF that contains all the same information plus more detail about the topics in the slideshow:
OGO notes
Enjoy! Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. There’s a contact form here on the website, which sends your questions and comments right to my email.
AND – please join the Kitchen Garden Club – by SKG facebook page for more community support! There are lots of experienced gardeners and people who are willing to help out with questions and who will celebrate with you about anything related to gardening. Please join us!


greenhouse tour

Since the greenhouse is officially full today, I thought I’d post a few pictures to show how things are coming along. For those who are interested.

black hungarian peppers

Pepper seedlings. The ones in the foreground are Black Hungarian Hot Peppers, which is why they have purple leaves. They are beautiful plants and could easily be added to a front flower bed. The dark green foliage is tinged with purple, and they have purple stems. And black-purple peppers until they ripen to red. Black Hungarian Peppers are similar in heat factor to Jalapenos but they have a more mellow flavour. I really like them, and so do the people who asked me to grow them again this year!


Cilantro. Love it or hate it, I think it’s cute how some of the plants are still holding on to their seed coats!

lime basil

Most have heard of Lemon Basil. Have you heard of Lime Basil? I thought I better give it a try, since Lemon Basil is one of my favourite herbs.

brassica seedlings

Brassicas. I think these are kale, kale, and more kale. Curly Kale, Dinosaur Kale, and Red Russian Kale to be more precise. Lots of people like to grow it and hide it in their family’s food, so I’m doing my part. 🙂


Pretty little Sage plant. It’s a perennial, so you shouldn’t need to buy it more than once. It will flower in the second year, and every year after. Beautiful purple-blue flowers that are also edible. My kids like to suck the nectar out of them.

tomato seedlings

A very small fraction of the tomato seedlings currently in my care. The ones in the foreground are a new cherry tomato I’m trying this year: ‘Snow White’.


German Chamomile. Tea for you or your little seedlings – or both! I’m not a fan of the flavour myself but I use the flowers to brew a tea for my seedlings. Helps prevent damping-off, a fungal disease that kills seedlings when they’re tiny.


Dill. Homegrown pickles…. m.

seedling seedlings

These are my daughter’s trays. I just bust with momma pride every time I look at them! Quite the little seedling-lover I have on my hands. It’s also special because she found seeds that her Great-Grandma had purchased but never used (she’s passed on now) and planted them in one of the trays.

lemon thyme

Another thing that makes me smile in the greenhouse. This Lemon Thyme was a gift from my nephew last spring. I was so worried that it wouldn’t make it through the winter, but a combination of greenhouse and some dormant time in the cold cellar worked ok.


I hope you enjoyed the tour! Have you started seedlings indoors? How are they coming along? Please feel free to share and chat on the Facebook page. ‘Tis the season to get revved up for gardening again.




start seeds indoors

tomato seedlings under lights

The info sheet included with this post will tell you how and when to start your own seeds indoors. Starting your own seeds gives you access to many different weird and wonderful varieties of plants. You may have to experiment a bit to find out exactly how things work best in your home, but this will get you started in the right direction. And as always, please ask if you have any questions!


Kitchen Garden Club – by SKG‘ is a Facebook group designed to bring together people who are growing food. Ask questions, share your success stories and photos, or just watch. It’s a good group of people and it would be great to have you join. All are welcome. Just click ‘join’ and you’re in.


Here’s the PDF info sheet about starting seeds indoors:


start seeds indoors


Happy planting!


spring scavenger hunt

walking onions

Today is the first day of spring! I took pics of what’s coming up in my garden, so this post will be full of them. Above are ‘walking onions’, also known as winter onions because they can be planted in the fall like garlic. Yet another name for them is ‘Egyptian onions’. They are cool because they form heads of little onion bulbs on a stiff middle stalk. And sometimes from there you get more stalks growing more bulbs… and so on…. they are fun to watch.


This is probably a familiar sight, although a little early this year: chives are quite tall already!


Oregano. This is not the only clump. It’s taking over my front garden.


Sorrel. Tangy sour leaves that I still haven’t exactly figured out what to do with. I’ve been told it’s great in soup. I guess I’ll have to try that soon! The leaves taste best when they’re young.


