Sunday, November 12, 2017

Drying Herbs For Pantry

The cold came fast in the GTA. Real fast. Minus -10º C overnight. Once weather reports warned of this onslaught, I took quick action and cut back our herbs growing in containers.

We love cooking with herbs and although, I do enjoy fresh, dried home grown herbs suffice over the long winter haul.

Here are just some of the methods I use to dry.

1.  Wash thoroughly. Even though we grew these organically, living in an urban environment (construction close by) I washed the cut herbs thoroughly.

2.  Laid the cuttings down on a clean towel.

 3. Covering them with another.

4. Gently wringing them, by rolling towels together.

(Be forewarned - this can get quite messy when you take cuttings from Rosemary and Thyme. They drop a lot of foliage if you squeeze too hard)

5. Tie them with an elastic on top and clip on to a drying rack. This is optional, but I find the best results are to dry the herbs over a gentle heat source - like a radiator.  Here, I just used a spare oven rack and leaned it on the window, on top of the radiator. I've seen folks use Sock Rack dryers, which work great!

(Note: Thyme and Rosemary can drop leaves when drying, so use a baker pan/sheet beneath to catch any fallen foliage.)

I left a few tougher herbs that I know weather the cold better, but not leaving them in their current position.

We tucked them in a vestibule, under cover, away from heavy frosts.

Results:  Within 5 days, the herbs are nearly completely dry.

You must thoroughly dry them to store. Slight dampness can cause mould developing in what ever container you use for storage.

Be creative.  When I ran out of room, I started to dry Peppermint and Lemon Balm by the window curtain rods!

Next step is gingerly removing them from the wrack and placing the cuttings in large paper bags and squishing them free from the stems till they become small bits.

Great for the spice cabinet in the pantry.

Some herbs can easily be chopped up fresh and kept frozen in freezer bags. I do this for parsley, dill and chervil.

Easy and simple.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Calendula - Collecting Seeds and a Simple Trick To Have Them Come Back Year After Year

Growing Calendula since a child, I never tire of this amazing plant. Whether you grow it for medicinal purposes, or just for it's blooms....'s one of the self seeding annual plants that every garden should have.

I grow both the single and...

....double flowering C. officinalis.

When I was a kid, we rarely collected seeds. Mom just kept a few seed heads in case.  We just let the plant do the self seeding process for us because we had the space and full sun.

However, I don't have the perfect conditions to grow the plant to allow it do its natural process. Unfortunately we don't have full sun on our current property. We have about 4-5 hours of direct sun and when establishing them, I need to foster them along. Our neighbour asked how we get ours to return every year, as they have struggled to have theirs return.

I think I know why...

This year it's been a fairly warm autumn in Southern Ontario. I've been deadheading spent flowers up until the 2nd week of September.  Repeat blooms are a result of thoroughly removing wilted flowers.

Now that the weather is finally getting colder, I have been leaving several seed heads to go brown. Leaving them on the stem too long, however (especially now with our current damp/rainy conditions) can be a bit tricky to make sure you have viable seed.

Usually it's best to allow the seed heads to dry to a dark brown, so that the seeds fully ripen and mature.  But with the wet cooler weather and no chance of heavy frost in the next few days, some seeds can begin to germinate.

Take a close look.

Noticing some seeds are beginning to have the primary root (radicle) poking out. When this happens, I scatter the seeds on the ground where I wish them to establish for next year and place some compost on top. You could dry them and bring them indoors, but several times I've noticed the seeds don't germinate when seeding in the spring.

When the radicle pokes through, sometimes the frost and the long winter can cause those seeds to die off.

One trick I was taught by my mom, was to harvest the seeds when they were still green, just slightly turning brown at the tips. To test, just take the seed head and touch them gingerly to see if the seeds begin to fall off.  Like in the one below...

They pop off rather easily when the timing is just right.

I clear out any chaff or dead bits and dry the seeds in a paper bag, by the window so they thoroughly dry out and save for spring seeding.

After 3 weeks or so, they dry brown and you can tell how viable they are, by squeezing some between your fingers to feel the seed.

In the spring, when you see the seedlings like the one above, you know you can hang on to the seeds, in case. Or, you can begin the seedling process indoors in March, so that the seedlings are advanced before the ones that are outdoors. This will lengthen the bloom time in the garden.

I've collected enough for our needs and will give some to the neighbours if need be.

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