Harvesting Herbs

Saturday, August 18th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Set out starts of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and lettuce for a fall harvest. Spray weekly with BT to keep the cabbage worms at bay.
    • Roses have more flowers all summer long than any other shrub. Plant them in a sunny location and feed monthly for continuous blooms.
    • Impatiens will give you instant color in shady areas and continue blooming right through the fall.
    • Mottled leaves are often a sign of spider mites. Check for them with a hand lens or bring a leaf into your nursery for identification and treatment options.
    • Japanese maples may be pruned now in order to shape them.

Harvesting Herbs

Herbs are plants with many uses. They are used for cooking, medicine, aromatherapy, pest control and fragrant potpourris. Usually the leaves and stems are used, but sometimes the flowers, fruit and even the roots contain the desired substances.

It is important to be sure that you have the right plant before you use it for culinary or medicinal uses. Common names are often misleading, since the same common name may be given to different plants. All herbs are toxic in excess, so be careful about self-medication.

Herbs should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. Most herbs can be cut and used fresh throughout the growing season.

Herbs grown for their foliage, such as sage, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and basil, should be gathered when the flowers are about to open. The oils in the leaves, which give each herb its distinctive flavor and aroma, are at their maximum levels at this stage of growth. Remove up to 1/3 of the stem’s length.

Cut basil frequently, 6-8 inches down the stem. This will keep it bushy and prevent it from flowering. You should get many cutting through the summer. In the fall, you can cut the plants at ground level before the first frost.

Harvest herbs grown for seeds just before the seed heads turn brown so that the seeds don’t fall off while cutting them. Cilantro, if left to go to seed, is called coriander. Dill and fennel are also grown for their seeds.

Collect herb flowers, such as borage and chamomile, just before full flower. Harvest herb roots, such as echinacea, chicory, comfrey, and goldenseal, in the fall after the foliage fades.

Herbs should be harvested in the early morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the sun becomes too hot. After harvesting, rinse the herbs in cool water. Shake off excess water and place them on paper toweling to dry for a few minutes.

Air drying is the most popular method used to dry herbs. Gather 8 to 12 stems in a bunch, tie the ends of the stems together and hang each bunch upside down in a warm (70-80°F), dry, shady area. Herbs grown for seed can be dried on screens or inside brown paper bags. The herbs should be dry in 2 to 4 weeks. When thoroughly dry, strip the leaves or seeds from the plants, and store in them in airtight jars in a cool, dry place.

Store dried herbs in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. Many herbs can be keep for a year if stored properly.

You can make a potpourri mixture of dried herbs and flower petals to preserve the aromatic fragrances of summer. Most potpourris start with rose petals or lavender flowers as a base, to which other dried herbs are added.

By growing your own herbs, you can spice up your cooking with fresh, flavorful tastes and freshen a room with the delightful perfumes of summer.

Flavorful Basils

Friday, May 25th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Fuchsias in hanging baskets make beautiful patio plants. They bloom all summer and attract hummingbirds to their pendulous blossoms.
    • When you plant your tomatoes, put a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the hole to help prevent blossom end rot on the fruit later on.
    • Spray roses every two weeks to keep them healthy and prevent leaf diseases. Neem oil is a safe alternative to chemicals.
    • Flower seeds can be sown directly in the garden now. Cosmos, marigolds and zinnias will give you beautiful flowers all summer.
    • Mulch blueberry plants with aged sawdust and feed with cottonseed meal or an acid fertilizer.

Spice up your Cooking with Flavorful Basils

Basil is an annual herb belonging to the mint family. It is enjoyed for its rich, spicy flavor and is easy to grow in any sunny spot. There are over 40 known varieties of basil though Sweet Basil is the most commonly known and grown.

Basil plants are small and bushy with attractive foliage that varies from light green to deep green to purple. It is very ornamental in the perennial bed or the vegetable garden, and there are many delightful flavors to choose from.

The sweet-scented basils include lemon, cinnamon, and licorice basil which are named for their fragrances. Lemon basil has an intense lemon fragrance and is ideal for tea and potpourri. It has a very strong lemon scent if touched, and regrows quickly when harvested.

Cinnamon basil comes from Mexico. It has a distinctive cinnamon taste and odor and can be used in sauces and salads. Licorice or anise basil was originally from Persia. It has a licorice scent, dark purple flowers and a purple tint to its leaves. Its branches can be half-dried and then woven into wreath shapes, then decorated with dried peppers and flowers.

