Every year, I plant my spring garden with lovely vegetables and herbs. All summer long and into fall, I enjoy tons of fresh home-grown herbs that complement my cooking nicely.
Not to mention, it always feels good cooking a dish and while everyone is enjoying it, letting them know that the herbs are from my garden. Sadly, when winter comes and my herbs start to die, I begin to relay on the dry herbs and spices from the store. But last year was the first year I realized that I should be growing and drying my herbs so that I can enjoy cooking with them year-round.
When starting in the spring, you must choose a good spot to grow your herbs. Herbs generally like to be grown in the northeast part of your garden. Some herbs are perennials that continue growing year after year and can be worked into your natural landscape. Others are annuals that grow and go to seed in one season. Annuals can be grown in your vegetable garden or grown in a herb garden.
Herbs like well-drained soil and don’t like their roots to be too wet. If you don’t have well-drained soil, you can help improve your soil drainage by digging out about 15 to 18 inches of your soil. Then, add three inches of a crushed stone or other rock-like material. Before returning the soil to your garden plot, mix in some compost. By amending the soil, it will help with your drainage problem and insure your herbs won’t be too wet.
You don’t have to fertilize your herbs too much. Over-fertilizing will make your plant produce a lot of foliage without good strong flavor.
A good tip is throughout your growing season you should pinch off the top of your stems before a flower head starts. Pinching the flower tops off will keep your plant from going to seed and dying back. Harvesting your herbs all summer long is easy by just snipping off however much you need whenever needed.
The end of fall, before the cold chill of winter sets in, is a good time to pull your herbs for drying. Dig the whole plant out of the garden and rinse them under cold water to clean away the dirt, bugs or any foreign material. Next, pat excess water off the herbs and let set until completely dry. Strip your herbs six inches from the top and remove any flower blossoms.
Hanging herbs in a paper bag in a dark well-ventilated room will help the essential oils move from the stems into the leaves and will give the leaves a nice dark green color. Herbs are ready for storing in about one to two weeks when leaves are shriveled and crumpling. Herbs must be completely dry before storing or mold will form.
Another great way to keep your garden herbs year round is by freezing them. Start by harvesting your herbs and washing them thoroughly. Next, blanch them in boiling water for 50 seconds and follow by quickly cooling them in an ice water bath. Then, place your herbs in a little water and set them in either ice cube trays or individual baggies.
Next spring is a great time to start a full herb garden to get your homemade spice rack going. So prep that soil, plant those herbs and dry or freeze them for a year-round wonderful cooking experience.
Kimberly Perriera is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.