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Crusty Parmesan Herb Zucchini Bites!

Another way to have low-cal, tasty Zucchini fresh from your garden!

Easy to make, this is San Francisco blogger Elle’s recipe with a few additions of my own! See her blog and original recipe if you like! Thank you, Elle!

Slice your zucchini lengthwise
Brush with olive oil
Sprinkle with herbs – maybe fresh rosemary & thyme, finely chopped basil, cilantro or parsley
Top with any cheese you like, Parmesan is tasty!
Add any tasty bits that make you happy! Minced onion or bell pepper, fine shred carrot, bacon bits.
Salt & pepper to taste
Sprinkle with a tad of Paprika!

Pre-heat oven to 350F, lightly brush both sizes of the zucchini with olive oil and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes then place under the broiler for the last 3-5 minutes until cheese is crispy and browned.

Enjoy every last bite, you Zucchini lovers!

Composting in summer’s heat is the fastest, just keep things moist! And there are several ways to do it!

In place composting

Hugelkultur Diagram Cross Section

Long term is Hugelkultur. I say long term because you use logs and branches. Not only are you making compost, but heat! You can plant sooner in spring, grow later in fall. Building up, you get more surface area for planting if space is limited. If space is not an issue and you don’t want raised areas, dig trenches fill with logs, branches, twigs. Cover with the soil you dug up and other stuff. Same excellent results! There are many ways to Hugelkultur! Some projects are gentile and mini, others are huge!

  • The classic is the three log triangle stack and hillock system. Put a bean trellis at the end of the pile!
  • Lay a bed of thick diameter branches, small branches, and twigs at the bottom of your raised bed.
  • Use logs to terrace your slope

Long term might be that pile in the back forty that you pay no attention to, other than dumping on more barrow loads from time to time and letting nature take its course. That can take years. But at the bottom of that pile, eventually, not less than a year, you will get some fine leaf mold, and leaf mold is potent!

LASAGNA! Quick and dirty is composting right where you will grow things, and planting all along if you like! it’s the easiest on your back! If you have enough materials, all you do is chop and drop your disease free and seed free weed cuttings and lay your kitchen scraps right on the surface and let them decompose. Throw in some composting worms, red wrigglers. It will all go faster still, and you will have castings right where you need them! Throw some manures (no pet or human waste) about to ramp up the heat and Nitrogen plants need! Some people add other favorite amendments. Yes! Do keep things moist or thick/deep enough for the materials that contract the soil to decompose. To plant immediately, pull a space open, put already made compost in your planting holes and plant instantly! There’s no moving the compost you are making because it’s already where it is needed! There’s no turning, no space taken up by a composter. In summer it also acts as a mulch! Composting and mulch at once!

If you don’t have enough materials, do areas as you can, one at a time, each season another one. Consider giving your neighbors a container, or two, to collect their kitchen trim for you; ask for their landscape waste materials. Hooray, no trips to the dump!

Trenching kitchen scraps or burying garden trim 6″ to 8″ deep is really fast. Soil organisms get right to work! Again, keep that area slightly moist.

Composting in enclosures 

Compost Geobin

Quick might be in a babied system in an enclosure, chopping things into small pieces, deleafing tough stalks, feeding with high class chopped, even blender chopped, kitchen trim! Trim could include squshed eggshells (keeps pH balanced), 0.5%, that’s 1/2 a %, or less of coffee grounds (suppresses fungal rots and wilts!). You could add some compost worms, red wrigglers, so their castings are precombined with your compost! Careful layering, alternating WET/Nitrogen - grass, green trim, kitchen trim, and DRY/Carbon - leaves, straw, dried spent plants, makes for a well balanced process. Straw aerates, wets moisten and decompose the straw. 1″ wet to 2″ dry is good, but you get it, it’s 1 wet to 2 dry. Easy.

To Turn or Not to Turn! If you decide to turn, you need either a permanent two enclosure side by side system, or a lightweight movable enclosure. You may need to make your system secure from pests like rats or squirrels.

Turning speeds things up a tad, but research shows unturned compost is a little more nutritious. I use the enclosures you can lift off the pile. The pile doesn’t fall apart, so I move the enclosure to a nearby spot and pitchfork the pile into the new location. When things are well decomposed you will need to use a shovel. The pile goes back and forth every couple of weeks or so, leaving a spot that is enriched from the pile’s drippings, a prime planting spot! Then I move the enclosure to another spot.