Tiny little rhubarb leaf! I can’t imagine having a yard without a patch of rhubarb in it. It’s not my favourite food, and I really don’t do much with it, but it just needs to be there. It’s like the stuffed animals I have. They stick around for sentimental reasons, not practical ones. Plus it’s fun to watch the kids taste it again every spring!


Thyme, coming along. Quickly, I hope. I’m almost out of the dried thyme I saved last fall! This is a super easy one to save for winter, if you want to try drying your own but are unsure of the process. It’s a plant that is already almost dry! In the fall just bundle stems together and hang upside down to dry. It’s that easy. Not all herbs can handle that kind of drying, but thyme does well with it.


Lavender grown from seeds pinched from my Grandma’s lavender plant. Grandma isn’t with us anymore but she left her gardening legacy in her grandkids. She is the same grandma from this previous post.


Horseradish. You can tell by the dead stalks around the shoots that these leaves will be HUGE when they are full size. They are massive leafy plants that send up flower stalks that are so delicate it almost seems like they don’t match. Plus, the scent of the flowers is so beautiful! You’d never know it was horseradish if you just had a stem of flowers in a vase.


 Happy spring! I hope you get to enjoy the sunshine.

making princess sauerkraut

princess sauerkraut

This is delicious. Sweet and sour, freshly fermented and crunchy cabbage. And it’s pink. Hence the name. We have a lot of girls in our household, so the word ‘princess’ is often used as an adjective. As in, ‘princess cauliflower’ (dyed pink from beets), ‘princess rice’ (same), ‘princess soup’ (my attempt to copy my mother-in-law’s borscht), and my new favourite, ‘princess sauerkraut’ (a head of red cabbage made its way into the crock).

I documented my first attempt at making sauerkraut in a large crock, just in case it turned out…. and it did! Many thanks to my Grandma for giving me her very heavy 5-gallon-or-so crock.

So anyway, the first thing I do is buy a container of balkan-style yogurt. The purest one, with bacterial cultures and 6% fat. Then I suspend it in a fabric in a jar, so all the whey drips out. This whey helps seed the bacteria. You could also use goat if you have cow dairy allergies. I have a container of goat yogurt in my fridge, waiting for the next batch, just to try it out. What’s left in the cloth works well as a stiff sour cream.

separating whey


Once that’s been sitting for a day you’ll have lots of whey. What’s in the photo is what I’ve used for 3-4 heads of cabbage plus other stuff. There’s really no exact recipe here…. but the princess sauerkraut contains 2 green cabbages, 1 red cabbage, 3 large carrots, and a bunch of radishes.

I use my food processor to shred the veggies, then put them in the crock.

cabbage in the crock

Between each head of cabbage, I sprinkle about a tablespoon or a bit more of salt. Don’t use iodized salt. Sea salt works well, or the pink rock salt (princess household, I tell you…) works well.

And… mix it up.

mixing up the kraut

The salt works to release water from the cabbage, which is what a good batch of sauerkraut needs. Everything under the juices stays well-preserved, even if there’s mold growing on the surface (although I don’t leave mine that long, I could if I wanted to). I help the process by mixing, punching it down, squeezing it in my hands, and pressing down. In the next photo you can see how nicely the juices have started coming up.

kraut juice

To keep it under the water, I put cabbage leaves around the outside edges and a plate in the middle.

plate in the crock

And a big jar full of water on top of the plate to weigh it down.

weight on plate in the crock

And covered it to protect from RFCs.*

crock cover

Then: the waiting. 5 days of waiting. Checking every day to make sure the water level was above the cabbage level. Sometimes a few times. Smelling it, making sure it smelled right. Trust me, if it goes bad, you know. It smelled good and sour the whole time, and made my mouth water waiting for it.

I thought 5 days was good enough and decided to taste test.

sauerkraut testing

It was delicious, so I put it in jars and into the fridge. Yum!


Not long after (maybe an hour or so?), the crock looked like this:

spicy kraut

SPICY kraut!!! 4 green cabbages, 3 lbs carrots, 2 bags radishes, 1 chunk of ginger, 4 jalapenos and 4 chili peppers. Plus whey and salt. Oh baby. It is good. (It’s now in my fridge too.) I would add more hot peppers next time though.


