Summer Vacation

I normally take vacations twice a year.  The first time is during the Christmas holiday (see Learning to Unplug). The second time is at the beginning of summer. Our Christmas holiday is definitely the more restful of the two.

Summer vacation usually means getting out into the garden every day to weed and then there are animal needs to address. We’ll process a certain amount of food during this time as well. This is the time of year when we’re starting to see the benefits of having our garden. However, there is normally so much work to do that I really do need the time off in order to help Rebecca manage it all. So, the vacation part comes from not going into the office each day to write.

It’s not as if we won’t take some time off. There will be a few days where we go fishing first and do chores later. After all, even we have to have a bit of fun . Summer is the time for picnics, so we’ll probably go for a picnic or two to one of our favorite spots. Every summer vacation we also have some activities we do, such as putting together the annual summer jigsaw puzzle. It’s a fun way to spend a bit of time when we decide it has gotten too hot outside and want to spend a little time in the coolness of the house. Of course, kicking back in my hammock under the big maple tree next to the garden Rebecca has created for me is quite nice too.

The one big thing we do every summer vacation is barbecue every day. Normally I make the meat dish every day and Rebecca makes up a vegetable to go with it. Sometimes I cook both the meat and the vegetable dish to give Rebecca a day off cooking. The smell of roasted meat is a mighty nice way to spend an evening meal. I’ll use a combination of herb seasonings from Rebecca’s garden, butter or olive oil, and selected woods to give the meat a special taste.

This summer vacation will hold something special for me. I have an abundance of construction wood this time, so I’ll probably take a bit of my time out of the office to put up new shelving in our larder. Rebecca currently lacks a good place to put empty jars without cluttering up the shelves containing food. In addition, there have been times where we had such an abundance that we had to scour locations to put it all. The new shelves will ease some congestion.

We’ll be back to work on July 17th. If you have any questions regarding my books, please be patient and I’ll answer them when I get back. In the meantime, don’t worry if your email message goes unanswered. I assure you that I’m not going to ignore you. Happy computing!

 

Weeds, Weeds, and More Weeds!

I must have struck a chord with a few people on Monday (see Real World Global Warming). My inbox has received more than a few notes about weeds. Apparently, Wisconsin isn’t the only place that has been hit hard with them. I’ve received e-mail from a number of locations in the Midwest and a couple of places in areas like Texas. They do seem to be a problem this year. I think that weeds from prehistoric times have taken a sudden urge to sprout.

As I mentioned in my post, we’ve taken a new approach to weeding this year. The weeds are so bad that we’re weeding and immediately mulching. Otherwise, within a couple days time, it seems as if the weeds are coming right back. So far, the mulching technique seems to be working. The areas that we’ve managed to eradicate weeds from are staying weed free with the mulch in place. I can only hope the mulch lasts through the summer.

I’ve noticed a difference in the weeds this year too. We’re having more problems with quack grass than normal. Quack grass is especially troublesome because normal pulling does little to remove it. In fact, if you use normal pulling techniques (or worse yet, cultivate with a rototiller), you only help spread the quack grass. The major problem with quack grass is that it can grow through anything. We actually had it grow right through our potatoes and you’ll often see the stuff growing up through even tiny cracks in concrete and asphalt.

I’ve seen any number of sites recommend using roundup on quack grass. Don’t do it! You’ll only succeed in damaging your soil and other plants. In order to get rid of this pest without damaging other plants in the garden, you must loosen the soil completely and remove the long runner rhizomes.  The grass invades from the grassy areas surrounding the garden, so you should work from the inner part of your garden, outward. I’ve removed rhizomes four and five feet (yes, that’s feet) in length. When done carefully, you can remove enough of the quack grass to keep it controlled. I have never managed to eradicate quack grass from our garden, but I do control it well enough that it’s not much of a problem after the initial weeding. Even one rhizome nodule left in place is enough for the plant to start all over again.