Covering your pile with a heavy mil plastic, like old compost bags or trash compactor bags, keeps the pile moist. Water the fresh straw or leaves you add just a bit. Also, covering makes the worms feel safe to come and feed at the top of the pile where things are fresh. When you take the cover off, the worms dive to get out of sight of birds!

6 months is usual, but since I add-as-I-have, part of the pile is ready sooner than the rest. I use the part that is ready; the rest I let keep processing. You can use almost finished compost sooner just fine! Mix it into the soil in the new planting area a couple weeks before planting and Baby, you quickly have tasty soil! The soil organisms ramp up and things are integrated down to the micro dots! However, if your compost pile isn’t going as quickly as you like, get some compost accelerator at your nursery or add some yarrow leaves as you layer! Plant the yarrow next to your composter for convenient use!

Some gardeners just divide the compost into big piles, make a water holding bowl in the top, and plant directly in the compost for super growth! Works great for a giant tomato plant, plants that are heavy feeders like Goliath-size winter squash, melons. How many times have you let a compost pile go and come back to find little plants growing in it?! They know what’s good for them! Cover the piles with some light blocking mulch, like thick straw, to keep the pile from washing away. Stick a stake beside your plant so you know right where to water.

HOT or Cold compost There is always the curiosity whether to do cold or hot compost.
  • Hot is faster but more labor intensive, frequent turning a must to keep it going. Layering and balancing your ingredients is critical to get those temps. A thermometer is good to have, ideal temps 141°F to 155°F so weed seeds and disease pathogens die.
  • Cold compost can be as simple as pile and wait. And wait. No concern about the order of things. Nature takes her course.
  • My system is a hybrid system. I layer pretty carefully. My pile gets hot when I first layer in a new batch of stuff, but if I don’t turn it for a few weeks, that’s ok too.

Do what suits your needs or as you have materials, but compost, compost, compost! In these SoCal drought times, compost is the single most thing you can do for your soil to add water holding capacity! Keep your soil healthy and lively, with excellent friability, so it makes the most of what moisture it does receive.

Tyler W at Crazy About Compost, says: Just the other week, I had filled the bin up to the edge with new material…and I look out there today after forgetting about it and it’s dropped nearly a foot! This is what I love about compost piles – I’ve been adding material to this thing on a weekly basis and it’s just a bottomless pit of degradation.

Ants and Aphids on Tomato Plant
Ants tending aphids on Tomato plant

Too many ants! Plants are seriously damaged by their aphids. Production is stalled, plants die. Not ok.

Bad year! Ants are on beans, cucumbers, okra, even tomatoes! It’s become clear the usual hosing off the aphids isn’t enough. Hosing uses too much water, it waters your plants too much, which the ants like! With big tomato plants jammed in cages, you can’t get to the center and fuzzy plants don’t like to be watered on their leaves anyway. The aphids the ants tend are almost impossible to get off those fuzzy backed leaves – especially the stiff haired cucumber leaves. You can’t hard spray them off cucumber flowers because it blows the flowers away too. Argh.

Where do those aphids come from?! Some farming ant species gather and store the aphid eggs in their nests over the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants. Queens that are leaving to start a new colony take an aphid egg to found a new herd of underground aphids in the new colony. As aphids feed, they often transmit plant viruses that can sometimes kill the plants, and the honeydew they make, that the ants feed on, favors the growth of sooty mold. This is a very destructive black fungus that spreads on plant leaves. Not only do ants protect and farm herds of aphids, but also cottony scales, mealybugs, soft-type scales, and whiteflies. Bad juju in the garden.

OK. So it’s either spray with a killer mix, or bait to end the colony. Enough already. Spraying is immediate; baiting takes a few days to a week. Do both to save your plants sooner.

