Preserve Summer Herbs for Winter Cooking

08/09/2013 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener In the Garden, Insects, Tips, Vegetable Gardening

sphinx moth over lantanaThis week’s photo shows a sphinx moth enjoying the nectar of a Miss Huff lantana. Sphinxes are beautiful as adults, but as youngsters (in their worm stage) they devastate any and all tomato and pepper plants. During its caterpillar stage of life local gardeners know the sphinx as the dreaded ‘Green Horned Tomato Worm’! Moths have been laying eggs in our gardens for several weeks, and now local gardeners are telling stories of hoards of the green munching machines devouring their plants. This is serious stuff! If left unchecked these worms can strip all the foliage from their plants of choice. So, take a close look at your tomato and pepper plants TODAY!

Judging by the number of customers streaming into the garden center to see me about their ravaged gardens, worm despoliation has progressed to epidemic proportions. ‘Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew’ is the easy organic solution to deal with these nasty pests. Simply spritz tomato and pepper foliage with this non-offensive liquid. Then, later in the day as the caterpillars digest the leaves, they die, and their devastation stops.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Garden HerbsIf you have herbs in your garden, you know that many are peaking. Although I’ve been harvesting like mad, quantities are exceeding consumption at our house; so it’s time to start preserving for later use. One of the easiest ways to preserve culinary herbs is to dry them. Drying is a quick process that effectively retains herbs’ essential oils and flavors.

Air-drying Method

  1. Cut only healthy branches from plants.
    Remove dry or spotted leaves.
    If necessary, rinse with cool water and pat dry with paper towels.
    Remove lower leaves from the bottom inch of the branch.
  2. Gather together 4-6 branches, and using string or rubber bands tie them into a loose bunch.
    Punch several holes in a paper bag and label it with the name of the herb.
    Place the herb bundle upside down in the bag.
    The bundle of herbs should not be crowded or cramped.
    Tie together the exposed stems of the herbs and the open end of the bag.
    Hang the bag away from direct sunlight in a warm, airy room like a garage or mudroom.
  3. In two weeks see how drying is progressing.
    Keep checking weekly until herbs are dry and ready to use.
    Dried herbs retain more of their flavors when the leaves are stored whole in airtight containers.

Not only is air-drying the easiest and least expensive way to dry fresh herbs, but slow drying doesn’t deplete the herbs of their oils. This process works best for herbs with a low moisture content like bay, dill, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, summer savory, and thyme. Um-m-m!

Frozen Leaf Method

  1. Harvest the freshest, healthiest leaves.
  2. Spread the individual leaves on a small tray or cookie sheet. Freezing the individual leaves flat and separated will prevent them from freezing together into an unwieldy brick.
  3. Put the tray of leaves into the freezer.
  4. When the leaves have frozen solid, gently place them in airtight containers, and return them to the freezer. Very tasty!

Ice Cube Method

  1. Stuff 2-3 individual leaves or a spoonful of chopped herbs into ice cube trays.
  2. Fill the tray half full with water. Make sure the leaves are submerged in the water. (They will tend to float, but we’ll fix that with the next step.) Put the half-filled trays into the freezer.
  3. Once the cubes are frozen, finish filling the trays with water. The leaves will no longer be able to float and can be completely surrounded with water. Now place the tray back into the freezer to freeze the cubes until solid.
  4. Once the ice cubes are formed, remove them from the tray and store them in zip-closing freezer bags.
  5. When ready to use, toss the whole ice cube into the dish you’re cooking. Yum!

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Autumn Blaze maple is the only maple tree to consider for planting at this altitude. There is no other maple that thrives in our mountain soils and extreme weather conditions. Critically important is that it stands up to our winds better than other shade trees. Maple trees are harvested in late summer, and because of generous rains, this year’s crop of Autumn Blaze maples is really nice. Expect an annual extreme growth of 3 feet or more from this shade tree. Its autumn colors glow like embers in a blazing hot fire, thus the name. This tree is perfect as a street and driveway tree, for patios, hot sunny walls, and any place that needs shaded relief from summer. Summer is the ideal time to plant a new shade tree. It will have time to establish a nice root system, and then, come autumn, it will be ready to show off its spectacular blazing red colors. There is no pest that is a problem to this tree.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

coarl bell plantGarden Photo Contest. First, submit your best garden photo at Then, have your friends (and yourself) vote for your photo. The entry with the most votes wins a free plant. Local growers have generously donated free plants for winners and the friends that vote for them. You could win a beautiful flowering perennial plant that will give you gorgeous blooms every year and have fun doing it! I encourage all local gardeners to upload garden photos including themselves and their friends in the gardens. Hint – Pictures with dogs, cats, and other garden wildlife always receive the highest numbers of votes.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.

One Reply to “Preserve Summer Herbs for Winter Cooking”

  1. Ken and staff, Way to go, good stuff, we LOVE you guys!!

Comments are closed.