I use a combination cultivator/mattock to remove our quack grass, especially considering the hard baked clay soil this year. This isn’t a genteel weeding device. Use the cultivator part to carefully break up the soil by going straight down on the edge of the quack grass that points away from the edge of the garden. Raise the tool up slowly and carefully. You’ll normally find the quack grass rhizomes on top of the cultivator tines. Keep working to remove as much of the rhizome as possible in one piece to ensure you get it all. Use the mattock end as needed to break up the soil or to sever the rhizomes when you get to the edge of the grass.

Is quack grass bad? Not really! It’s a good plant for controlling erosion. You can’t ask for a better grass to hold a hillside in place. It’s also the best grass I’ve found for the areas where we run our chicken tractors. The chickens can’t seem to kill the stuff off. They will kill absolutely everything else off at some point, but the quack grass keeps coming back. The quack grass also provides good nutrition for our chickens and rabbits. So, it’s not a bad plant—it’s just not wanted in the garden.

We’ve also been seeing more pigweed and lambsquarters this year. Both are easily pulled, however, even in the dried out soil we’re currently dealing with. I wasn’t surprised to learn that both of these plants have different names in other areas of the world, so I provided links to them. Finally, our dandelions are growing profusely everywhere. All of these plants are theoretically edible (especially the dandelions) if you can find a clean source of them. I’m contemplating making the dandelions pay the ultimate price for invading our garden—consumption in a salad. The leaves also taste quite nice boiled with a bit of lemon and olive oil. However, for now, we’re just weeding furiously to get the garden in shape and aren’t taking a lot of time to separate the plants. The chickens and rabbits, however, are in seventh heaven.

What sorts of weeds are you having to control this year? Do you think we’ll eventually get some rain? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Real World Global Warming

Every time I hear someone talk about global warming, they discuss the issue in terms that have no real meaning to me. Yes, I understand that the average temperature is going to increase as a result of global warming and that I’ll see weather pattern changes. However, what does it really mean to me? Why should I care? I don’t mean to appear uncaring, but prognostications of impending doom are better served with a dose of reality.

I’ve already discussed one direct result of global warming—the USDA has defined new hardiness zones as described in my Contemplating the Hardiness Zone Changes post. However, even this direct result of global warming doesn’t say much to me. It’s not an indicator that I see every day—something I can point to and say that it’s the result of putting too many of the wrong chemicals into the air.

However, this spring is providing something in the way of a wake up call to me personally. Spring came early this year; very early. Odd spring weather is nothing new to Wisconsin—we get odd weather every year. In fact, it’s the variety and uncertainty of weather that attracts me to Wisconsin. However, no one can remember a spring coming this early. Our spring has also been quite hot and dry. As a result, vegetables that normally do quite well in our garden, such as broccoli, are doing poorly.

In fact, all of our brassicas are doing poorly. I should have planted the brassicas earlier this year to accommodate the warm spring, but I didn’t. Local wisdom says not to plant too much, especially not tender plants, until Mother’s Day, which was simply too late this year. After talking to a number of other people, I find that I’m not the only one who planted too late. Everyone is complaining about how their broccoli has bolted without growing a head. Yes, you can pick the pieces and use them, but what you get is more like a second crop, rather than that perfect first crop in the form of a head.

The weeds, however, are doing marvelously. Rebecca and I can hardly keep up with them. We’re grabbing bushels of weeds from the garden at a time when we’re normally looking at light weeds and are able to mulch to keep them controlled. This year, we’re battling the weeds with vigor and mulching as soon as we get a patch freed from their grasp. However, I’m thinking that the late summer weeds we normally get poking up through the mulch are going to appear by mid-summer this year, long before we’re ready to harvest some of the end of season offerings (assuming they grow at all).

Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad.  We’ve just had the best asparagus season ever. Not only have we had spears vigorously poking their heads above ground, but the spears are thicker and more tender than usual. Rebecca has quite a few meals worth of asparagus already frozen because we can’t even contemplate eating it all without making ourselves sick. So, we’ve learned that asparagus loves exceptionally warm springs, but brassicas  don’t.

