Hints and tips: Tins, and making the most of your herb garden.


Tins! When you cook with as many tins as I do, it seems a shame to throw them away, even if your local council has a pretty decent recycling system for them.

So, I’ve been washing up and saving my tins lately, rather than rinsing them and putting them in the Red Bin, and today decided to spend a little while tending to my herb garden with them…

People often ask me how my herb plants survive so long; first, I take them out of the little pots that they have been growing in at the supermarket or garden centre – the roots will be tied up in knots all the way to the edges of the pot. Working over a large mixing bowl, I gently thumb the excess soil from the root ball into the bowl, shaking gently to loosen it.

When a good deal of earth is in the mixing bowl, I break the herb plant in two, gently separating the top where possible, but depending how long it’s been living in its little pot, the root may need to be torn apart with a little force. 🙁

I then take two small tins (a bean tin, or mandarin segments tin, tend to be the kind I use as they’re quite skinny) – turn it upside down, and stab three holes in it with a skewer. If this seems a bit dangerous or you can’t manage it, use a tin opener and latch it onto the side, turn very slightly, and make three holes like that.

Turn the tins the right way up, and pop half of the herb plant into each. Add the excess soil from the mixing bowl and press down lightly.

Put the small tin inside a clean, slightly larger tin (a potato tin is a simply perfect fit), water the herbs, and hey presto. Your herbs will have room to breathe and grow better, you have two plants instead of one, and they won’t leak all over your window ledge. Hoorah.

If I come up with any more ingenious uses for tins, I’ll keep you posted! (Apart from the obvious spoons-next-to-the-kettle and desk tidy…)

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack


  1. If you have children, one way to reuse tins (especially the nice coffee ones if you have them or can have from someone who does!) is to cover them in pretty wrapping paper or wall paper and use them for storing kids pencils/felt tips/crayons. I suggest a half size tin for rubbers and sharpeners too! Just be sure to check the rim of the tin is completely smooth – carefully!! – first x

  2. Great idea! Will send it on to my friend to replace her mothers plants that she sadly killed!
    Just a tip – have you tried planting chia seeds (salvia hispanica). They grow like wild-fire here and i tried them back in the UK and they took too, very healthy and scrummy too. Loving all your work.

    • Coriander needs very little water – my mistake was always overwatering it! Mint and basil are very thirsty, parsley is hit and miss but I always trim that and dry it out anyway while I have a good crop of it. Hope that helps!

      • Fab tip jack! I do believe Parsley is part of the carrot family and so it needs to have plenty of room for it’s long roots. You could try it in much deeper pot? (not ideal for your window I know!)

  3. I’ve found that local greasy spoons are only too happy to give you their old giant tin cans (catering size baked beans etc). They’re excellent for larger plants or even outside.
    With any size can, filling them to the brim with water and freezing allows you to bash holes in them much more safely and without the risk of deforming the tin.
    They make lovely tea light holders with decorative perforations (a heart shape or summink) in their sides too. x

  4. Hi Jack, great idea.

    I thought I’d share my use for tins, I make lanterns/ tealight holders. Take a clean, empty tin, fill it with water and freeze. Once the water is frozen, lay the tin in its side on a folded towel and, using a hammer and nail, punch holes in a pattern of your choice. Tip out the ice and add a tealight or candle. If you want a hanging lantern, make 2 holes opposite each other near the top and put some wire through ( wire coathangers are ok for this)

    All the best Lorna

    >________________________________ > From: A GIRL CALLED JACK >To: lorna_thoma@yahoo.co.uk >Sent: Wednesday, 23 October 2013, 22:31 >Subject: [New post] Hints and tips: Tins, and making the most of your herb garden. > > > > WordPress.com >Jack Monroe (MsJackMonroe) posted: ” Tins! When you cook with as many tins as I do, it seems a shame to throw them away, even if your local council has a pretty decent recycling system for them. So, I’ve been washing up and saving my tins lately, rather than rinsing them and putting them ” >

  5. If you are lucky, you might find really really cheap seeds in “selling off garden stuff to make room for halloween/christmas stuff” sections! Good time of year for cheap garden bargains. Love the tin opener tip- might save a finger or two knowing me!

  6. I have used the lager ones potatoes fro example to make mini Xmas cakes for gifts. grease well and line then when cooled fro 10 mins take the cake out .leave to go cold and slice in half makes two good sized gift cakes.

  7. You can also make a flour shaker for dusting the worktop with flour when rolling out.

    Simply piece lots of little holes in the base (from the inside out is best) bash the little edges flat checking that you still have actual holes, fill with flour (also works with icing sugar for cake sprinkling) and then cover the already opened end either with cling film and an elastic band or with one of those plastic tops you can get to keep cat/dog food fresh in the fridge. Before you buy one of those through beg a Pringle tube top off a friend, or buy some when on offer ready for Christmas nibbling, because they sometimes fit tins too!!

  8. My niece and nephew grew cress in eggshells so it looked like hair and painted faces on the eggs…

    I also go to seed swaps.

  9. Is it ok to link to another blog? I spotted this some months ago and love her ideas for tins- check out the recycled cake tin toohttp://laloleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/la-huerta-en-casa.html

  10. Good idea, I’ve seen photos of folk using tins from things like coffee and golden syrup as plant pots on the windowsill, which can look quite cute as they have a colourful retro design.

  11. My mum grew up after the war. They had no money for toys and they used tins to make into toys: she made walking buckets by connecting each side on a cord on a tin.
    She also made a telephone by connecting two tins with a cord.

  12. I actually paint them occasionally — I have a couple of large tins I use as for outdoor plants that I painted a sort of aqua-ish colour, and I spray-painted a couple as well.

  13. If you buy basil from a supermarket, it will flop over the moment you take it out of the sleeve as it will have been forced under artificial light. Remove any over-long stems down to the last two sets of leaves and stand all these in a glass of water on a sunny windowsill. They will keep fresh for weeks. Use these up first – although within a week or so most of them will probably have rooted! Pot these up and keep on the sunny windowsill and stand in a saucer of water – keep this topped up as basil is a thirsty plant. Within another couple of weeks the cut back stems of the living plant you took these cuttings off will have started to sprout back and grow bushy, as a normal basil plant should be almost completely covered in leaves rather than have lots of bare stem showing. Pick individual leaves off starting at the top of the stem and working downwards rather than cutting the actual stems. New leaves will start to form in what are called the “leaf nodes”.

    In this way, I have had a constant supply of fresh basil for eight months at a cost of £1.25 – and the plant is still going strong.

  14. Another way, for those who don’t have much space is to use jam jars, or tins would work too. Get some brackets, the type you use to attach pipes to the wall and mount the jars on some wood.

    Drift wood is great if you live near the beach. Then screw some eyes of the wood into the top and hang it on the kitchen wall.

    Looks pretty and saves on work top or window sill space.

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