It all started when Eric Stewart wanted to drink less Dr. Pepper.
Actually, that’s when the need for iced tea started…which then grew into a desire for homegrown mint in his iced tea.
“I take a Thermos full of tea each day to school,” said Eric, who is a religion professor at Augustana College. “My grandmother used to grow mint in her garden. I thought if mint grows easily, why am I paying for it?”
“I haven’t paid for mint since March.”
From his daughter Jordan’s perspective, it all started with the mint as well.
“Dad started having a little mint farm,” she said. “And then we thought about making an herb garden. Then…we went to Hy-Vee and they have herbs that are already grown.”
Pots, a four-tier rack, purply-pink indoor growing lights, and lots of learning later — an herb garden was born. “It’s all right next to our kitchen table. We can smell it at the table. It does smell pretty nice,” Eric said.
“We’re figuring out the watering as we go along,” Jordan said. The lighting is simpler — they have determined which plants can handle being closer to the chillier spot near a sliding glass door to get the natural sunlight. Otherwise, the indoor lights come on in the morning when Eric gets out of bed, and they go back off when the family goes to sleep at night.
They are acquiring all sorts of knowledge about what kind of soil each herb prefers, such as which ones need sandy soil with good drainage. The best method and timing for harvest? Also a learning curve.
The mint growing started in March, with the rest starting in October. They grow oregano, thyme, cilantro, sage, basil, mint, parsley, and rosemary.
The Stewart family, which also includes mom Rikka and twin brother Aron, include the herbs in their cooking. Red wine pork, baked chicken alfredo, feta and lemon braised chicken wings. “We’re planning out different meals based on the herbs we’re growing,” Jordan said.
Jordan has been cooking since she was little. “By the time Jordan and Aron were 14 months old, they could crack eggs without getting shells in what we were making,” Eric said. They usually bake something two or three times a week.
This spring, the Stewarts are planning to get one more rack and another set of lights to start seeds. Tomatoes and jalapenos are on their list. They also have a raspberry bush out back that is growing really well. They will be reclaiming some raised garden beds in their yard as well.
“My grandmother was a gardener, my father was a gardener,” Eric said. “It’s nice to pick up the tradition to pass it on to Jordan. I assume that the herb garden will go on as long as we live here. It’s a way to pass down some of the knowledge that my grandmother and father passed on to me.”