We’ve also had a pleasant surprise in the form of cantaloupes. Normally we have a hard time growing them, but we try anyway. The other day I noted that our cantaloupes are already flowering. They also appear quite vigorous this year, so I anticipate getting a lot of a cherished fruit that I often have to buy at the store as a “nicety” instead of picking it from my garden. This change in garden does lend credence to my number one rule of planting a wide variety of items to see what works and what doesn’t in a given year. Next year may very well prove to be the year the brassicas fight back, but this year I’m expecting a lot of broccoli soup.

I had mentioned in a previous post that our trees have also been affected by the spring weather. It turns out that our tree fruit harvest is just about ruined due to the odd weather because our trees simply aren’t used to it. We had thought we might get an exceptionally good berry harvest (the bushes are certainly full enough), but the exceptionally dry weather has already caused the black caps (a kind of raspberry) and the blueberries to fail.  On the other hand, the grapes apparently love our spring and are putting out more than I’ve ever seen them put out.  We can still hope that the blackberry and gooseberry harvests will be good too. The point is to look for the good and bad in the situation (as I described in my Every Year is a Good and a Bad Year post).

When you hear people discuss global warming in the news, it really doesn’t hit home. A degree or two temperature rise doesn’t quite make an impact. Even seeing the loss of ice at the poles doesn’t really hit the nail on the head like seeing your gardening conditions change so significantly that you never imagined they’d be the way they are now. Most scientists now accept global warming as a reality, but they continue to spout facts and figures that most of us can’t begin to relate to. What does global warming mean to you? How have you been affected by it? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Contemplating the Hardiness Zone Changes

Just in case you weren’t aware of it, the USDA has recently changes the hardiness zones for the United States. The hardiness zones help you understand what will grow in your area. Certain plants require warmer temperatures in order to grow and others require cooler temperatures. For example, if you want peaches, you need to be in a warmer zone. Our area has changed from 4B to 4A, which means that some types of trees that I couldn’t grow in the past will likely grow now. You can see an animation of how the hardiness zones have changed on the Arbor Day Foundation site.

Most people would agree that changes of this sort make global warming undeniable. Of course, it’s a misconception to strictly say that the effect is global warming, which is a misnomer. Yes, the planet has warmed up some, but a more correct assessment is that the weather is going to become increasingly chaotic. The point of this post is not to drag you into a discussion of precisely how global warming will affect the planet, what generalizations we can make about it, whether our scientists can define any long term trends about it, or anything of that sort. I’ll leave the discussion of how much man has contributed toward global warming to those with the credentials to make such statements. The point is that last year I was in Zone 4B and now I’m in Zone 4A. The long term weather changes have finally appeared in the form of new charts from the USDA, which after all, are only predictive and not infallible indicators of anything.

There are some practical considerations in all this and that’s what you need to think about when reading this post. The change in weather patterns means that you need to rethink your garden a bit. Not only do you need to consider the change in heat (the main emphasis of those hardiness zone charts), but also differences in moisture and even the effect on clouds. Little things are going to change as well. For example, have you considered the effect of increased lightning on the nitrogen levels in your soil? If not, you really should think about it. The weird science bandied about by those in the know has practical implications for those of us who raise food to eat after all.

Even if you aren’t into gardening at a very deep level, the changes in the hardiness zone chart has one practical implication that no one can escape. The literature on the back of those seed packets you buy from the store is going to be incorrect for this year as a minimum. The changes from the USDA came out after the seed packets were already printed. When everything else is said and done, the main reason for my post today is to help you understand that you can’t believe the seed package—at least, you can’t believe it this year. By next year the seed companies will have recovered and the documentation on your seed packets will be useful again.

Springtime is approaching. If you live anywhere near my area of the country, it seems as if we’re going to have an early spring indeed. I don’t normally need to trim the trees in the orchard until the end of March. This year I’ll trim my trees on March 1st, a lot earlier than normal and even then, I might be trimming a bit late. A few people in our area have already seen budding trees. So, if you’re used to waiting until April or May before you get out very much, it may be a good idea to take a walk around your property now to see if there are any changes that you need to know about.

