A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘harvest’

Harvesting and Drying Herbs: Lavender, Oregano, Thyme and Marjoram

The gorgeous lavender flowers kept the bees very busy the past couple of weeks, but I noticed that the majority of the blooms had faded and the bees were absent Saturday morning.  According to some sources, lavender flowers should be cut when the flowers first start blooming, in order to have the highest level of oil retained in the dried flowers.  I couldn’t take the lavender away from the bees, though.  So, I waited until most of the flowers were spent, then cut them down in the morning when the oil is at its highest.   I bundled the flower stalks up using some rubber bands, then hung them to dry upside-down so that the oil  drains down from the stem, concentrating in the dried flowers.  All-bloomed-out, they still smelled wonderfully pungent!

Spanish lavender blooming

The above picture was the lavender in bloom just a couple weeks ago – it was such a gorgeous, deep shade of purple.  Each one of the flower stalks run down to the plant, where I cut each one right above the green foliage.  This is what it looks like now:

Lavender after a trim, 4/25

Hopefully this will urge her to send up some more blooms later in the season.  Here’s what the bundles of dried lavender looked like:

In the meantime, the herb garden was just overflowing.  I needed to make room for a couple new plants, but first, I seriously needed to do some harvesting!  If you will remember, last year I had two basil plants in the back.  They produced so much basil that I still have several ziploc bags full of dried leaves.  Basil is best fresh.  It’s OK dried, but it loses a lot of flavor.  I won’t ever eat all of the dried, especially not now until November when this new plant dies.   With two plants, however, we just had too much for the three of us to consume. So, I only bought one this time around …  In the place of where the other plant was last year,  I put a dill transplant.  I saw it at the nursery and thought, why not?  We eat dill at least a few times a month, so that makes sense.  Plus, it attracts butterflies as well.

Herb garden 4.25.10, before its cut

another view ...

Harvesting is a little time-consuming lately!  At least, more so than last fall.   There was so much to cut, it took me two hours to cut, sort and bundle to dry.  The sage was pretty buggy, especially the one that was flowering.  Every one had sugar ants, fire ants, green loopers – that probably took me the longest just to rid the blooms of bugs.  I wanted to hang them upside down and see how they dry.  But yeah – bugs galore.  Obviously everyone is very happy, as the sage didn’t seem to be any worse for the wear.  Needless to say, I didn’t harvest any sage.  That’s okay, too.  I have a large jar full of dried leaves from last fall.  The oregano was probably nearly 12″ tall in some areas.  I cut it back as much as 8-10″ in most places, especially near the back where the chives are trying to get more light.  I had a full bowl of two types of oregano.  They smelled outstanding.  The marjoram was just harvested a couple of weeks ago, so I only cut a small bundle of that.  And, I had the largest thyme harvest I’ve had to date!

one of two bowls (10" wide) of oregano

this gets covered with a bag and hung in a dark closet until dried - 7-10 days

Herb garden 4.25.10 - after!

Weeds, Spinach, Flowers and More

It was time to do some major clean-up of the yard this weekend.  We’ve only mowed the lawn once since last September, so it was starting to look pretty shaggy.  Unfortunately, our lawn mower is in disrepair and I had to hire a guy to come out and do the mowing for us.  First, however, we had the rather large task of pulling weeds …  I didn’t realize until we got started how much of the yard was actually weeds!  UGH!  THIS is why I don’t like grass …

After pulling several hundred weeds, I also decided to pull two of the spinach beds and switch them over to the summer crop.  I pulled up five heads of lettuce and I harvested a full grocery sack of spinach leaves from the second and third spinach beds – too much for us to consume by ourselves.  We had some family over on Saturday, so I sent my sister and sister-in-law home with a sack full of spinach and lettuce heads.   My sister wrote on her Facebook page yesterday, “I’m enjoying the best salad I’ve ever had!”  I’m glad she’s enjoying it!

While we’ve harvested the spinach a few times, we have only eaten it raw.  Sunday night, however, I heated some olive oil and fresh garlic in a skillet and then sauteed a couple huge handfuls of spinach.  When they were cooked, they still had a crispness to them, and their flavor was oh sooo sweet!   It tasted so much better than the organic baby spinach we usually get at H-E-B.  I could eat spinach everyday like this!

In place of the harvested spinach, I went ahead and transplanted cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash.  The seedlings were getting quite large, and it was time to get them in the ground before they started going downhill.   I have four paper pots of seedlings for each veggie, and each one of those pots has two seedlings.  I ended up transplanting three pots of each and I’m waiting to see how these transplants develop before thinning them.  I want to keep the strongest seedlings, and I want to have a total of three plants per hill.