Thai basil has a sweet and spicy flavor and aroma. With its reddish-purple stems and pinkish-violet flowers, it is very attractive in planters or in the garden. It is good in both Thai and Vietnamese cooking and is used in salads, soups and curries.

Spicy Globe basil makes a small, dense plant, about 8 inches tall, with tiny leaves that scent the garden day and night with their spicy fragrance. Use the leaves of this flavorful variety just as you would any other sweet basil.

Genovese basil, often sold as Sweet Basil, has extra-large leaves that are easy to harvest. It is one of the best basils to grow because it yields 7 to 8 cuttings and makes excellent Italian pesto.

Dark Opal or Purple basil has beautiful dark foliage that accents any herb bed and makes a lovely garnish. It is recommended for flavoring oils and vinegars. Purple basil combines beautifully in the garden with green and silver-leaved plants.

Holy or Sacred basil, know as Tulsi by Hindus, makes a delicious tea and is attributed with many healing properties. This clove-scented basil is used in Ayurvedic medicine and in salads, drinks, and tea.

Basil is very easy to grow from seed, either started indoors or broadcast outside in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Basil is very tender and sensitive to frost injury. Fertilize basil sparingly as this decreases the fragrant oils. To encourage a bushy, healthy plant and to maximize production, prune basil every 2 to 3 weeks. Pinch off the flower buds as soon as they begin to emerge since the flavor in the leaves is reduced when the plants go to seed.

Enjoy fresh basil in your salads and pesto this summer, and be sure to dry some for use all winter.

Seed Starting Time

Monday, April 12th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Gladiolus bulbs come in every color of the rainbow. Plant them this month for summer flowers.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply fish emulsion or commercial fertilizers.
    • New rose bushes may have been damaged by the cold weather this week. Prune back dead shoots and new growth will come out to replace it soon.
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now. Start your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce spinach and chard. It pays to grow your own!
    • Asparagus, whose delectable spears are even sweeter when home-grown, should be planted right away. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.

Growing from Seeds

When spring arrives, it’s time to plant some seeds. There’s something very rewarding about following the whole life cycle of your plants from start to finish, and trying different varieties from the usual ones you can find at the nursery.

Seed racks at local nurseries, are full of new types of flowers, vegetables and herbs. For a very small investment, you can grow a whole garden of different varieties.

The essential elements for growing from seed are bright light, bottom heat and moisture. Many seeds will germinate without light, but they must be moved into bright light as soon as they are up. Bottom heat is not essential, but it speeds up the process. Moisture is important, especially for seeds which are germinated on top of the soil. A plastic dome over the flat, or strips of plastic wrap will keep the moisture content just right.

There are two ways to plant the seeds, depending on whether you want to transplant the tiny seedlings or not. You can plant 10 or 15 seeds in a single cell of a cell-pak and then transplant each plant into its own pot in about two weeks. Or you can put 2 or 3 seeds in each cell and remove all but the strongest one after they germinate. It may depend on how large your germinating area is.

Plants can be grown on the windowsill, but you will get stockier, stronger plants if you use fluorescent lights suspended about 4 inches above the pots. They can be left on 24 hours a day or at least 12 hours a day.

Most perennials do best when planted on top of the soil. Sprinkle them over the moistened seeding mix, spray with water, then cover with plastic wrap. Place under the lights and most seeds will germinate in 5-10 days. In about two weeks, you can remove the plastic wrap then water as needed. Growing plants need good ventilation. If necessary, set up a small fan to keep the air moving.

It is important that your pots and propagation area are clean and sterile. Soak pots briefly in a 10% solution of clorox and water before filling them with bagged seeding mix. Clean pots and moving air will usually prevent “damping off”, a disease that causes young plants to keel over.

When should you start your seeds? Tomatoes and peppers should be started right away, along with sunflowers and marigolds. Squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and basil can wait until mid-April or May along with zinnias.

The last thing to remember is not to plant them outside without hardening them off first. It’s best to get them acclimated to it gradually. Some people take them out a little longer every day, starting with an hour the first day. Or you can put them out in a cold frame for a few weeks, lifting the plastic for a few hours a day.

If this is your first try at seed starting, it might be better to start small. Remember, there is always next year when it comes to gardening!