Global warming is a reality. The effects it will have on your garden and orchard are also a reality. Just what those effects are and precisely what has caused them are still being debated by those in the know, but if you’re a gardener, you need to be aware that the garden you had last year may not work this year. Let me know about the global warning-related changes in your garden at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Arrival of the Seed Catalogs

A special event takes place each year around this time—the seed catalogs arrive on our doorstep. Nothing says springtime like the arrival of these glimpses into the future. Rebecca and I wait for them each year with bated breath and eagerly anticipate what they’ll contain. The two major catalogs for us come from Jung’s and Gurney’s. We do receive other catalogs, but don’t look at them in detail quite as often as we do these two. The main reason is that these two catalogs generally contain everything we want to grow (and then some).

I’m sure that a few of you are already rolling your eyes and thinking, “Just how antiquated can you get? Why not look online?” I’ve been finding that online catalogs work great when you have some idea of what you want. If I want to buy a specific piece of software or computer hardware, a repair part for Rebecca’s vacuum, clothing, CDs, DVDs, and so on, then an online catalog works great. In fact, using one can save time. Growing a garden is a little different. Often, you don’t know that you’re going to grow something until you see it in a catalog. In short, viewing the catalog provides something online catalogs don’t provide as well—a glimpse of what you didn’t know you wanted.

Before someone places this sort of purchase in the impulse buying category, it’s good to consider how seeing new items can really help the gardener. The following list is my favorite reasons for looking at new items, rather than simply sticking with the old favorites:

 

  • Growing new items can help improve the nutrition the grower receives from the produce.
  • Different items take different nutrients from the soil, so growing new items can help keep the nutrients in your garden more balanced.
  • No one wants to get bored growing their own food.
  • The new items may have different resistance to pests, making use of pesticides less necessary.


These reasons won’t be enough for some people to consider going back to the paper catalog after establishing an affinity for the online version. There are other good reasons to get a paper catalog:

 

  • Some paper catalogs come with discount coupons that you don’t receive with the online version.
  • You can’t take a usable computer screen with you to show friends what you plan to buy (viewing gardening items on an iPad just doesn’t make it in my book).
  • It’s even hard for two people to view the catalog in the same way by sharing a computer display.
  • Using the online catalog often requires that you open your computer to potential virus attack in order to use JavaScript and those fancy multimedia features.
  • Catalogs make it easy to compare what you thought you were going to get with what you actually see in the garden.
  • The paper catalog is a handy reminder that you really do need to start thinking about your garden, even though winter still has a firm grasp.


Whether you get a paper catalog or not is up to you, of course. Some people will say that we’re wasting trees by continuing to get paper catalogs (we do recycle every last piece of paper that enters the house). Whether you use paper or online catalogs though, it’s time to start thinking about that garden. What will you plant this year? Let me know about your gardening ideas at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

The Garden in December

Most people don’t think about their garden after everything is harvested and cleaned up for the year—it just sits there, waiting for spring. However, your garden should actually be growing something this time of year, even if you do live in a colder climate like Wisconsin. If your garden isn’t growing something, there is a good chance that you’ll lose some of your soil to erosion. I know that there are a lot of methods that can help, such as not tilling your garden, but the presence of a live root system holding the soil in place is a really tough act to follow.

Our garden currently has winter rye planted in it. Don’t confuse winter rye, the cereal, with perennial rye, the grass. Believe it or not, the winter rye will remain alive throughout the winter. I keep an eye on our winter rye (at least, until the snow flies), which is currently doing quite well.

WinterRye

It probably looks a bit sparse here, but this concentration of winter rye is more than sufficient. I plan to wait until the winter rye is about 12 inches tall in the spring, and then till it into the soil. Of course, this process seems a bit odd to anyone who doesn’t realize what I’m doing. Planting winter rye (or another ground cover like it) has some significant benefits and presents few problems.

