Bolting herbs? Dry ‘em or freeze ‘em!

I don’t know about you, but a number of our herbs are bolting out back. What to do with them? Well, depending on the herb, I would suggest either drying or freezing them. That way you can enjoy your garden herbs long after growing season is past.

Taking a little time to dry and/or freeze your herbs means having garden goodness long after growing season is over.

Taking a little time to dry and/or freeze your herbs means having garden goodness long after growing season is over.

Basil, dill, oregano, mint, rosemary and thyme dry well. To dry basil, oregano and mint, remove the leaves from the stalk, rinse in a salad spinner and then spread out on a drying tray or kitchen towel in a warm, dry place. Let them dry for about a week, or until the leaves have gone crispy. Transfer to jars or freezer bags. Make sure you label because dried up leaves can all start to look the same…

Bolting Thai and Italian basil.

Bolting Thai and Italian basil.

Drying basil leaves.

Drying basil leaves.

To dry dill, rosemary and thyme, cut the roots off the stalks and hang plants upside down in small bunches in a warm, dry place. Once dried you can carefully remove the small leaves and put into jars, or if you’re lazy you can just put the whole thing – stalk and all – into a freezer bag and crumble off the leaves as you need for cooking. This tends to be my approach, as you can see from the above photo.

Parley freezes well in a sealed freezer bag. If you want to wash it first, remove as much excess water as possible before freezing. I also freeze hot peppers, since we don’t use them up fast enough while they are fresh. In the case of both parsley and peppers, you can just trim off what you need for cooking on an as-needed basis.

I don’t particularly like dried or frozen cilantro. In the case of cilantro, we prefer to let it go to seed and harvest the coriander seeds instead for cooking. However, some people totally do dry it.

Helpful herb fact: Thyme and oregano are perennial! Don’t pull up the plant by the roots when you’re harvesting for drying… they’ll come back next spring!

Say “Seeeeeeeds!”… Time for Seed Harvesting

Call it the “after thought harvest”… seed harvesting is not something that you might do or even think about if you are a newbie (or even seasoned) veggie grower. But if you don’t like forking out $3.50 a pack for organic seeds, then I suggest you give some thought, and a tiny bit of energy, to harvesting some seeds from your own crops to plant next year.

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Dried arugula seeds and pods (2012 harvest)

Of course each crop variety has a slightly different method for harvesting its seeds. In the case of “fruiting” crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins, the seeds are inside of the fruit, so must therefore be harvested from a picked fruit. I will leave those to a separate blog post later in the season… for now, let’s consider legumes and leafy crops, since that is what we’re harvesting right now.

Legumes (i.e. beans and peas) are the absolute simplest seed to harvest. Just allow a few of your pea and bean pods to fully mature and dry out on the vine. Harvest only after the pods are fully dried. A word of caution – don’t allow too many beans to fully mature off the bat or you will reduce the output of your plants. In the case of beans and peas, the more you pick, the more they produce! So wait until the plants are getting close to the end of their productive life before allowing pods to fully mature for seed harvesting. We have had excellent results with all peas and beans to date!

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Dried pea pod on the vine.

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

Harvested dried peas (2013 harvest)

In the case of leafy crops the concept is simple – allow some of each crop to bolt, flower and go to seed, then allow the seeds to dry on the live plant before harvesting. I really cannot stress enough the importance of allowing the seed pods to dry fully on the plant before harvesting. If harvested too soon, the seeds may not be viable, or they may be difficult to store without rotting. This takes patience! For the last month we have been annoyingly stepping around a tangle of bolted cilantro to water our swiss chard, biding our time til the seeds are fully dried and ready to harvest… all for the love of sweet, sweet crushed coriander seed. (In the case of coriander, we save a few seeds for planting, but we use it religiously in all sorts of cooking.)

Cilantro (coriander) seeds... almost dry!

Cilantro (coriander) seeds… almost dry!

Over the last few years, we have had really good results harvesting seeds from the following leafy crops: all lettuces (… and did you know that lettuce plants have beautiful yellow flowers when they bolt?); spinach; arugula; dill; cilantro; and basil.

