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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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February! SOIL & SEED Month!

Please see February 2010 for tips on aphids/white flies, slugs/snails, gophers, soil, seed starting basics! 

When there are warm days, it is ever so tempting to plant up summer veggies!  Don’t do it.  Not yet.  Start seeds. 

Depending on how much space you have, plant a last round of your very favorite winter crops – lettuces, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, turnips.  Bare-root asparagus and artichokes.  I forgot to tell you last month, you could start zucchini!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had an elder gardener who always started his in January, early February, and had great zucchini way before everyone else!  Other than zuchs, really look at those days to maturity, and add the number of days you expect for harvest duration.  If you plant a long maturing plant that would be harvested for some time, think if you would rather have that space for an early round of a summer veggie you love more.  Choose mildew and disease resistant varieties for your late peas.  

Keep sidedressing your producing plants, protect your tasty lettuces from slugs and snails.  Keep watch for aphids, and, if you disturb your plant and a little cloud of white things fly off, you have white flies.  Spray those little buggers off asap so they don’t spread to your other plants or someone else’s!  Keep up with your harvesting.  Wait until it warms up some more to prune frost damaged plants.  Even wait until next month to fertilize.  

But do prepare your soil for March summer veggie planting.  Dig if you must – I’m a no-dig, no weed person who leaves the living soil structure intact [see Gaia’s Garden, 2nd edition, chapter on soil].  Instead, prepare your soil by layering good stuff on top, called Lasagna Gardening, sheet composting, composting in place, or on-the-ground composting!  Garden smart!  If it is already there, you don’t have to move it from the compost pile to where it is needed!  Build your soil in place or in your new raised beds!  If you are putting raised beds on top of your lawn, lay down several layers of heavy cardboard first, to stop the grass and weeds, thoroughly soak it, then layer, layer, layer!  When they get there, your plant’s roots will easily poke their way through the cardboard.  Definitely attach gopher proof wire mesh to the bottom of your raised bed frame before you start filling it, unless you are creating your garden on top of concrete or a roof.  If you are container gardening, check out Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers: Garden in Inches, Not Acres. 

Healthy layering should be 2 dry/Carbon to 1 wet/Nitrogen. 

Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.
Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes. 

  • Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  • ADD dry materials – straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.  Fine chopped, smaller materials decompose faster.
  • Lay on manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.  Put on rinsed seaweed for minerals, scatter some yarrow sprigs to further speed decomposition, and, of course, your kitchen food waste. 
  • Think how that pile is going to decompose lower and lower.  Build enough layers to get the amount of soil you need.  Could be 18” high.
  • If you like, sprinkle some microbe rich topsoil over it all to ‘inoculate’ with living soil organisms that will immediately go to work.  Add a few handfuls of red wriggler compost worms.  Add any other amendments that make you happy.
  • Install some pathways.  Don’t walk on your oxygen rich breathing brew and squeeze the life out of it, or crush your worms and soil structure!  Keep things fluffy for good soil aeration and water absorption.   
  • If you need to, for aesthetic reasons, cover the compost with a pretty mulch that will break down slowly.  Spread it aside when you are ready to plant.  It could be down leaves; if you need your soil in that area to be slightly acidic, cover with pine needles (strawberries).
  • If things get stinky, add more carbon.
  • You want to plant NOW, or the same day you layer?  Can do!  Or your instant soil wasn’t so instant?  OK, here’s the instant remedy.  Make planting holes in your layers, put in some compost you purchased or have on hand, mycorrhizal fungi, and plant!  The rest will catch up, and the heat from the composting material underneath will warm your plants!  You WILL have a fine garden!  

If you do also need a traditional compost pile for spot needs, consider “No-turn” composting!  The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.  The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw – little air tubes, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than turned compost.  With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin.

So here are 3 ways to save garden time and your back!  1)  No digging!  2)  Compost in place, no moving it.  3) No compost turning!  Uh huh.

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