Spring is arguably the best time of year in New Orleans! Azaleas bloom, days grow longer, weekends are jam packed with festivals and generally the weather is warm but enjoyable. Spring is also an opportune time to start planting a garden of your own or even raising your own backyard chickens. With some advice from the Edible School Yard and League members, it is easy to get the whole family involved in the process.

Kerrie Partridge, the Director of the Edible School Yard New Orleans for First Line Schools, runs garden and kitchen programs at five schools throughout the area. The Edible School Yard program teaches children to make healthy connections through food. “We envision generations of New Orleans children who have healthy relationships with food, their natural world, themselves and their community,” said Kerrie. Children learn the basic concept of how to take a seed and raise it to the point of harvesting in the program. Students in the ESY Program are much more willing to try foods that they helped grow even if it’s a sprig of mint or a raw piece of kale. “Most children are eager to taste what they have grown and prepared,” said Kerrie.

Growing foods and gardening at home does not have to be a big undertaking. Kerrie encourages those eager to start gardening to begin in small ways that yield big results. “Containers are an amazing place to start. Tomatoes and other plants are specially made for growing in containers,” said Kerrie. Planting containers are available at most home improvement stores. They offer those with space limitations the ability to start a small garden and use fresh uncontaminated soil. The mild New Orleans spring weather lends itself to growing many things around like herbs, tomatoes, cantaloupe, collards, corn and cucumbers.

Growing a Green ThumbGrowing a Green Thumb
Growing a Green Thumb
TOP LEFT: Tad and Phoebe Sens take a break on the farm to pet the goat. Photo by: Michelle Sens TOP RIGHT: Animals are always welcome on the farm. Photo provided by: Maile Lani  BOTTOM: Pender and Parker Laborde enjoy Saturday mornings playing in their garden. Photo by: Michelle Sens

In keeping with the farm to table theme, wouldn’t it be nice to have fresh eggs from your own backyard? Past JLNO President Liz Creel has had backyard chickens for years in the heart of the city. “We have kept chickens here in New Orleans since 2005. Over the years we have had chickens, geese, ducks, pea fowl and even an emu and ostrich here in the Garden District. There have also been goats, miniature horses and a pig that lived in our backyard too,” said Liz. She offered these tips to consider before getting started with your own chicken coop.

1. Locate a reputable dealer such as a farmer or feed store. Chickens are available from online sources as well.

2. Keep in mind that roosters are not allowed in Orleans Parish.

3. Build or install a strong sturdy chicken coop or house. New Orleans is home to a large number of pests like opossums, raccoons and even coyotes. Unfortunately, chickens can fall prey to predators and chicken eggs may disappear.

4. Chickens need poultry feed and some supplements (such as oyster shells). But they are also wonderful garbage disposals and will eat vegetable leavings and family leftovers

5. Take into consideration your lifestyle and neighbors before taking the plunge.

It you do not have room for a garden or chickens of your own, it’s simple to volunteer – just sign up with ESY for one of your JLNO community shifts or visit esynola.org. “Open garden days are a really cool way if you know that you just want to spend a few hours in the garden either by yourself or with your family. We are always really excited for people to come, especially if you have kids,” said Kerrie.

Preserving Fresh Herbs

According to the Louisiana Agricultural Center, drying and freezing fresh herbs are easy ways to preserve your harvest. Follow these steps to keep your kitchen garden fresh for longer.

Drying Herbs Harvest the stems from the plants, leaving them long enough to easily tie them together. Then, wash with water and place on towels to dry. Bundle about three to five stems with rubber bands or twine. Hang the bundles in a cool, dry place indoors with good air circulation. Store your dried herbs in containers labeled with the name of the herb (or herb blend) and the date. You can leave the leaves whole or crumble them.

Freezing Herbs Harvest, rinse and dry. Separate the leaves from the stems and chop the leaves finely. Place herbs in a freezer bag, spreading them out in a one-half inch layer to make it easier to break off a chunk when they are frozen. Force as much air as possible out of the bag and then seal it and freeze. Label the bag with the name of the herb, since chopped frozen herbs tend to look the same.

An Edible School Yard New Orleans Favorite

HERB-Y Delight Dressing

“I never liked salad until I tried this dressing.” – an LHA sixth grader on Food Day 2013.

1/4 cup balsalmic vinegar
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram, oregano,
or ANY herbs!!
1/2 tsp. dried basil
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oill

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a jar. Stir well with a fork. Add olive oil, cover tightly and shake well until combined. You can also use a blender and drizzle the oil in slowly while it is running. Serve over a basic green salad.

Try this salad dressing recipe with your home-dried herbs!