Extending the Garden
The massive uptick in people's interest in gardening is one of the surprising outcomes of the current pandemic. Whether it was because of the extra time that the shelter in place orders last spring brought, the need to find a new activity at home or concern due to food supply lines, many people began to focus on their home gardening this past spring and summer. Now that fall has arrived, it would be great to keep the motivation "growing" as we know there are many benefits – physical, mental, emotional - that arise from producing some of our food. Caring for a backyard garden takes considerable time, energy and attention. As such, finding ways to enjoy the things we grow through all the seasons remains a goal for many gardener's beginners and experts alike.
When I first began to garden, I found it disappointing to go through all the effort to grow my fresh produce only to have it die off as the season's changed. I wanted to be able to access my homegrown food long after the dog days of summer were behind me without moving to a warmer climate and away from the valley I love.
Last weekend a few friends got together at one of our homes for an afternoon visit. The host asked us if we wanted some tea, and then to my surprise, shared that this was the tea I had gifted her from my garden. I was delighted to think that my garden from last year was still bringing both her and me some joy and lovely warm sips.
I first began my food growing journey with herbs and edible flowers as they are so friendly and responsive to the novice. I love being able to list which ingredients have come from my garden to those enjoying a meal at my table. Year-round, there are the herbs, which sleep through the winter but grow fresh and abundantly come spring.
I extend my garden by drying favourite herbs on screens or cookie sheets or drying racks or with whatever I have around the house—packing the dried oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, mint, lemon balm, and sage into labelled mason jars. In my opinion, the flavours and aromas from herbs dried and stored this way at home are far superior to any I've bought at the grocery store, regardless if they come in an expensive bottle or plastic bag. There is a palatable difference between that which I grow and that which I buy.
After discovering my own dried herbs' deliciousness, I began to play with making my tea blends. One of my most favourite things is drying, storing and blending my tea to create delicious hot drinks into the fall and winter. Not only does it save me a small fortune on buying many different teas, but it also transports me backwards in time to my garden a few months earlier. I can easily forget that fact during our long, grey valley winters.
If you have a small yard or live in an apartment, rest assured herbs can grow in abundance in containers on decks and patios. They can be grown in window sills and pots in your home. If you did not grow any herbs this year, the option of going to the farmer's market to buy some that others grew and drying those offers a way to support your local growers.
Let's keep the victory garden resurgence alive and well!
How to Dry Herbs:
1. Gather the herbs you want to save. It is best to harvest herbs before they flower, but that is also a hectic time in the garden. If you miss that period, that's okay. Herbs can be harvested after they bloom as well. I always seem to gather all my herbs in the fall after they flower, and it has worked fine.
2. Wash the herbs and spin them in a salad spinner. I then wrap mine in a clean dish towel.
3. On a cookie sheet, arrange the herbs so the leaves are not touching each other. You can also use a cooling rack, screen or any other clear and dry surface.*
4. When the herbs are completely dried, place in a mason jar and label with the herb name and date harvested. We add the date because dried herbs have a one-year shelf life.
*If you prefer, the herbs may also be dried in the oven at a low temperature.