*RFC: Random Flying Contaminant. You never know when your 7-year-old is going to sneeze up long-distance gobs. And 9-year-olds doing dishes tend to create projectile suds somehow. And when hubby clips fingernails in the kitchen…. well…. you get the idea….


super simple hot sauce

hot peppers

I am so lucky to have amazingly gifted women friends. One of them saw all my hot peppers sitting in a pile yesterday and said, ‘You know you can make hot sauce, it’s really easy.’ Then proceeded to give me a simple, tweakable, make-it-your-own type recipe. I hesitate to even call it a recipe, because it’s really what you make it. I decided to take the easiest route since I’m running out of time this week. Tomorrow I will be at the Greenhouse Growers’ Conference, and after that I have a very busy and full weekend. So, I got chopping right away. The pile consisted of Jalapeno, Black Hungarian Hot, Cayenne, and Fish Peppers.

chopping hot peppers

I basically cut most of them into 4 pieces. 2 if they were smaller than jalapenos. Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin or are prone to forgetting that you were chopping hot peppers and often rub your eyes. No kidding, the sting does hang around for a day or two if you’re not careful how you handle them. I don’t really like gloves so I have a system: I only touch the peppers with my left hand. My right hand holds the knife and scratches my nose if it itches. Later, I need to remember not to touch my face with my left hand. Usually I can remember, but not always. Eyeballs don’t appreciate hot pepper juice at all. And my skin is so sensitive, even after washing my hands it will still tingle if I touch something with my hot pepper hand. And my hand will sting for a day too, depending on the scoville units of the pepper. So consider yourself warned.

hot peppers in a pot

Put all the chopped peppers in a pot with 2 cups of water and 2 cups of vinegar. The vinegar/water mixture should just cover the peppers, so adjust accordingly depending on how much of each you have. This amount worked well for me, and I had maybe 5 cups of hot peppers?? Or so. I didn’t actually measure. And, you’ll notice, I didn’t actually seed them. Just left all the seeds in. Hey, I’m making hot sauce. It’s supposed to burn, right? Well. If you like flavour and can do without the extra heat, pull out all the seeds too. This is the point where my left hot pepper hand usually starts to burn. It helps if you use a spoon (right hand) to scrape them out.

You can also add some garlic cloves or onions and other spices too – what flavours do you like in a hot sauce? Throw it in!

Once you’ve got them all in the pot, turn on your range fan and put them on the stove to boil. Once they’re boiling, though, turn it down to the point where it just simmers. Leave them there for at least an hour. More is ok too. You’ll want a lid on that mother, because holy cow does it ever burn your throat if you breathe in that steam. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT lean over the pot. EVER. Your throat will close and burn and you will be thrown into a wild coughing fit that leaves you running out into the back yard gasping for air.

When they’ve simmered to your liking, turn off the burner and leave the pot to sit on the stove all night.

cooked hot peppers in a pot

In the morning you will be treated to the cheerfully delicious smell of pickled hot peppers.

blending hot peppers in a pot

They will be cooled, which is how you want them for now. Blend them using whichever method works for you. The immersion blender method was slightly terrifying for me, since the mixture was fairly shallow. There were hot pepper bits flying out of the pot. I ended up using the lid as a shield and almost ran down to the shop in the basement for some safety goggles. If you have one of those blenders with a lid, you might want to use that even though there are some extra steps involved.

blended hot sauce in a pot

You control consistency. I blended until it was mostly smooth but there are still a few little wee chunks. And seeds.

sterilizing glass jars

Get all your canning stuff ready if you want to preserve your hot sauce.

warming up hot sauce

Heat up the hot sauce, bringing it up to a boil, but be careful of splatters. It’s much more likely to splatter once it’s been blended. Find your inner knight and wield that lid like a shield. Or grab your goo goo goggles from the basement. Either way. Let the sauce stay warm until all your jars are ready for filling. Fill them, process them, and store them! Hopefully you’ll be left with a good amount of sauce that won’t fit nicely into a jar. Keep that in the fridge and apply liberally to whatever your heart desires.

jars of hot sauce

Be careful during cleanup – that stuff is powerful. It may look like tomato sauce, but it’s killer.

share the garden love

share the garden loveThis is what I’m all about. I want everybody to feel the joy of growing food just like I do. Sarah’s Kitchen Gardens is really more a hobby that helps pay for itself than a business.

