Preserve Summer’s Herbs for Winter’s Cooking

07/31/2014 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Tips, Uncategorized, 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. Local gardeners know that during its caterpillar stage of life the sphinx is 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.


If 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 the overflow for later use. There are several ways to preserve culinary herbs; the easiest method is to dry them. Not only is air-drying the easiest, quickest, and least expensive way to dry fresh herbs, but slow drying doesn’t deplete the herbs of their essential oils and flavors. This process works best for herbs with low moisture contents like bay, dill, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, summer savory, and thyme. Tasty stuff and less costly than supermarket products!

Air-drying Method:

  1. Cut only healthy branches from plants.
    Garden HerbsRemove dry or spotted leaves.
    If necessary, rinse with cool water and pat dry with paper towels.
    Remove lower leaves from the bottom inch of each 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 check how drying is progressing.
    Keep checking weekly until herbs are dry and ready for use.
    Dried herbs retain more of their flavors when stored whole in airtight containers.


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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 flavorful additions to that soup pot on a wintry day!

Ice Cube Method:

  1. Stuff 2-3 individual leaves or a spoonful of chopped herbs into each cavity of ice cube trays.
  2. Fill the trays half full with water. Try to submerge the leaves 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. When the ice cubes are solidly formed, remove them from the trays 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 treePlant of the Week – Autumn Blaze maple is the only maple tree to plant 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. Expect an annual extreme growth of 3 feet or more from this tree. Another valuable attribute of Autumn Blaze is that there is no pest that preys on it.

Summer is the ideal time to plant a new shade tree, as it will have time to establish an extensive root system before the stress of cold weather. Come fall, a summer-planted Autumn Blaze will be ready to show off its spectacular foliage. Its strikingly colored leaves glow like embers in a blazing hot fire, thus the tree’s name. It is perfect as a street and driveway tree, for patios, hot sunny walls, and any place that needs shaded relief during our hot months. Maple trees are harvested in late summer and, because of generous rains, this year’s crop of Autumn Blaze maples is exceptional.

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Garden Photo Contest: Local growers have generously donated flowering perennial plants for our garden photo winners. Contest eligibility is simple: First, submit your best garden photo at Then, have your friends (and yourself) vote for your photo. The entry with the most votes wins! I have been encouraging local gardeners to download garden photos that include themselves and their friends. Hint: Pictures with dogs, cats, and other garden wildlife always receive the highest numbers of votes.

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Free Garden Class:  Saturday (9:30 – 10:30 a.m.) Secret Gardens with Hedges & Privacy Screens

Not all plants are created equal when it comes to creating a sense of intimacy in the garden. This week’s class will point out the best hedge plants, the fastest growing, their height, thickness, spacing and the local technique that gets them to fill in FAST! A privacy hedge can block unsightly neighbors’ yards and annoying traffic, greatly enhancing the view from your property and cutting noise pollution. Experts will be on hand to help individuals with unique situations.

Free Gardening Classes info:


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