Temporary Solutions

  • Insecticidal soaps are quick but temporary. Drench ant colonies with solutions of insecticidal soap, which are nearly non-toxic highly refined soap. It will not eliminate ants deep in the nest.
  • Neem Oil, organic, is a maybe. Some report it works and swear by it, others say it doesn’t work at all. Probably depends on what kind of ants you have. Some say premix works for them, others say get the 100% stuff. It is not long lasting, repeated sprayings are needed.
  • The Stinkies! Tea Tree Oil, herbs like Peppermint or Rosemary, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus sprays work and smell great! These can be used a couple of different ways. Crush the leaves, sprinkle on an ant line and they vanish. Or, use one cup of water to ¼ cup of peppermint or spearmint. Mix in your blender, strain into a handheld pump sprayer. Put it where you want it! Repeated sprayings needed. Some say you need less of Tea Tree and less frequent sprayings.
  • Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is fossilized remains of plankton; it looks like an off-white talc powder. It kills insects with exoskeletons, all kinds of them! It is perfectly safe for mammals, in fact, is eaten daily by some humans. To work it has to get ON the ant, and if it is even dew dampened, doesn’t work. It doesn’t attract ants, so they don’t invite their friends, and it isn’t ‘shared’ with the other ants. So yes it works, and no it doesn’t. If your plants are suffering now, it’s too slow to use.
  • Vinegar A half to a liter down the hole kills, but the ones that escape merely move. Remember, vinegar is also an herbicide. Be careful.
  • Water? Ants can live submerged in water for several days. That’s why the hose down the hole doesn’t work. So you need a little fire power, boiling hot water, to kill them.

‘Permanent’ Solution! Borax, plain old grocery store 20 Mule Team Borax kills the colony. It really works without fail. It’s cheap, a little goes a long way, and you can use what’s left to do your laundry!

Spray Mix 1/2 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon of borax (20 mule team) with 1 cup of water to make a spray and spray on their trail where they enter the house (garden) and in 3 days they will be gone. Spay around the windows and doors to keep them out. When the spray dries they eat the crystals and take them back to the nest and POOF they are gone. At the garden, do this on a WINDLESS DAY, and be very careful not to get it on your plants. It’s an herbicide.

Per April Sanders, here’s how the BAIT thing works: Worker ants only feed on liquids. They take solid food back to the nests, where it is given to larvae. Then, the larvae convert it to liquid and feed it back to the worker ants [all the worker ants!]. Straight boric acid or insecticide will kill ants, but the worker ants will eat it rather than taking it back to the nest because it is in liquid form. Making a paste ensures the poison will get to the nest.

The first bait recipes I found were sugar and Borax. So I tried it. I found a lot of dead ants, meaning the Borax was not getting back to the nest, but the Borax was definitely killing the ants. After reading April’s explanation, I am now adding cornmeal to the mix. It is a ‘solid’ the ants have to carry back to the nest for processing. So sugar to attract the ants, cornmeal to carry home, Borax to do the job.

Here’s the skinny on cornmeal! Neither cornmeal nor grits cause ants to explode or jam up and starve because ants don’t eat solids. Cornmeal does disrupt ants’ scent trails until they lay down new ones. Yes, the ants might move, due to disrupted trails, and that might be only a few feet away. It appears to stop ants, but they are merely feeding close to their nest at your expense! They take the stuff home, let the larvae convert it to liquid, and they get it back in the form they can eat.

April explains that cornmeal is a medium to carry the poison. ‘Mix cornmeal with a slow-acting liquid insecticide or boric acid to make a paste. Slow-acting insecticides are the most effective way of controlling ants, according to the Colorado State University Extension. Choose one made specifically for ants for best results, and add it a little at a time to the cornmeal until you have a thick paste.’

  • Sugar ants. Bait is serious. This means you are out to kill the colony, a ‘permanent fix.’ Bait is easy to make, a cup of very warm water, 1/2 c of sugar, cornmeal, 2 tablespoons Borax, make a paste. Set it out in a way birds, pets or children can’t get to it. Put it out AFTER you have watered, at the base of plants the ants and aphids are bothering. The ants will go for the sugar and lay off your plants. Scout ants take it home to the colony, and it is spread to all the ants. It isn’t an instant fix, but it works in a few days to a week. REMOVE while you water, replace afterwards.
  • For grease or protein ants, Golden Harvest Organics bait: Mix three parts peanut butter with two parts jelly and add one tablespoon of boric acid per six ounces of mix. Add cornmeal for your solid. Place the bait on pieces of paper or stuff it into large straws (safer so birds won’t get into it,) and place it where you see ants foraging.

Make your own SAFE bait containers!

Make your own Safe Ant Bait Containers!

