Saturday, January 30, 2010

Working Over-Thyme to Plan our new Herb Garden

Pink, small, and punctual,

Aromatic, low,

Covert in April,

Candid in May,

Dear to the moss,

Known by the knoll,

Next to the robin

In every human soul.

Bold little beauty,

Bedecked with thee,

Nature forswears


- -Emily Dickinson

This year at Hand in Hand Community Farm, we're putting in a new, experimental herb and flower garden. So far we've compiled a nice list of both that includes (click on the links for pictures and details on each herb/flower):
Some of the names are probably more familiar than others. Some are typical household cooking herbs, which can be used fresh and/or dried (depending on preference) in cooking, or in beverages such as teas. Others are medicinal (although we never make recommendations regarding the use for this purpose---ingest herbs at your own discretion, and always speak with your doctor first), and some are simply for aesthetics and/or for crafts (potpourri, sachets, candles, soap making, essential oil components, etc). One of my future goals is to use what we grow to create all-natural products made with our herbs/flowers and other locally grown (and made) ingredients; to formulate our own product line of soaps, sachets, scents, and cosmetics (lotions, creams, powders, etc).

As for flower choices, English lavender was an easy one, as it's a favorite of our Humble Farmer. California Poppies, on the other hand, are the Farmer Babe's favorite...and both are reputed to be exceptional producers, organically speaking. Dog roses are simple and beautiful; their smell is intoxicating and heady. New England Asters are adorable pink and purple wildflowers that make lovely, sweet-smelling table bouquets. And Marigolds are not only pretty, but are reputed to act as a natural deterrent to the deer that inhabit the woods outside of the farm.

Ever thought of drying your own herbs? It's less difficult and complex than you might think. Just follow these steps, and you'll have a fragrant, dried bouquet of your own:
  1. Cut healthy branches from your herb plants.
  2. Remove any dry or diseased leaves.
  3. Shake gently to remove any insects.
  4. If necessary, rinse with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Wet herbs will mold and rot.
  5. Remove the lower leaves along the bottom inch or so of the branch.
  6. Bundle 4 - 6 branches together and tie as a bunch. You can use string or a rubber band. The bundles will shrink as they dry and the rubber band will loosen, so check periodically that the bundle is not slipping. Make small bundles if you are trying to dry herbs with high water content.
  7. Punch or cut several holes in a paper bag. Label the bag with the name of the herb you are drying.
  8. Place the herb bundle upside down into the bag.
  9. Gather the ends of the bag around the bundle and tie closed. Make sure the herbs are not crowded inside the bag.
  10. Hang the bag upside down in a warm, airy room.
  11. Check in about two weeks to see how things are progressing. Keep checking weekly until your herbs are dry and ready to store.
Then, to store your newly dried herbs:
  1. Store your dried herbs in air tight containers. Zip closing bags will do. I like to use small canning jars.
  2. Be sure to label and date your containers.
  3. Your herbs will retain more flavor if you store the leaves whole and crush them when you are ready to use them.
  4. Discard any dried herbs that show the slightest sign of mold.
  5. Place containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
  6. Dried herbs are best used within a year. As your herbs lose their color, they are also losing their flavor.
  7. Use about 1 teaspoon crumbled dried leaves in place of a tablespoon of fresh herbs.
On a final note, we're interested in your input regarding what you'd like to see us grow in this new garden. If you have a suggestion or recommendation, we'd love to hear it. We are most certainly interested in hearing about other organic flower options that will thrive in our climate zone. If you as a CSA member have a favorite flower that you'd like to have us grow, please let us know.


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