Sunday, October 22, 2006

Extending the Harvest: Peppers & Dill

We're back for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Pat. These are sweet peppers from early October, including Jimmy Nardello, Super Shepherd Frying, and Hungarian Paprika. I'm drying some for use in soups and stews, but they can also be snipped up into strips, double bagged, and frozen straight from the garden. No blanching or water-dipping, please.
early October sweet pepper harvest

I wasn't doing much blogging during the summer, due to a huge work project, but I do want to mention this tip for next year's garden. I was tired of messing with shade cloth, but didn't want to sun-scald my peppers. So I planted a few zinnias among the peppers, and made sure to snip them so they'd branch out. They shaded the peppers beautifully! zinnias planted with peppers in early July give shade in August, SeptA couple of weeks ago, when I picked all those peppers, I cut out most of the zinnias-- now that sun is a scarcer commodity, they need all the sun they can get! I noticed that a couple of the more productive plants were getting paler green, so I did a side dressing and watered it in. Finally, I put floating row cover over the whole thing, anchoring it to the trellis in back. I have a new crop of peppers ripening now. I may be able to get a 3rd extended crop in early November, if the daytime temps stay in the high 60's, even though we're hitting the low 50's at night.

Last time, we said we'd talk a little about dill. Here's a nice big mound of dill that I processed two or three weeks ago. The key to having nice dill is to snip it dry and put it in the coldest part of the freezer. big mound of fresh dillIf you need to rinse it, fine, but make sure it dries out fully, otherwise you'll have a lot of unwanted ice on it when you are ready to use it. Put it in water when you cut it, just like a flower, to keep it fresh until you can snip it. Otherwise it will wilt and lose quality, as well as being harder to handle.

What I do, as you can see here, is to snip the dill into small leafy sections and set aside the thick stems. I don't shred it entirely, as then it becomes a paste when frozen. I try only to snip little sections off the stems. clipping dill into storeable partsIt seems like it will take forever, but in fact it's very Zen and goes by quicker than you think. The reward is excellent, fresh dill flavor when there's no fresh dill to be had! I save the stems separately, as they are good to put in soup or a stock where you don't want to strain all those little dill-lets out.

This is the first year I've successfully grown dill from seed. It sprouted long after I'd given up on it, in fact. When I've purchased dill seedlings or pots and planted them in garden beds, they've done well but usually were attacked by aphids before I could harvest them-- or I was letting them go to bloom to attract beneficial insects. I am really liking the quality of dill I got by using young plants under 18 inches tall and basically taking the whole plant. I will try planting some more dill for winter harvest-- the cilantro likes to grow in the fall, and I am hoping the dill will as well. It's always a learning experience!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Drying Herbs for the Winter

After slacking off from gardening and garden postings for most of the summer, working on a big project, I'm back for Weekend Herb Blogging this week (and, I hope, on a regular basis). I've been snipping various herby bits out of my garden now and then for the past month, and realize there might be some interest. I put up a big bunch of dill, partially filled my marjoram bottle (yay), and am working on more. Here it is!

It's that time of year to trim one's herb gardens. Firstly, it's a chance to put by some of that herbal goodness for the winter. In many climates, a second set of clippings is able to be harvested, especially if one covers the herb bed at night with floating row cover or light muslin. Secondly, it's a good time to shape and prune perennial herbs for beauty and future productivity. One can also prune back herbs which are taking over the spots reserved for other herbs. In the small bed in this photo, after pruning, one can now see the wooly 'spicy oregano', a small moss-green spot, next to the now-revealed soaker hose. Previously, the summer savory was crowding it out, as well as sending up a thicket of tall woody stems. Most of those I've pruned off-- the stems can be dried and burned in the fireplace for a nice smell, or used as small skewers to flavor things.

The silvery 'curry plant', which does smell like curry, is mostly for appearance and novelty. I harvested some, but mostly trimmed it back so as not to shade my favored culinary herbs. It's visible beneath the rosemary here. Snip your herbs on a cloudy morning, after the dew has dried off but before the day warms up and the sun comes out. You'll get more essential oils in the herbs that way. Handle them as little as possible, putting them directly on a tray where you can dry them. Some folks bag and hang them, I just set them on our bookshelf in the dining room, out of direct sun and kittycat interference. From left to right: summer savory, curry plant w/rosemary on top, greek oregano, variegated oregano, wooly 'spicy' oregano. I like to mix the multiple oreganos in a crumble, though I will often reserve a stem or two of the whole plant aside for garnish or to use alone.

In this photo, we see purple sage and variegated golden sage, with a big bunch of lime thyme. I've since hung the sages on a little plastic dowel suspended between two bits of suitable clutter, and have spread the thyme out and turned it. The sage takes a long time to dry out. I'll keep it as whole leaf-- not sure how to make rubbed sage, and I still have some that I bought. I like to use the whole leaf in bean soups and various stir-fry preparations. The thyme I will strip from the stems and put in the jar. I use cleaned plastic prescription jars/bottles for my herbs. They're amber-walled, which protects the herbs from breaking down in the light, it's recycling, and I can write on the side with a sharpie. I can also toss them into a bag to go cook at a friend's place or go camping-- no glass to break. It's not elegant, but it works for me. :-)

Next week I'll show you how I harvest dill and freeze it so that it's fluffy and as good as fresh (almost). Check your dill for 'the grey plague', those awful aphids. I had to harvest ALL of two dill plants that were severely infested at the base of the stem. I lost a couple of small fronds, but the bugs hadn't made it up the stem yet to the tall parts. It's too dreadful to try picking the things out of dill fronds, ugh.