Once you have harvested the dried seed pods from the plant, release the individual seeds by rolling the pods between your thumb and fingers, gently crushing the dried pod. Place your harvested seeds in paper envelopes; I would advice against plastic since trapped humidity can make your seeds rot. Label, and store for next year in a cool, dry place. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, make yourself a cute seed box to keep them all in …

Say Seeeeds!

Say Seeeeds!

FYI, to date, we have not had any success harvesting seeds from kale, although recently I started chatting with a man on an airplane who turned out to run a small cooperative farm. He said that you can totally harvest kale seeds, and that they are good for eating as a nutrient-packed sprouted seed! We are definitely going to try this in the fall… will keep you posted on that one.

 

Indoor planting… party?!

As if there is ever need of an excuse to eat fresh croissants with friends on a Sunday, but if you’re looking for one then an indoor seed-planting party is definitely a good one! The gist of the planting party is that everyone brings a little something to either plant or eat or both. Seeds are shared and planted in pots and flats, and everyone goes home with full bellies and an assortment of planted seeds to germinate indoors.

Jaune Flamme seedlings

Jaune Flamme seedlings

Due to Ottawa’s short(ish) growing season, if you’re planning on starting everything from seed, there are certain veggies that should be started up to eight weeks before the last frost date, which is May 6th, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. We held our planting party March 10th*.

Here is a list of the seeds we planted indoors and the source for each:

  • Jaune Flamee tomato (heirloom, Ferme Tourne Sol)
  • Black Cherry tomato (heirloom, Ferme Tourne Sol)
  • Montreal Tasty tomato (heirloom, Ferme Tourne Sol)
  • Mixed bell pepper (seeds harvested from 2011 planting)
  • Beaver Dam Hot Pepper (The Cottage Gardener)
  • Hungarian hot pepper (The Cottage Gardener)
  • Evergreen bunching onion (Urban Harvest)
  • Rosa Bianca Eggplant (Urban Harvest)
  • Dill (Greta’s Organic Gardens)
  • Cilantro (seeds harvested from 2012 planting)
  • Basil (seeds harvested from 2012 planting)
  • Sunflowers (Seeds of Creation)
  • Watermelon (seed trading table at Seedy Saturday)
  • Cantaloupe (from Ben’s dad)
Pepper seedlings

Mixed “Mystery” bell pepper seedlings

Here is a list of some things that are important to prep before you host your own planting party:

  1. Have all of your seeds in order and sort out those that should be planted indoors. All seed packets will come with planting  instructions will say whether a crop should be started indoors.
  2. Determine approximately how many plants you would like of each crop… I tend to err on the high side because it’s fun to give away seedlings to neighbours, friends and colleagues. (It is amazing the goodies you can trade for you home-sprouted seedlings!) Once you know how many you want, you can figure out home many pots/planting flats you need, and how much potting soil you will need.
  3. Make sure all of your pots and/or planting flats are the type that allow drainage. Some of the flats come with a clear plastic lid which provides an excellent greenhouse effect for little seedlings.
  4. Have some trowels and a small watering can or spray bottle on hand. Ask friends to bring their own trowel and any small tools they think they’ll need.
  5. Labeling is key, especially when you have many people planting several different types of seeds. Have masking tape and a few sharpies on hand and make sure people are labeling as they go… last year we somehow ended up with something like 2-dozen eggplant plants and no pepper. Whoops!
  6. Pick your house’s sunniest spot and clear out an area for the flats to live for the next 6-8 weeks.
  7. Good music, good friends and good food also help make a highly successful indoor planting event. Duh.

Once seeds are planted they need to be kept warm, moist and sunny. Take good care of these little babies! In the week leading up to the planned date of outdoor transplanting, the indoor seedlings should be left outside for several hours a day to “harden” them. Read more about seedling hardening here.

Afterthought: We had good germination on most of the above listed crops, with the exception of the onions… I think this will be the last year we bother trying to start those by seed indoors.