When I had these t-shirts printed for myself and a few friends who were helping out with the business, I got lots of comments about how sweet they were and people wondering if I was going to sell them.

So I’m throwing this out there, wondering how many would order one. I would charge $20 per shirt. You can email me to let me know your size and I will make sure you get what you need.

Let me know!

sarahskitchengardens @ gmail . com


hanging food to dry

I planted a few sunflower seedlings, but somehow only ended up with one big sunflower head for seeds. I think there may have been squirrels involved, because one of the stems looks like it was chewed off at one point (before they became like tree trunks). The plants did fairly well, though, tucked between the greenhouse and the neighbour’s fence. Fairly sunny if you considered how the light could actually pass through the greenhouse. And the flowers are so tall they can reach the sun anyway. They were tall and spindly at first, but filled out as the season progressed. I actually forgot about them most of the time. It was a pleasant surprise to find the largest sunflower head I’ve ever seen! It was planted in the former location of our rabbit hutch and, I have to say, that rabbit manure sure works well. With the frost coming, I thought it might be best to take the seed head indoors to continue ripening away from potential seed-stealers in my backyard. We’ve got quite the selection of birds and squirrels who would love to take care of our seeds I’m sure.

Before I brought it in, I cut a stem about 2 feet long or so, and scraped off all the dead flower bits from the seeds. You can see in the photo, I’ve done a bit of it already. This was to prevent all those bits from littering my living room floor. Once it was all cleaned off, with seeds still embedded in the seed head, I brought it indoors and hung it up with all the hot peppers I’ve had up for a few weeks.

hanging sunflower head

I will leave it here for a few weeks, most likely. Until they’re dry and rattle a bit.


paprikaI’m really happy with the way my hot peppers and paprika have ripened indoors. Back when frost was threatening, I pulled up many of the hot pepper plants in the garden (and paprika, which is a sweet pepper) and brought them indoors to continue ripening. I basically shook the dirt off the roots (outside) and when I brought them in I covered the roots with plastic bags. This was mainly as a precaution to keep my living room from turning into a filthy mess. Once the bags were on the roots (taped on with duct tape, of course) I hung them upside down in staggered lengths so they could continue ripening.

I have to say this is working really well. The large round paprika peppers you see in the photo were all pale yellow when I brought them in. Now they are red and ready for me to dry them and grind them into paprika! All the hot peppers have done really well too, although some are starting to dry right on the plant. For me this is ok, because I was going to dry them anyway.

So, if you are worried about frost because you still have unripe peppers on your pepper plants, pull them up by the roots, shake off the soil, and hang them upside down somewhere. If you don’t want to bother covering the roots you can always find a basement corner for them. Although they would probably appreciate warmth better than a slightly chilled basement.

You can also overwinter hot peppers in pots, keeping them alive indoors until spring.

See this post about overwintering hot peppers.


lazy potato harvest

home grown potatoes

You may recall the lazy potato post, where I described my not-yet-tried method of growing potatoes in a box with some straw. It was something new to try, since I had been gifted some potatoes and wasn’t sure where to put them. I also hadn’t rototilled this year, so my soil was not very fluffy. Any root veggie should have the fluffiest soil possible (along with good nutrition of course) and so I didn’t want to just dig a hole and bury them.

So I have a few comments for myself for next year, and I thought I would share them with you as well.

1. Plant earlier (right after last spring frost date), so they have more time to grow larger. Mine were on the small side.

2. Maybe add a bit of soil/compost in with the straw, to help retain moisture. This summer was very dry in parts and I mostly forgot about watering them.

3. Water them when it’s dry out; potatoes like even moisture.

4. Try again next year, using this method as well as a few others, just to compare.


I know some people mentioned that they might try this….. do you have any comments to add?