  • The ground cover keeps erosion at bay.
  • Winter rye fixes nitrogen that will be released as the plant decomposes.
  • There are fewer weeds because the winter rye shades it out.
  • You can plant earlier because the winter rye soaks up excess water in the garden.
  • The tilled-in plants act as a natural fertilizer, which reduces your costs.

The biggest problem with winter rye is letting it get too big. You’ll have to work with winter rye for a while to know precisely when to till it in, but if you let it get too big, winter rye can quickly turn into a frustrating mess. The best advice I can provide is to mow the winter rye down and then till several times. Be prepared to work really hard with the tiller because once the roots grow to a certain size, they don’t till very easily. We only let it grow too big one timethe result was enough to ensure we didn’t let it grow too large ever again.

For now, the winter rye is doing its job of keeping the soil in place. The snow will fly soon (as early as tomorrow) and I’ll lose sight of it until next spring. When the snow melts, the winter rye will still be there doing its work. I’ll till it into the garden and then plant our vegetables. The results will be great. This particular change in my gardening technique was easy because the results are so good.

This year we are trying something new. Part of our small garden is planted in spinach. From what I’ve been told, the spinach will sprout extremely early next spring and be ready to pick long before I even have anything else planted. So, we’ll be having salads long before anyone else has even thought about planting their gardens. I’ll be sure to let you know how it works out.

One word of advice here. If you do decide to plant spinach, it doesn’t appear to act as a ground cover. You want to plant the spinach up hill of the winter rye so that the winter rye can still control any erosion.  We planted our spinach in thin strips so that we could get to it easily, but the erosion wouldn’t be a problem. That’s one of the fun parts about gardeningtrying different things out to see how they work. Let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Sharing and Swapping Food

One of the centerpieces of self-sufficiency is, surprisingly enough, sharing and swapping food with neighbors. Yes, it’s possible to grow everything you need yourself, but absolutely everyone has a bad year in something. In addition, your soil and gardening techniques may produce copious quantities of one item, but prove dangerous, or even fatal, to other items. Your neighbors will have similar luck with other items. Consequently, swapping items between neighbors is one of the hallmarks of a self-sufficient community. The community as a whole benefits in such a situation because everyone ends up with a greater variety of food to eat. So, while you can grow what you need, you’ll eat better when you swap with someone else.

It isn’t just the garden though. Just about everything is swapped at times. One person may have an abundance of chickens and trade a chicken or two for some beef. These swaps aren’t done on a strict accounting system. People tend not to get too caught up on the price of the food—they’re more interested in exchanging something they have in excess for something they need. Of course, no one would swap an entire cow for just one chicken either . While the swaps aren’t strictly fair, they’re reasonably sono one tries to take advantage of someone else (otherwise, the community as a whole would stop swapping with them).

There are times when people simply share food, which is where the country ethic comes into play. We’ve shared wine, soap, or cookies with other people simply because we think they’re nice people and want them to enjoy something we’ve made. There is no other motive behind the act, other than seeing the smile on the other person’s face. It makes us feel good to see how others react when we do something nice for themacts of kindness are their own reward.

People have also shared with us. One winter we were extremely low on wood and I wasn’t able to get out and cut any. Our neighbors sent three cords of wood our wayan extreme act of kindness that we’ll never forget. We recently received a nice buck from some friends for nothing more than a smile. It isn’t often that you can fill your freezer with venison because of the kindness of someone else. The 65 pounds of meat is nice, being able to use the tenderloin for Christmas dinner is even nicer. I’ll make some lovely venison medallions (with wine we’ve made no less). It will be an extremely special Christmasone we’ll never forget.

Our swapping and sharing often extends outside our local village. Other good friends recently sent us a decadent cake that we’ll share with family and friends here. We’ll send a fruitcake their way later this week. I wish that our friends could have seen the smile on our faces when we received the cakeperhaps they felt the warmth of our feelings from afar (and certainly we’ve thanked them for their fine gift).