  • Small diameters of pipe or unchewable tubing keeps bait safe from birds, pets and small animals. Swab the inside of the end of the tube with a Q-tip to be sure the paste is stuffed far enough away from the end of the tube for a small creature to reach. Place out of the sun, or make some shade for it, along the ant trail.
  • Make holes in a jar lid, toward the center, so if it gets wet, falls over or you lay it on its side, your bait doesn’t ooze out. Put your bait in the jar, put the lid on tight. Lay it on its side, butt end facing the direction you water from, so if you accidentally water, the water doesn’t get inside. Lay it on its side along the ant trail, but especially near a plant the ants have been tending, for their easy access. They will go to it and stop tending the aphids. Don’t put it in full sun so it won’t bake your bait or be too hot for the ants to want to get into. If the lid surface is too slick for purchase, sandpaper or scratch it with a rock so the ants can get a grip. Containers are safe for you to handle when you want to move them or add more bait or remove while you water. If you make holes in the sides, make them high so the bait doesn’t seep out.

When I say Borax really works, I mean it! BE VERY CAREFUL. Besides a bugacide, it is an herbicide, used to kill weeds! It can’t tell the difference between a weed and your veggie plants. When you put down your bait, do not water later, forgetting it is there, and get it in your soil or on your plants. Take up your baits before you water. Definitely don’t do it before rains.

More ant & Borax details from an undated UCCE article on ‘New Research’ by Nick Savotich says: ‘The Argentine ant, being a honeydew feeder, has a strong preference for high carbohydrate liquids. High sucrose-based baits, (50% solution), were found to be the most preferred. Various concentrations of boric acid as the toxicant were also tried in combination with the high sucrose baits. It was found that the lowest concentration of boric acid, 0.25%, was as acceptable to the ants as was the sugar solution alone. Higher concentrations, 0.5 – 2%, tended to inhibit acceptance. Boric acid is an excellent toxicant for ants. However the next step is to determine whether this very low concentration (0.25%) is adequate to destroy whole colonies of the Argentine ant.’ So you see, it doesn’t take much of that 20 Mule Team to do the job.

For best results lay out a fresh bait daily. Lay it in areas where you see regular activity and near their points of entry if you know them. Don’t be diligent washing away their trails, you want them to find the bait spots easily again and again. All the workers in the colony can follow each others trails, so even if you killed off the first foragers, their partners will follow the trail they left.

Stop them before they start! Maybe you have been over watering? Ants make their colonies near a water source, and soft over watered plants are aphid friendly. When you find ant colony entrances, put a few drops of dish soap around, down the nest hole, fill in/bury the nest entrance. If they have taken up residence in your compost pile, turn that compost more frequently and water it a little less!

Predators! Groundbeetles, humpback flies, parasitic wasps, praying mantids and the yellow-shafted flicker all dine on ants. Plant flowering plants like cilantro, celery, carrots, food to bring the beneficial insect predators. You are lucky if you have woodpeckers because they are voracious ant eaters.

Wear gloves, wash your hands when you are done working with any toxic stuff, and remove your baits promptly when you are done with them.

Next year, put down your baits before you do plantings the ants and aphids love. Knock back the ant population from the get go! No, dear garden friends, we will never be ant free, nor do we want to be. Ants aerate our soil, clean up scraps and seeds, feed on fleas, termites, and other pests, are a food source for birds and other insects. As with all creatures, they play an important part in a healthy planet. Balance is a practical peace.

Summer Veggies Box
Love your Mother! Plant more bee food! Eat less meat. Grow organic!

Keep ‘em coming! That means almost daily harvesting of beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes to get them while tender and at max flavor! If you don’t harvest, for example, storing on the vine, your plant thinks it has done its job and slows down, may even quit producing. Fruits left too long are less juicy, get tough sometimes, may have an off flavor, and may get seedy. No greedy thinking like ‘I wonder how big it would grow? I want more bigger.’ Nope, that confuses your plant.

Transplant basil, celery, chard, cucumbers, dill, kale, leeks, summer-maturing lettuce, green onions, white potatoes, summer savory, New Zealand spinach. In our hot foothills and further south, go for more melons, okra, pumpkins, summer & winter squash. Corn is an exception – late plantings often develop smut. I’ve had tomato transplants and seen bean seeds started in August produce plentiful crops into October!

Transplant late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water well and provide shade from intense mid-day sun. Prop up and secure some of those plastic plant flats that have the finer pattern to filter the light. Keep your transplants moist for at least a month or until they’re well established. Mulch well so they stay more moist while getting started.

