Despite lack of rain, you still must dry herbs

The rain has been spotty all summer, some areas get real rain, others (like where I live) are in drought. I am seriously watering the most water-needing plants in the garden, tomatoes and zucchini, with lighter sprinkling of the other plants such as carrots, celery, shallots and herbs. Most potatoes are harvested; the Yukon gold took advantage of the spring rains to grow much larger than the red potatoes.

A couple of years ago, I planted peas the end of July and had the best harvest ever, so now I plant peas and spinach in late July. There is a risk of early frost, but we have had a long fall the past few years and these plants like growing under cool conditions and don’t seem to mind germinating in the heat.

Second-planting zucchini is growing well, planted early in July when my two plants were looking sickly and I thought they were dying. Of course, they didn’t, but the new plants will extend the season into the fall.

When there is so much zucchini, we try different ways to make use and not waste the bounty, most famously leaving them at neighbors’ doors. I’ve tried drying and freezing with unsatisfactory results, so now use zucchini in muffins (zucchini bread recipe put in muffin cups) and a casserole that I freeze for that taste of summer in January.

It’s getting a bit late to prune woody shrubs, but the late winter/early spring pruning of the previous year’s growth stimulated new growth which needs to be pruned to allow enough time for growth and hardening off before the winter. If you wait too long, the new growth will not be hardened and will freeze. In other words, I prune in late winter, let new growth develop, prune that in mid-summer, let the bush grow again and not prune until the following late winter.

This is for plants like yew and other shrubs. Forsythia gets a severe pruning after flowering every three years or so and in between just grows wild. I like forsythia with arching branches, but plants are resilient and you are the boss, so prune to please yourself.

Herbs are getting harvested now; I cut a few stems of basil, rinse, then hang from a string to dry (if you have paper bags, put the basil in the bag to dry); leaves are removed from a few other stems, dried in the dehydrator, and stored in a glass jar. Cilantro has gone to seed (coriander), which I collect, dry and mix with whole black peppers in a pepper mill. I also use the seed for planting next year.

Sage gets cut, rinsed and hung to dry. Rosemary is brittle when dry, so after stems are cut and dried, I strip the leaves and store in jars (also makes a nice gift). Dill has pretty much gone to seed now, but leaves may be dried and stored and the seed heads collected in a paper bag for seeding next year.

I have one plant of stevia (the sweet leaf plant) that I plan to use to make an herbal tea and will cut and dry a few stems. The lavender plants did not do well through last winter, so there are only a few flowering stalks. They’ll be cut, dried and added to the herbal tea mix.

If you have a lot of lavender, you can put it in tea, put it in (canola) oil to make an infusion that you then can bake with, make lotions or soap. I only use parsley fresh and it pretty much stays usable until a hard frost.

Thyme has small leaves, which are a nuisance to remove from stems, so I cut, rinse and (oven) dry stems, then stuff them into plastic bags; whole stems are used in soups and stews and later fished out, leaves are removed from a few stems for dishes that call for just leaves.

Wow, I grow and use a lot of herbs! Enjoy the bounty.

Susan Carty is a local gardener and a professor emerita of biology at Heidelberg University.

Contact her via:newsroom@advertiser-tribune.com