If you choose to become self-sufficient, don’t get the idea that you’re an island. No one is separate from the entire world. The more self-sufficient you become, the more you realize that the self-sufficiency of the community in which you live is important. It doesn’t matter if you live in the country, as we do, or in the city. The need to depend on others and also experience the joy of giving to those in need is possibly the best part of being self-sufficient.

Does your community swap and share? How are you experiencing the kindness of others during this holiday season? Have you done something kind, something totally unexpected for someone else? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Okra Pollination Problems

Every gardener faces the eventual problem that can’t be easily solved by talking with friends or looking online. This year presented one of those problems for us. We have big okra plants that aren’t producing any pods. Yes, there are a lot of flowers, but they aren’t producing anything. Instead, the flowers are opening, shriveling back up, and then dying as shown here.

Okra

You can see two flowers in this picture—both of which have dried up without producing fruit. All five of our okra plants are precisely in the same condition. They’re all nice big plants, but nothing to show for an entire summer’s worth of growth except some exceptionally beautiful leaves and dried flowers.

According to any number of sites, okra is self-pollinating in many cases. However, many of these sites also indicate that there hasn’t been any study done of the pollinators for okra and their effect on the plant. When I first noticed this problem, I spent time on a sunny day observing the plants carefully. A number of pollinators visited the plants, so it seemed at first that the issue isn’t one of pollinators.

However, I also noticed something else. On every other year, the okras in our garden are infested with ants. This year, there is not an ant to be found anywhere near our okra. A number of sites seem to indicate that the ants have no purpose for okra, but everyone complains about them. Now I’m starting to wonder whether the ants are pollinators or somehow help the plant in other ways. The okra certainly seems to put out a nectar that attracts ants like crazy.

The only other change in that particular part of the garden this year is that the patch has tomatoes in it. The okra is growing in row 4 of that patch and the tomatoes are growing in rows 1, 2, and part of 3. Last year, the okra was in row 1 of the same patch. Checking for relations between okra, tomatoes, and ants online proved fruitless. In short, there is no quick or easy answer for this particular problem except to say that it exists.

Our summer has been hot enough for the okra to grow quite large, so I’m sure it’s not a problem with heat. The okra has also been mulched and watered, so moisture isn’t a problem. Because the okra has been moved to a new row and that patch also received a nice layer of new mulch this past spring, it can’t be nutrients. I’ve checked the flowers and each one is producing the same amount of nectar as normal. I keep coming back to the lack of ants or some deleterious effect of putting tomatoes and okra in close proximity. If anyone else has a thought on this issue, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Every Year is a Good and a Bad Year

It’s easy to become discouraged in the garden sometimes. During the early spring you plant everything that you’ll hope will grow and produce plentifully. By August, you know which plants will fair the best and which didn’t survive at all. This year has been especially tough because I ended up getting gallbladder surgery first, and then, because we do everything together, Rebecca ended up getting gallbladder surgery as well. So, with both of us on our backs, our garden had a true test of being weed-bound. Unfortunately, that means that some plants didn’t live at all and some won’t produce well. Our corn was nice and tall, right before the wind blew it over. Many of our peas succumbed to the weeds.

Still, it’s a good year in many respects and that’s the aspect I choose to focus on. Good years fill larders with interesting vegetables and fruits. Apparently, this is a bean year. We planted the normal amount of green beans and Lima beans. However, the plants decided to grow twice as tall and twice as wide as normal. We’re now inundated with green beans and will soon have a bumper crop of Lima beans as well.

GardenEnough01

Not every year is a good year for every vegetable. In my Dealing with Overabundance post, I discussed how some years produce so much that you can hardly fathom what to do with it all. Last year and the year before were horrible blight-filled years for tomatoes. This year isn’t just good, it’s amazing. Our tomatoes have never looked quite this good.

GardenEnough02

Those are the same diminutive plants I wrote about in Mulching Your Garden. They’re over five feet tall now and loaded with so many tomatoes that we’re going to try pickling some green tomatoes this year. (Remember to try different preservation techniques whenever you can to discover new ways of dealing with overabundance.) The plants have obviously overgrown the tomato cages and are threatening the other plants in that plot. Unlike previous years, there is absolutely no sign of blight, even at the bottom of the plants (which are usually brown by now).

