It is that time of year again. We spent months anxiously awaiting the first signs of spring – your perennial herbs emerging or warm enough weather for annuals. And, because we sell to every conceivable zone in the continental US that ‘just right time’ spans months. For us in Zone 7, we try to wait until ‘Tax Day’ but don’t always make it!
From Spring to Fall
Nevertheless, spring arrives and the fun begins – the act of planning shifts to actual planting, and more planting followed by pruning and tending and clipping. Using your herbs in all sorts of ways, because all we know, herbs are so versatile. All summer to enjoy the fresh taste of mint in tea, fresh basil on your Caprese salad, real dill on your grilled fish, tarragon chicken salad and a farm fresh chicken stuff full of fresh Bouquet Garni. We’ve done it all! For our clever DIY customers, the fun never ends while our homeopathic friends are creating all sorts of healing ointments, tinctures and teas.
But, we can all sense the change. Days are shortening, Helianthus and Joe Pye Weed are announcing the arrival of cooler nights. Fewer butterflies on fewer blooms. No more delighting in hummingbirds at the feeders.
And in our Gardens ….
Although we are busily planting our cold weather crops, it’s sad to see the cucumbers shrivel, the tomatoes shrink and the summer squash disappear. But, take another look. Your faithful herbs are still there, like close friends who stay late to help clean up! Your basil is still bountiful, and the rosemary and lavender delight in cooler nights.
Now, for those who are tried and true planners, their herbs were harvested at the peak of flavor, before the flowers arrived and the seeds were set. However, for the procrastinators there is still time. Yes, we do recommend earlier harvesting but if we are honest, we haven’t gotten there yet either. And besides, we are still lightly clipping from the herbs in the garden.
There are a few things to remember for our ‘late harvesters’:
- Annuals can be harvested until frost
- You need to be careful with the perennials; avoid a heavy pruning within 30 days of your frost date as you don’t want to encourage new growth so close to frost
Tips for Harvesting & Preserving Your Herbs
- When harvesting herbs for immediate use there are a few rules to keep in mind. For single stemmed herb plants such as basil and savory, only pick the center tip. This encourages bushy growth. Use the tops and flower buds of chervil, thyme, and mint. Use the outside leaves and stalks of your parsley plant and leave the center alone.
- A major harvest requires a bit of work, but the rewards throughout the year are well worth the effort. You can get 2-3 major cuts from both annual and perennial herbs before the end of the season. The last harvest should be in early fall in order to give the new growth a chance to harden off before the first frost.
- Choose a bright, sunny morning just after the dew has evaporated but before the sun gets hot enough to affect the oil content in the leaves and flowers. Take care in picking and use only healthy plants. Perennial herbs can be cut back by a third, while annuals can be cut to within three inches of the soil surface.
- Rinse the fresh-cut herbs in cool water and use towels to absorb excess moisture. Tie the stems together (dental floss works well) in bundles of five or six and hang in a dry, well-ventilated spot, away from direct sun and moisture. The temperature should be no more than 85 degrees. Since herbs should not be stored until they are completely dry it is important to test them by placing a stem in an airtight container overnight. If condensation forms, more drying is needed.
- Once the plants are dry, store them in clean, airtight containers (glass containers are best) and keep away from direct sunlight. Herbs lose their potency over time, so we suggest keeping them for a maximum period of one year.
October is around the corner, and although most of us have not felt a frost, it is coming. For avid gardeners, the trick is to make this ‘joy’ last as long as you can by bringing the fresh taste of your herbs into the kitchen. For others, it will be creating the salves, candles, ointments, dried bouquets and wreaths that keep your passion alive. And, in the deepest depth of winter (for us, that would be the entire month of February) remember that the GROWERS EXCHANGE Catalog will be within reach, so you can begin your planning and plotting and place your orders for the next spring.