Meanwhile, the broccoli continues to produce sideshoots and there are a few main crowns still forming.  I’ll be pulling these up in the coming weeks as well, but would like to squeeze a few more harvests out of them.  It’s been nice having fresh broccoli twice a week now for the past few weeks – all from only nine plants.  I continue to be surprised at how quickly the sideshoots form.

broccoli's main crown

another crown, still getting started

sideshoots everywhere - these are incredibly tender and delicious

I sat in the corner of the yard to get a good feel for how things will look when all of the landscaping is finished.  Michelle joined me out there, too.  In fact, she sat out in a chair and enjoyed the sun most of the afternoon.   She’s loving it already.  I told her I can’t wait until later this summer when all the plants are bigger and producing flowers.   “You’ll love it all the more when butterflies come dancing by you as you sit.”

It appears that even the container plants are anxious to get blooming.   The plants I’ve chosen for the butterfly garden have offered up some pretty colors for us:

Four Nerve Daisies

Trailing lantana

Purple Moss Verbena

Texas lantana

Spanish lavender

The Copper Canyon Daisies are also blooming, although they are supposed to be a fall-bloomer.  Perhaps they’re confused?  I thought I got a couple of photos, but obviously I’m confused, too.  I really love the smell of this plant!

Lastly, as I was sitting by the mint bed, I snapped this photo.  I’m continually amazed that all of these were cuttings from one small plant…

First spinach harvest – YUM.

Tonight, we made a homemade alfredo and started the dish off with a nice mixed salad of three types of organically, home-grown lettuce (Red Sail, Cosmo Savoy & Buttercrunch) … and, for the first time ever, a generous helping of hearty, earthy and rich tasting spinach for each of us.   We typically buy Central Market baby spinach and occasionally some of the organic spinach bunches, but this spinach was unlike any I’ve ever had before.  The wide crinkly leaves of this variety are thick, so it has a lot of substance in the mouth, yet the flesh is tender.

Now I understand why Popeye was crazy about this stuff!  🙂

fresh, crisp lettuce

and a large plate of fresh spinach leaves!

Carrots!

organic home-grown carrots: it's what's for dinner

I pulled up a dozen more carrots for dinner tonight.  They were delicious.  The shorter variety, Danver’s, is a little sweeter than the Big Top variety, which has a stronger parsnip flavor.  Both are wonderful.  I think I still have in the neighborhood of 75 carrots left to harvest over the coming weeks.  I should get some more in the ground in the next few weeks for one last crop before the end of February and the beginning of Spring!

Here is a handy chart I use as a reference for this area:

Click the chart to view as a JPG image or click below to view as PDF.

Aggie Planting Chart PDF for Travis County

Bountiful herbs!

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There's nothing like the smell of fresh herbs!

I harvested sage, basil, Greek and Mexican oregano, marjoram and thyme this weekend.  For those of you growing herbs for the first time, check out my three latest blogs about how to harvest these wonderful culinary delights!

How to Harvest Oregano and Marjoram

Mexican oregano before trimming

Mexican oregano, before trimming

the marjoram has become "leggy" due to not enough sunlight

the marjoram has grown “leggy” due to increased shade

Greek oregano covers the ground and surrounds the thyme

Greek oregano (center), before trimming

Oregano (also called wild marjoram) is a well-known culinary herb which is best known for its use in pizza, spaghetti and a number of Italian dishes incorporating tomato bases.   Oregano, like basil and sage, is a member of the mint family and is a perennial in our area.  I planted two varieties: Greek and Mexican.  Oregano’s cousin, Marjoram (or Sweet Oregano as it is sometimes called), is also a perennial that is hardy in our area.    Marjoram is the main ingredient in store-bought Italian seasoning and in Herbes de Provence and has a characteristically delicate, sweet flavor that is at its best when added late to a dish so that the flavor isn’t lost.  Both oregano and marjoram dry exceptionally well, with their flavors intensifying instead of dissipating like herbs such as basil.   Personally, the woody and floral perfume of freshly dried marjoram is heavenly and its flavor on chicken is truly wonderful.   It goes well with lavender.  While I use the Greek oregano for Italian cuisine, I think the Mexican oregano truly shines when combined with spicy tomato dishes because of its bold, peppery flavor, so I generously add it in along with crushed red pepper to just about any Mexican recipe.   It pairs nicely with cumin and cilantro.

Both types are fairly drought resistant and had no problem surviving the record Texas summer we had here in Austin this year.  With watering every five days or so, the two types of oregano cultivars I planted have since become the most prolific growers in the garden, sending out spidery legs of fuzzy leaves all around the surrounding plants.  The oregano would surely grow out over the sides of the garden wall if I didn’t trim it regularly.  The one marjoram plant I have does not grow as quickly as the oregano, but this is largely because it is shaded more by the basil plants than the oregano.  Nonetheless, it is one of the more fragrant plants in the garden and has been producing small white flowers for several months now.  Unlike basil, flower production in marjoram does not alter its taste, so I’m happy to let it flower and capture a few pics when I can.

