September News from the MMG Edible Demonstration Garden
August found our team harvesting our summer garden. In years past, our produce has gone to the IVOF&G Farmstands. Due to COVID, the farm has suspended their sales this summer although they still offer CSA Boxes. We now donate our produce to Homeward Bound. Homeward Bound is in the Hamilton area. It provides provides shelter and services to homeless people. They get the benefit of our hard work and we get the satisfaction of helping our community.
It may sound odd that at the height of our harvest, the subject this month is herbs. Our team has learned a lot about how to dry herbs this summer. We are creating Herbes de Provence for the CSA boxes. Our Herbes de Provence is a simple dried herb mixture. We use 2 parts parsley to 1 part each of oregano, savory, thyme, and rosemary. You can find other receipts on line for Herbes de Provence.
Herbs are a wonderful choice for even beginning gardeners because they are:
- easy to care for
- drought tolerant
- most are year-round plants
- many do well in pots
- great for culinary uses
Summer is a great time to refresh your spice cabinet by drying herbs for use during the winter.
Our team has discovered that there is not one right way to dry herbs.
Rosemary comes out looking beautiful when dried hanging by the stems. First, wash in cold water and let it sit to dry for a bit. Then put together small bundles that allow for airflow, tie or use a rubber band to hold the stems together. Next, hang in a warm dark room or shed usually for at least 7 days. The rosemary should feel dry to the touch with no moisture detectable. Once dry, strip the rosemary leaves off the stem by running your hand down it. Then, crunch the dried rosemary by hand into smaller parts or put in a spice grinder.
Baking sheet method
You can hang thyme like rosemary but often the stems are not as long so it is harder to bundle it. Instead, after washing, lay the smaller pieces on a baking sheet and set in a warm room. Thyme often dries in less than a week. After drying, use your hands to tease the dried leaves off of the stems. It is easy to remove the leaves. Also, this method also works for oregano if you find the stems difficult to bundled.
Removing the leaves method
We tried both the hanging and baking sheet method for parsley. We found that hanging resulted in more browned leaves creating a less attractive mix. Instead, after cleaning the parsley well, we took the leaves off and dried them on a baking sheet as we had the thyme. Most of the leaves retained their color unlike the ones hanging. Peppermint is also best dried by removing the leaves.
Cutting back herbs
The most important thing to know about herbs is that the more you cut them back, the better they look. For example, basil, a summer growing annual, begins to have leathery leaves if it is not harvested. Cut the plant back to 2-3 inches and in a week, you will see new tender leaves that will soon be ready for pesto. The same holds true for other herbs. Keep giving them a haircut during their growth time. Then, you will have tender new growth that is perfect for drying. Drying your herbs will add spice to your winter dishes.
Photos by Joan Kozlowski, Marin Master Gardener