Last year, we started our first garden. It wasn’t much but we had some surprises, like a basil plant that got so big it looked like a bush. Unfortunately we waited too long to harvest the basil and then we lost it in an overnight frost. So I’m learning. Here are a few things I can share about herbs:
The great advantage to growing your own herbs is that they don’t take up much room–you city dwellers can grow them in flower boxes on your window sill — and you can keep harvesting them throughout the growing season. To do so, pinch off the big leaves first (usually at the top). This will allow the younger leaves to thrive.
Thai basil flowering
1) Remember that herbs grow only a certain size: when they’re done, they’re done. Basil leaves, for example, will get no bigger than the bowl of a tablespoon; but it’s best to pick them when they’re the size of a teaspoon’s bowl.
Also: keep the plant “clean” by picking off wilted or yellowed leaves.
2) Do NOT let your herbs flower. Once they flower, they are overdone. Their leaves will be bitter. If you see–at the top of the plant–that your herb is getting ready to sprout flowers, pinch or cut off that top part.
If you’re lucky, there will come a time when you simply cannot keep up with your herbs–they are growing like gangbusters and you’re getting more than you can give away.
3) That means it’s time to harvest and dry your herbs. You can dry them either by tying them up in bunches and letting them dry out over a period of one to three weeks. Or you can spread each batch over a baking sheet and cook them dry at about 200 degrees. If you cook them dry, you’ll have to watch them very carefully because it’s easy to burn them in the oven.
Note some herbs simply have to be oven-dried because they are too moist: basil is one.
Also: if you want to air-dry them, do not hang them in a sunny window–the sun will bleach them.
4) Store your dried herbs in glass jars or plastic containers. They should crumble easily as you rub them between the palms of both hands. Make sure your herb container is air-tight. A humid day can make dried herbs soft again. If that happens, just set them in the oven briefly to crisp them up.
Home-grown herbs are ten times fresher than anything you’ll get at the grocer’s. And they are pesticide free!