Many of our plants are late, but will most definitely produce. The egg plants and okra are of sufficient size that we’ll get the normal amount from them, or perhaps just a bit more than usual. As in most years, the egg plants are constantly under attack from flea beetles, but the lacing of their leaves hasn’t reduce their vigor much and we expect the normal crop from them.

GardenEnough03

The beets and kohlrabi look good this year as well. We fully expect to harvest enough to replenish our larder and even provide a little extra for next year. So, many plants are producing enough that we’ll most definitely not starve. It’s best to avoid focusing on the lack of corn this winter in the larder or the fact that there won’t be much in the way of broccoli (we will have an abundance of Brussels sprouts though).

It’s important to remember diversity in gardening. Don’t plant just one or two items—plant a variety of items so that at least a few of them produce well. This is our year for tomatoes and beans. Next year might be a corn year or the year of the mutant squash (we’ve had one of those lately and are still eating squash from that year). Each year is a good year for something, and an equally bad year for something else.

There is actually a health benefit to all of this. If every year produced copious quantities of whatever you planted, there would be no incentive to try something new. Gardens force people to moderate what they eat and to try new things. As someone once said, “Variety is the spice of life!” So, what has grown well for you this year? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com

Drying Herbs

This is the time of year when Rebecca starts drying the herbs that have been growing since early spring. Most of them have gotten quite tall. I’ll discuss one of my favorites in this post, lime mint, but she’s working on a host of other herbs as well. Of course, the drying process starts by picking the herbs. She started with a relatively large bunch of lime mint like this:

DryHerbs01

In order to dry herbs, you need some means of drying them. Some people use their ovens, which can sometimes damage the herbs. It’s possible to dry the herbs in the sun, assuming you have a nice place to do it and the temperatures are high enough. We use an American Harvest dehydrator like the one shown here.

DryHerbs02

It’s such a handy device that we own three of them and sometimes all three of them are in use drying various items. Rebecca makes vegetable chips and apple chips for me to use as snacks (among other items). She has also made venison jerky for me using one of these devices. Two of our dehydrators have the top mounted heater and fan, while the third is bottom mounted. When it comes to drying herbs, there really isn’t any advantage over using one or the other.

In order to dry the herbs, the leaves are stripped from the stem and then placed in a fairly shallow pile in the dehydrator trays. It’s perfectly acceptable to put the younger tops in whole, but you don’t want the really stiff stems in with the rest of the herbs. Here’s how a typical tray will look.

DryHerbs03

After you’ve finished filling trays with the herbs, you’ll need to set the dehydrator for 105 degrees. It takes about 6 hours to dry the herbs. During that time, you’re treated to the most exotic smells. The entire house was filled with the smell of fresh mint this morningit’s indescribable. The stack of herbs you saw earlier filled nine trays like this:

DryHerbs04

You’ll want to take the lid off from time-to-time to check the herbs (don’t do it any more than about once an hour). About halfway through the process, you’ll want to rearrange the trays, placing the bottom ones year the top (and vice versa) to ensure the herbs dry evenly. The herbs will look like this about halfway through the process.

DryHerbs05

When the herbs are completely dry, they’ll be a dark green. They’ll also crumble quite easily. Don’t be too shocked by the amount of herb you get for the initial investment. Here’s the completed lime mint from that entire bunch that you saw earlier (about 1/3 of a quart).

DryHerbs06

There is nothing quite so nice as home dried herbs. You’ll use quite a bit less of them than the herbs you get from the store. Rebecca places any extra herbs in a sealable bag, uses a Food Saver to vacuum seal the bag, and then places it in the freezer. This approach keeps the herbs extra fresh. Growing and preserving your own herbs makes for amazing meals and drinks (think herbal teas of your own design). Wouldn’t it be nice to be nice to be able to use your own herbs whenever you wanted? Let me know what you think at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.