Keep your heavy producers well fed with two exceptions. Eggplant like only a little chow at a time but throughout their growing time, and beans make their own Nitrogen from outta the air, so toward the end of their season, a light feeding helps them maintain their vigor. Manure can be applied as a mulch directly onto globe artichokes, asparagus, cabbages and other cole crops, cucumbers, melons, sweet corn, and squash–but don’t let it touch the stems or foliage, as it will burn them. Keep high-nitrogen fertilizers away from beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet and white potatoes, and tomatoes, or there’ll be more foliage than fruit.

Big plants need a lot of water!  Tomatoes and other large plants may need about one inch of water every three days of hot dry weather. Rinse the undersides of leaves with water to discourage spider mites. Water and fertilize melons deeply once a week for juicy, fleshy fruits. Hold off irrigating melons about a week before they will ripen so their sugars will concentrate.

While all the rest is happening, replenish straw mulches that have thinned and shrunk down. Be sure any exposed roots or carrot or beet tops are covered with soil. Fall can be hot. Knock back what weeds have come along. Keep the compost humming, especially use any disease free summer plants when they are done, and seed free weeds! Keep your compost covered to keep it moist and active. Layer it just like lasagna – 2″ dry (straw), 1″ wet – that’s fresh pulled green plants and/or kitchen scraps.

Protect vine crop fruits like melons and squash from snails and slugs by lifting the fruits or vegetables onto cans, berry baskets, or boards.  Metal cans speed ripening and sweetening of melons by concentrating the sun’s warmth and transferring it to the melons.  Place ripening melons onto upside down aluminum pie pans or cans to keep them off the damp soil. The reflected heat and light will help them ripen evenly and sooner than when they are shaded by foliage.

Want more tomatoes?! When you walk by, whap the central stems, or the cage they are in, sharply, a quick whap or two or three. That shakes up the pollen and more flowers are pollinated! Around 11 AM is the best time!

Though you are busy as a skunk on a log keeping up with harvesting, feeding, watering, in your shadow thoughts, your mind is already thinking where and when your fall plantings will start happening. Late July, August, are prime time to start fall plants for warm weather fast growth and earlier fall harvests that will last throughout winter. At the end of July, get the earliest start possible on your fall plants! Sow carrots (they do best from seed), celery and cole crops–broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage (especially red and savoy types, which resist frost better), cauliflower, and kohlrabi. Keep the soil moist and shaded until they’re up, and then gradually allow them more sun over a week’s time. If you don’t make these earlier plantings, don’t miss Labor Day weekend!

Where the big fall anchor plants, broccoli, cabbages, kales, will go is what your plans will need to hinge on. Some of your summer plants got planted later and need more time for their run. Some are your favorites and you want them to keep producing. A few of your very best you will want to let seed out and that takes more time and their space. As late season plants finish off, start removing some of the lower leaves for sunshine space to plant those fall babies. The fall kids can come up while your late summer plants are finishing up. The babies might not mind a little protection.

First, second week or so of July, start your fall soil preps. Get some not quite finished compost into those fall planting spots. Put in 25% worm castings, add some of Island Seed & Feed’s super landscape mix, a handful of bone meal and powdered milk. A tad of chicken manure is good for all except where the peas will go, and none for your strawberries. They don’t like the salts. Keep onions and peas away from each other.

SEEDS!  Get your fall plant seeds if you don’t already have them, and get them started! SAVE seeds of your best plants for spring planting!

Canning and Probiotic food storage are all-year long blessed second benefits of bountiful production. Good reasons to baby your plants and harvest on time.

If you are gardening at home, put up some fine raised beds, including gopher protection. If the soil in the beds is dead, spent, toss it out. Use it as mulch somewhere else. Replace it for late summer and lusty fall plantings.

May the juices of morning fruits run down your chin, cool midday salads refresh your palate, flavorful veggies adorn your evening platter! Stand tall, Love deep, Live well!

Hydroponic Warehouse Farm, Reminders to Save Water
Heroes abound! Check out this inner city farm!

Water Wise Practices! The Santa Barbara City Council recently declared a Stage Two drought, triggering drought-related water use regulations. Please be mindful of your choices.

