From Garden to Glass: How To Grow Your Own Cocktail Garden
Starting a cocktail garden is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and enjoy cocktails at the same time. Ditch going to the grocery store, wasting gas and packaging, and opt to grow your own organic garnishes instead.
Planting The Seeds
Don’t have plant containers or peat pots at ready for your seed starts? Egg cartons can be re-purposed as an effective container, just poke holes at the bottom of each egg cell for drainage. Bonus – egg cartons will decompose!
Fill each cell one-half to three-quarters full with potting soil. Create a hole in the center and place a seed inside, then cover with soil. Spray your soil with water daily, keeping it moist. Your seedlings should be kept in a warm light filled location until they begin to sprout – a window sill or balcony will work!
When your seeds have finished sprouting (or you’ve bought ready to plant herbs) it’s time to transfer them to a more permanent pot – or into the ground, if you’ve got the space. Avoid putting mint with other herbs, as it tends to overtake gardens. Sage, thyme, rosemary, and lavender love sun and arid soil, so grow those together. Moisture-loving cilantro and basil can go in the same pot!
When it comes to containers, size matters. If the pots too small, your herbs may become root bound. Too big and they could grow lopsided. Try a two-tiered potted garden to maximize space. To ensure that your herbs grow into beautiful garnishes, make sure they get 6 hours of sunlight a day. Supplement with a grow light in winter months.
Infusing Your Herbs
Your basic herbs (thyme, basil, sage, lemongrass, cilantro) can be used as a garnish or for muddling, but if you want to experiment even more you can do infusions. To infuse a spirit, you’ll need supplies: herbs, spices, or berries of your choice, your preferred distilled spirit, mason jar, and a fine mesh strainer. The final infusion will only be as good as the liquor you start with, so pick something smooth and clean.
Your ingredients will need to be prepared for infusion. Herbs should be rinsed and used whole (stems and all) because it makes straining them out much easier. Dried herbs can be used as well. Wash and leave berries whole. You can cut other fruit in chunks or use the zests of citrus.
Grab your airtight jar and add the ingredients first, then fill it with alcohol. Seal the jar tightly and give it a couple of shakes. Store in a cool, dark place for about 3-5 days, shaking the jar a couple of times each day. More intense flavors will need less time infusing. It’s best to taste test often!
Use a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter to strain the liquor into another clean container. Since you’re not adding any sugar or other ingredients, you can store the finished infusion as you would any other liquor and it will have the same shelf life.
Making Simple Syrups
The name ‘simple’ couldn’t be more accurate, as simple syrups can be made using just two ingredients – sugar and water. While the original is great, infusing it with fresh herbs will add a whole other level of flavor to your cocktails, teas, or whatever else you choose to sweeten.
You’ll need one cup of water, one cup of sugar, and about five sprigs of your preferred herb. Bring your water to a boil, slowly whisking in the sugar until it’s dissolved. Add your herb to the pot and let it boil for 60 seconds. Remove it from heat and let it steep for about half an hour. After cooling, remove your herbs and pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer/cheesecloth, bottle and refrigerate! See? So simple!
Picking Your Plants
Not sure where to start? We’ve put together a few classic cocktails and what you can grow to create them below!
Your container should have at least one large drainage hole. Thyme can tolerate indirect light, which makes it perfect for the kitchen herb garden, but it should receive at least 6 hours of daylight. Cut back overly woody stems on the thyme plant to force fresh new growth. Trim off flowers and dry them for a sachet or use them in tea. You can start using your thyme as soon as the plant has enough foliage. Cut off the stems and rinse them. Thyme is good in a number of cocktails, but the chopped leaves taste great in soups and sauces too.
Raspberries like fertile, well-drained soil, and though they will tolerate shade, you’ll get better results by planting them in a sunny spot. Summer-fruiting plants will need support, but autumn-fruiting plants can do without. Apply a balanced fertilizer and mulch with compost to help keep the roots moist in dry weather. Your raspberries are ready to harvest when they come off the plant with a gentle tug. Once harvested, they don’t keep for long, so use them right away or freeze for later.
Mini Lime Tree
When picking potted citrus, you should go for a variety that won’t outgrow its container. Some companies will ship directly to your door, or you can find a greenhouse that specializes in semi-mature plants. Keep your tree in a very bright room and away from doors that open frequently. Citrus like consistent moisture but allow the plant to completely drain when watering. You might have to play pollinator if your plant is placed indoors so consider an electric pollination tool. Relocate your tree outside during the summer months but don’t let it dry out. Fertilize during the growing season only (from late March thru early August), every two to three weeks.
Minimal care is needed for mint. For indoor plants, be sure to water them regularly to keep the soil evenly moist. Mint benefits from pruning every once in a while. Frequent harvesting is the key to keeping mint plants at their best. Young leaves have more flavor than old ones, and mint can be harvested as soon as it comes up in spring.
Peppers grow well in raised beds, containers, and in-ground gardens. They require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Water immediately after planting, then regularly throughout the season. Aim for a total of 1-2 inches per week (more when it’s hotter). Support each pepper plant with a stake or small tomato cage, to help bear the weight of the fruit once it begins to produce. Harvest your peppers with shears and store in the fridge till you’re ready to make your Bloody Mary.
Cilantro is a short-lived plant so sow seeds every few weeks to keep a fresh steady supply. Cilantro likes bright indirect light but dislikes intense, direct sunlight. The best option for container gardens is morning sun in an east-facing window or a very bright sill that doesn’t get too much direct sun. Cilantro does best in airy, light, fast-draining soil, so use a premium potting mix rather than a garden soil. From the time of sowing seed, cilantro leaves can begin to be harvested in about three to four weeks. When harvesting cut the leaves at the bottom of the plant, and don’t remove too much or it’ll weaken the plant.
Pickled chive blossoms can also be used in Martinis or with bagels and lox! Chives prefer full sun. Soil should be moist, rich, and well-draining. Before planting, incorporate well-composted organic matter. Minimal care is needed for fully grown plants but after the flowers bloom, be sure to remove them so that the seeds aren’t spread throughout your garden.
If you’re growing in a container, use a large pot or container with drainage holes in the bottom. Use a well-draining soil with added organic matter. Plant one tomato plant per pot. Try a bush or dwarf variety when working with a small space. Most cherry tomatoes grow well in pots. Place the pot in a sunny spot with 6 to 8 hours of full sun a day. Keep soil moist. When it’s time to harvest, the perfect tomato for picking will be firm and very red. Never refrigerate fresh tomatoes, it spoils the flavor and texture.
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