The Last Harvest
With Christmas upon us I finally had an opportunity to harvest the herbs hanging from the rafters in the basement. These herbs have been hanging since mid-October. Since this area of the basement is unheated, and as basements go it has a certain humidity level, I tend to let the herbs hang well into fall. So here on the first day of winter I, began to harvest and store them.
Harvesting and storing herbs can take many forms and the method used largely depends on the herb and the availability of space. Herbs like chives, tarragon, basil, and even mints generally do not do well in a drying process. Basil and mints tend to turn black so a quick method of harvesting and storage is preferred, these would be fast drying in a warm oven or dehydrator. The most popular method is usually to freeze them. Chives and tarragon would use the freezing method not because they blacken but because they quickly lose flavor.
Another method is to steep one or two sprigs in vinegar making herbal vinegar. These are delicious on salads and you have the comfort of knowing that the salad dressing is not adulterated with extraneous and sometimes dangerous preservatives and food coloring.
The herbs that I dried this season are: stevia, lemon verbena, rosemary, cayenne, (very fiery), and bay leaf. I might point out that the number of plants of each herb grown is generally dependent on the plants and the use. Basil for pesto generally needs many plants and successive cuttings, while bay need only be one plant harvested once or twice a season.
An additional step I take is to grind up some of the herbs such as stevia and cayenne. These will not lose flavor over time, at least the time ‘til next year’s harvest. I bought a cheap electric coffee mill for this purpose and it makes a quick and easy job of it. Most herbs, however, should be stored whole to reduce the loss of the essential oils of the plants. The lemon verbena, bay, and rosemary are stored whole leaf. In all cases, make sure each herb is thoroughly dry; finishing it in a low oven, dehydrator, or even a car parked in the Sun, if needed. If using the later method be sure the herbs are not exposed to the actual rays of the sun.
I’ve also harvested the seeds from my 2013 garden. These include various tomatoes, peppers, radish, Kentucky Burley tobacco, (which continues to dry in the garage), and many others. It seems I’ve recovered about two dozen of seed from various vegetables and flowers. Together with some left over commercial seed from last year this will give me a head start on the 2014 garden. By the way, the bag of corn is from the Early Butler Corn sent to me about three years ago when we were contemplating buying a farm. I planted those seen in the garden this year and the yield was about a gallon sized plastic bag for next year. This variety of corn is not sweet corn for humans but field corn for the livestock. I’m told it is a high protein, (about 16%) and is quite nutritious for the livestock. I will plant an additional patch this spring and use it to supplement my commercial chicken feed.
I also gave a quick water soak to the geraniums I’ve had hanging next to the herbs in the basement this should help the majority of them make it through the winter season to get a jump on the spring flower boxes.
So the 2013 garden season comes to a complete end. I’m already getting seed catalogs in the mail for 2014. So now comes the best and least work of the garden season, which is, pouring over the catalogs on those long winter nights and dreaming of the perfect garden for next year.
I end this last issue of 2013 with a heart-felt wish for you and your families for a happy, holy, and joyous Christmas season.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.