  1. Please always be building compost. Compost increases your soil’s water holding capacity.
  2. This California drought year consider planting IN low sloped furrows, where the moisture settles and the plants’ root areas will be slightly shaded. Rather than losing water to evaporation from overhead watering, use a low flow water wand or a burbler and put the water right where it will do the most good and nowhere else.
  3. And, PLEASE MULCH. It keeps your soil cooler, moister, less water needed.
  4. Sprinkle Mycorrhizal fungi right on the roots of your transplants when you put them in the ground. They increase uptake of nutrients, water, and phosphorus that helps roots and flowers grow and develop. Ask for them at Island Seed & Feed in Goleta.
  5. Install Grey Water systems, and for those of you who are future-minded, rain collection systems! They will increase your property value.
  6. Here is a 6 page PDF on plant and plant variety choices and garden practices that has a lot of Water Conservation info! It’s a quick read, organized so you can go right to what you are interested in. Thank you and bless you for doing your part.

Longer shelf life for your Berries!  Blackberry Raspberry Blueberry Strawberry!

It started with 2 lbs of strawberries and a simple Google search ‘strawberries vinegar’ because I had recently read somewhere that giving them a vinegar/water bath would keep the fuzzy gray mold away and they would last longer. And, in fact that was the first type of response that came up, with great tips on how to do it. But the 7th search result came up with some completely different facts based on research, some quite surprising.

Water is still the king of clean! Research shows just plain old water can remove 98% of bacteria! Berries in general should never be wetted or soaked in water. It is detrimental to their health and will shorten their shelf-life. Wash them only just before use.

Vinegar and shelf lifeYes and no. How your produce was treated immediately after harvest until the time you get it, supermarket, farmers’ market, your own garden, makes a huge difference. A nice vinegar bath can’t help produce that has already been mishandled after harvesting.

Cooling your produce correctly is important. Tomatoes need the water to be the SAME TEMP as they are! If they are washed with cold water, they suck it in, including any microorganisms hanging about. Dry them. After they are dry, place them in a cool area, about 55 degrees. Same goes for summer squash, bell peppers and eggplant. The fridge is too cold!

FYI per Dr. Floyd Woods and Dr. Joe Kemble: ‘Most fruits (oranges, lemons, etc.) and vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, watermelons, etc.) of tropical and subtropical origin may be damaged by cool temperatures and develop a condition called chilling injury. Chilling injury results from prolonged exposure to low but not freezing temperatures. Symptoms of chilling injury include dark circular pits on the surface, shriveling, internal darkening, loss of the ability to ripen and the development of off-flavor and poor texture. Proper storage will help achieve a maximum post-harvest life.’

When they were picked is a factor that can’t be denied. If the end is nigh, just eat ‘em! Share if you have to. Or, individually freeze, pop into a freezer bag. If it is berries, make fruit ice cream or smoothies at your convenience.

Vinegar or another similar treatment will extend your fruits and vegetables’ shelf life, only if they were handled correctly after harvest.

Vinegar and cleaning your fruits & veggies. The researched best ratio is 1:3, for example, 1 cup vinegar to 3 cups water. Gotta do what works or why waste your time and money? Not knowing what critters might be inhabiting your produce, commercial cleaners are geared for whatever might be there, any worst case scenario. Just wash your produce first so the power of the agent isn’t in any way reduced.

Now, for those berries! Here’s where there are 180 degree differences. The researchers say: ‘In the case of strawberries, blueberries and other berries, generally any wetting or direct contact with water is detrimental and will shorten their shelf-life. You should never place any of these into your sink to soak them. Before you store them, be sure that they are clean but do not wash them until you are ready to use them. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are natives of temperate climate and can be stored in your refrigerator. In fact, they should be stored as close to 32°F as possible to maintain their shelf-life. When stored properly, strawberries have a shelf-life of a week, blueberries can last up to two weeks, and blackberries and raspberries will last two to four days.’ OK.

Vinegar enthusiasts, however, report that after their vinegar bath, very soft berries last about a week, strawberries up to two weeks! If you want to try it, here’s what to do!

  • Wash gently with water their same temp
  • Make your bath mix 1:3 Vinegar to Water
  • Put your berries in, gently swish around
  • Drain, rinse, dry
    - Delicate berries like blackberries or raspberries lay on towel/paper towel, gently dry
    Strawberries, blueberries - put in a paper towel lined salad spinner and gently spin dry
  • Store in paper towel lined container like the ones they come in from the store; leave the lid ajar if it is an airtight type container.

When you are buying those ‘spensive berry gems, keep the ‘cold chain.’ Chuck at Driscoll’s [great berries!] says buy only from refrigerated displays, keep ‘em cold, and get ‘em right into the coldest part of your fridge! Vinegar won’t help compromised berries; eat ‘em in a day or two. It’s nature. Also he says shop at stores that sell a lot of produce, because you’re probably getting fruit closer to harvest, which means a longer shelf life for you.

