Stuck at home? Grow an Israeli herb garden on your balcony

All those homesteaders and doomsday preparers you thought were completely crazy don’t seem so dumb now, do they?

Now that we’re all stuck in some sort of quarantine (bidoud in Hebrew) asking yourself what to do with our new time at home, why not be as efficient as you can and make your balcony, windowsill or backyard bloom with veggies greens and succulent herbs that are, at the end of the day, FREE FOOD?

A balcony-friendly herb garden is an interesting science project at worst, and a lifeline of health-promoting herbs at best.

With Israeli cuisine teeming with fresh herbs, your own culinary garden can also help you take your cooking game up a few notches, even in the simplest dishes.

Here’s how you can create your own balcony / indoor / backyard herb and vegetable garden right now for you and your family.

Israeli herb planter at Galil Mountain Winery. Photo by Jessica Halfin

  1. Turn supermarket waste into gold

Those of you who have scoured the internet all day long may have come across videos that show you how to turn leftover food into plantations.

While previously it might not have piqued your interest, now it seems like a good time to give it a try.

Videos like this one get to the heart of the matter how to regrow plantings from food scraps ranging from ginger lettuce to herbs.

Likewise, tiny seeds can be taken from items like tomatoes and strawberries, washed, dried, and planted to form flourishing patches of produce. How cool is that? The method in this video shows how to plant strawberry slices directly in the ground.

  1. Order seeds online

Zuta, or white savory, is enjoyed in an Israeli herbal tea. Photo by Jessica Halfin

The efficiency of online ordering is 21st wonder which could save many companies from collapsing completely in these tumultuous times.

Websites like based in California Morning sun herb farm (delivery to US only) have a surprisingly wide variety of herb seedlings that range from exotic Moroccan mint to the rarer minty and tangy white savory (zuta) that many Israelis enjoy in their herbal tea.

In Israel, companies like Seeds of the Nativity at Kfar Hess, fulfill online orders (also to North America) of heirloom and organic seeds for modern and preserved biblical varieties of vegetables and herbs. It’s a wealth of information on when and how to plant which seedlings in Israel all year round.

You may have seen Nativity Seeds at happier times at the Tel Aviv Port Farmer’s Market on Fridays, but these days you can reach them through the virtual world while following all social distancing rules.

  1. Dare the seasons of the garden

Whether you are planting nine floors or on the ground floor, in Israel or abroad, gardening calendars like that of Ilana Stein A year in the garden are valuable sources of information about the Israeli Garden.

While the months may need to be staggered to accommodate the information for those who live in other parts of the world (for example, the Israeli winter is more like an American or European spring), the cute and quirky illustrations, the wisdom – and bonus recipes – help focus your gardening goals, from planting and harvesting to preserving your possessions.

4. Organize a gourmet Israeli herb garden

Zaatar is the Middle Eastern cousin of oregano. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Whether you decide to replant your leftovers or order small husks of seeds, you’ll need to know what makes a killer Israeli herb garden.

Part of what makes Israeli food so fresh and seasonal is a farm-to-table approach (in your case that could also be balcony-to-table) and lots of fresh cut herbs. However, these go way beyond the obvious cilantro and parsley combo we so often see in Israeli dishes like shakshuka.

To make your Israeli dishes sing, you’ll need some fresh basil (watch this video on how to get the most out of a basil plant bought in a grocery store), zaatar (the Middle Eastern cousin of oregano), rosemary (the kind that grows in tall bushes in Israeli parking lots), l ‘dill, chives and girl– Mediterranean spearmint which gives tabbouleh its irresistible earthy taste.

While fennel is rarely used in Israeli dishes, stocks of fennel grow wild, growing like a weed every spring in the forests of the Galilee. Plant a fennel bulb and your garden will smell and even look like the Holy Land.

  1. Take him to the kitchen

With a little sunlight, herbs can grow indoors in a kitchen window, or any sunny spot, as shown here.

Or you can try an owl counter kit sold on Amazon. They use high efficiency LED lights to give you a lush indoor garden of herbs and greenery that will brighten up your day all year round, midlife and all.

  1. Make a focused garden filled with herbs for a soothing tea

Lemon verbena. Photo by Jessica Halfin

The Israelis have perfected the art of herbal tea infusions. Using herbs picked by the side of the road, in a desert bush, in a nearby forest, or in a vegetable garden, the smell of lemony herbs simmering in hot water is familiar.

Great for boosting immunity and giving you that warm hug feel when we all need them most, these are the herbs you’ll need to bring the flavor of Israel to your cup of tea.

Sage grows in Halfin’s yard. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Apart from the above girl, which is an absolute must, tea herbs range from sheba (wormwood, which should be used sparingly to avoid dizziness or other unpleasant side effects), lemon verbena, lemon balm (lemon balm) and lemongrass, lavender, rosemary, zaatar and common sage used to make black Bedouin chai.

Rosemary from the country. Photo by Jessica Halfin

  1. Add new green vegetables to your diet

Baby chard. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Sure, you’ve stocked up on toilet paper and pantry basics, but we’re assuming that the salad pack you bought is sold out.

Instead of risking it all to run and scoop more, how about the prospect of having your own row of veg hanging in that Ikea planter nine floors up?

Get your hands on succulent Swiss chard, found in many Israeli dishes, from meatball sauce to green shakshuka, and which have an even higher nutritional content than kale.

You’ll also need arugula for salads and sandwiches, and all kinds of lettuce, which thrives exceptionally well in small planters. Have you tried homemade lettuce lately? He is spectacularly cool, and sure to boost your mood and morale. It might even make up for all the chocolate you’ve been stressed out about lately.

  1. Gather hope for the future by planting a tree

Nothing more Israeli than having a backyard full of fruit trees. If you have the space, spring is a great time to dig a few holes in your yard and do something that will make you look forward to better times to come.

You don’t have a yard? Put a dwarf kumquat or a very cute chili on your balcony or even in your kitchen window (you might find some at the supermarket, but you can also order them online).

Bonus Time: These plants can be purchased while already bearing fruit, so you can reap the benefits of your new addition as soon as possible. Imagine homemade zhug made from your own hot peppers. Impressive.

9. Preserve and dry your harvest – more experiences for children!

Once you’ve got something done, you’ll want to save it for future sinkholes. Replenish your collection of dried spices and feel like a foodie by drying your own homemade herbs.

The herb bouquets can be dried by hanging them in paper bags, in the oven on low heat, or even in the microwave! Choose one method or try them all and see which one works best for you.

Dry the herbs at home. Photo by Jessica Halfin

Or go big: If you’re looking for a long-term project that you can track and share progress on over the several months we could all be squatting, try growing cucumbers in a box on your balcony. See how here.

Nothing more Israeli than eating a whole cucumber with your sandwich, but here’s the kicker: Growing your own cucumbers means you can make your own pickles too! Use recipes from the 2019 book by Leda Meredith, forager expert and sustainable food systems educator, All marinated.

Bonus points for sending the book straight to your e-reader and saving the delivery guy a trip to your door, and even more bonus points for posting the mouthwatering photos on Instagram and cheering on others.

  1. Make your sheets art

In each plant hides an inspiring artistic project, at least according to the Israeli artist Suzanne Tamar Dekel, which uses fodder plants to make natural dyes for decorating luxurious textiles.

In a more basic form, however, leaf art is a great project for bored kids who are already past their recommended screen time. Since venturing outside into this new corona reality is not recommended or even allowed, why not use locally grown plants and herbs as decorating tools? Pinterest is full of ideas, like this one from The Imagination Tee blog.

Terri S. Tomasini