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marjoram flowers smell and taste good, too

Oregano is also highly valued because of its medicinal virtues.  For some time now, Michelle and I have used oreganol extract for its antiseptic and antifungual qualities.  We take a dropper full when we start to feel physically run-down or feel like we’re coming down with something.  I’ve used it applied to a toothbrush with toothpaste to fight mouth infection, canker sores and alleviate tooth pain.   It is also useful as an antiseptic/antifungual topical ointment – whether applied to a cut, ant bite, athlete’s foot or nail infection, Oreganol truly works.  Like thyme oil, the a major constituent of oregano oil is thymol, so oregano oil/tincture can also be mixed into a powerful mouthwash [thanks to Jonathan for correcting me here – the major constituent of oregano oil is carvacrol).   I hope to be able to harvest enough oregano to make tinctures I can use for these purposes, but I will continue to use Oreganol due to its effectiveness.

Oregano and marjoram are harvested the same way.    I follow the main branch to a point right above a set of leaves and cut there.  This will produce a greater number of branches and a more productive plant.  As always, I make sure never to trim more than a third of the plant at any given time.   Unlike the marjoram, the oregano likes to “snake” along the ground, spreading out tentacles of branches.  These branches then form small roots on the underside, which will eventually root itself to the new location.   This can easily be used to one’s advantage when propagating plants as each rooted section can be cut off from the main plant, dug up and replanted.  One can also force the plant to root in this way by covering sections of the branch with a small amount of dirt then digging out the section a few weeks later, severing it from the main plant.

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trim the marjoram branch above a set of leaves

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a meager marjoram harvest, but it smells divine

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oregano – trim the same way as marjoram

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Mexican oregano harvest

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Greek oregano harvest

Like thyme, I bundle the oregano up with hemp cord and hang dry.  They take only a few days until they are ready.  Store in a sealed jar in the pantry and crumble the leaves when needed for the strongest flavor.

How to Harvest Thyme

thyme plant #1 before trimming

thyme #1 before trimming

No herb garden would be complete without one of my personal favorites, thyme.  Thyme is a drought-tolerant evergreen plant originally from southern Europe that is valuable both for its culinary versatility and medicinal qualities.   I have two English Thyme plants in the herb garden, also known as common thyme (I wish I had two more!).   I use this herb in a wide variety of foods on nearly a daily basis, including marinades, rubs, sauces, vegetables, pasta, olive oil, potatoes, soups, dressing, pizza and lots more.   The main constituent of the essential oil of Thyme is thymol, which is also the main antiseptic ingredient in Listerine mouthwash.  Various cultures have used thyme for its antiseptic and antifungual properties.  It is also quite effective as an expectorant, aiding those with colds or bronchitis.  I plan on making tinctures of my harvested thyme and trying out a few different recipes.

Thyme plants are easy to propagate by layering.  To do this, simply cover a vine or section of vines with a small amount of dirt, pat down and water lightly.  Come back in a few weeks and that section will have rooted.  At that time, simply cut the section from the main plant, dig up and replant.

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thyme plant #2 before trimming

The two tiny thyme plants I planted in late May survived the long hot summer and have really come to life this fall.   The particular plants I have produce a corkscrew like pattern of vines that curl around and up more than they bush out.  When they start reaching eight to ten inches tall, I like to cut them back a bit.  As always, the general rule of thumb I follow is not to trim more than a third of the plant at any given time.   I also take time to unravel the vines from themselves every once in awhile, allowing it to bush out a bit more.

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trim anywhere along the less woody branches, right above a set of leaves

One tip I learned is to spray the plant down with water the afternoon or evening before trimming to wash any debris away and give the herbs time to dry off before trimming and dehydrating. At first, I tried washing my herbs after picking them and they were difficult to dry that way. This method works much better. Another tip: harvesting the thyme first thing in the morning ensures the highest concentration of oils in the leaves as the oils withdraw into the stems and branches throughout the warmth of the day.

Trimming thyme is extremely easy.  The main part of the plant produces more woody vines and branches that I do not touch, but all of the newer growth can be trimmed back anywhere along the vine.  I trim mine right above a cluster of leaves, which forces the vine to branch out and produce more growth to be trimmed in the future.

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thyme plant #1 after trimming

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thyme plant #2 after trimming

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harvested thyme branches - tie together in clumps and hang to dry

Drying thyme is also very simple.  I wrap the cut thyme in small bundles with hemp cord and hang them to dry.  The small leaves of the thyme branches dry fairly quickly – faster than the the other herbs I harvest – and retain their flavor through dehydration and storage.