So my strawberries are now languishing on the bottom shelf of the fridge with a paper towel under them in their package, unwashed. Depending on how that turns out, I may try that vinegar bath after all…. Enjoy every luscious bite!

Basil Dried Herb Gift Label
Sweet image from Collard Green Princess!

Since basil doesn’t survive winter, not even coastal SoCal ‘winter,’ except sometimes, if you are growing African Blue Basil and the winter is mild, make some Basil Powder!  Delicious sprinkled over oil tossed salads, added to stews and steamed veggies! Grow purple basil as well as the green. Put it in a pretty little glass jar, add a bright ribbon or green garden twine, label, and it is a sweet organic homemade gift!

The best time to harvest is just as the plant starts to bud, well before flowers bloom. Different varieties of herbs flower at different times, so, heads up!  Be on the lookout for buds or newly opened flowers as your clue to harvest ASAP!  Harvest after the dew has dried, and before hot midday sun; evening is fine. You missed the ‘bud window’ and your plants are already blooming? Not to worry. Just know your powder will be less pungent and you will need to use more to get the flavor you want. So keep watch on your plants to take advantage of this tasty window!

Harvest the topmost leaves first. Snip leaves or branches, pinch off flower buds to keep the plant productive. Harvest the entire top half of your plants, or, of course, you can use as much or as little as you want. You can also cut the entire plant about 6 to 8 inches above ground, leaving at least one node with two young shoots intact. The plant should produce a second, but smaller harvest several weeks later.

Traditional Method

Wash, dry – spinner or flat and patted on paper towels. Dry is good; mold is bad.

Use some string, or plant twine, or wool, or a ‘shrink-to-fit’ rubber band, to securely tie the stem end of your basil bunch. If you are tying, make your knots good and tight; when the basil dries it shrinks.

Hang your basil upside down to dry – string a taut line from eyehook to eyehook for a drying area for all your herbs! Choose a dry spot out of the sun, not over the toaster or stove, not burnt nor moldy. Indoors it can take about 4 weeks. If you hang it in a dry attic or airy porch, it might take only 2 weeks or so. It’s dried just right when it’s nice and crunchy and breaks easily.

Organic Gardening.com uses this simple method instead!

  • Don’t tie basil stalks together or hang them to dry as you might other herbs. (mold factor)
  • Pinch or snip leaves from the stems and place them on a screen or absorbent towel.
  • Stir daily and allow to dry until crackly.
  • Store in an airtight container.

You can store stems and leaves whole in zip baggies. You can crumble into particles. Or you can make a fine powder. I use my mini coffee bean machine – only for herbs.

Non Traditional Methods

  • Oven:  Preserving Your Harvest says ‘If using cookie sheets to dry the herbs, place the herbs to be dried on parchment paper to avoid direct contact with the metal trays. Metal contact darkens the color of the herb being dried, causing the Basil to lose its bright green color.‘  Blake2012 says ‘Dry in a very cool oven (high temperatures will result in tasteless herbs).’
  • Sliding tray racks
  • Dehydrator
  • Sun dried
  • Freeze dried – retains green color!
  • Microwave or Freezer! Fastest of all! Caution from Whole Grain Texan! ‘A word of warning: Plant material will catch on fire in the microwave if you dry it out too much — I once had a little mishap when sterilizing sphagnum moss– but if you do it in 30 second intervals it won’t be a problem.’ So don’t let your kids do this without supervision, and don’t be a kid yourself!
  • Though not a drying method, put finely chopped basil in olive oil ‘ice’ cubes!

These methods can be used for any herbs! 

Mint, tarragon, lemon balm parsley, dill, rosemary, chopped chives! Modify your methods for plant differences, ie sage has a much thicker leaf. Have you dried Arugula?!  It’s much like basil, and in fact, is used as a basil substitute! Dried arugula is reported to have a smoky, savory flavor, even a little salty.  Tasty used in tuna salad, vegetable broth, mushroom soup, on scrambled eggs. Sprinkle basil or arugula over your dried kale snacks!

Use your basil on pasta, omelets, scrambled eggs, roast meat and/or veggies, sausages, in salad dressings, on fish. Use in delicious sauces, gravies, dressings, any recipes that use fresh Basil. Now you can say you have two season basil! That’s why we call it ‘seasoning!’ Enjoy it summer fresh, and in winter too!

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