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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The best way to dry herbs.

Honestly friends it has been such a chilly, drizzly couple of weeks around here that I can hardly think about drying anything. I would like a summer do-over on account of crumby weather, and my head being elsewhere. But, as summer is coming to a close, let's try to preserve what we can. Let's dry herbs. 
Pick the lushest leaves you can. Strip the leaves from the stems. Wash thoroughly in cold water. Spin dry in a salad spinner, or pat dry with a towel. I'm using oregano to illustrate my point, but you can dry just about anything green and leafy.
When all of the excess water is removed spread then in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. I line mine with a paper towel, or lint free dish towel just to be sure none the the residue from whatever buttery thing I baked last doesn't stick to the leaves.
And the best way to dry herbs is...in the back of your car! Put the baking sheet of herbs in the back of your car, out of direct sunlight. After a day or two (depending on the heat) test your herbs for crispiness, when they are completely crispy dry, store them at room temperature in an air tight container for winter use.

This is a little (okay, ALOT) gimmicky, and I distain gimmick with every ounce of my being, but considering I have actually done this two years running, and it doesn't involve the purchase of overly specific equipment (assuming you own a car), I'm just going to own up to my sensational attention grabbiness and recommend that you try it. In the past I've discussed drying herbs in a warm oven. Works great, as long as you keep an eye on it. You want the over to stay warm enough to dry out the leaves, but not get so warm that it blackens them, which can be a little tricky. The back of the car seams to be the goldilocks sweet spot. Not too hot, and not too cold.

Monday, August 18, 2014

This Week (actually last week) In the Garden

Picked the first of our dry beans - Hidatsa red. I didn't realize the kids were picking them to play with (not to store for winter) until that had quite a collection of all kinds and degrees of dryness. Tough to be angry, its a pretty combination.
Dug the rest of our potatoes. I turned my back for a second, and the helper had become the boss. This guy means business. One mostly successful step in a plan I made one ccold February day, clearing out the potatoes makes room for the space hungry butternut squash and pumpkins. Only glitch is the pumpkins I thought I bought at a local nursery are actually crooked neck squash! How do they not keep better track of these things? I swear next year I'll start my own. I'm pretty sure I said that last year. 
That is our garden this last week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gardening with Kids : Kids Garden Books

I am always trying to make the most of the garden experience for the kids. I build them inviting places to play, let them run wild between the rows, get them involved in planting, picking, and weeding where I can. This year I'm trying to do a little more. We are taking one step further than just knowing where your food comes from. Since the first impatient seed pod popped in my chubby little hand, I have been fascinated by plants. I don't want any of the magic to be lost on the kids. Some times tearing something apart, totally destroying it, is the best way to figure out how it works. Maybe you remember last year when the kid's dissected flowers (dissecting, tearing to pieces...its a fine line) and used Eyewitness Plant by David Burnie to learn about the parts. That book is popular reading again this year in our house. It is great for learning about the parts of a flower and pollination, but the other information in is pretty general. Last time we went to the library I scouted out a couple of other books related to the current harvest, so when we snuggle up with a story at the end of the day, they recognize the pieces of the cosmo they just ripped to shreds. 
We don't dig many potatoes until the plants have died back, then we can remove everything -  tops and tubers. While the three of us are in the garden tearing things apart, the kids use their shovels to cut stems, and dig around in the potatoes I have skewered beyond usefulness with my fork. The stringy texture of the potato stem, the thin skin of the tuber, and the narrow ring of slightly darker flesh were all familiar to the kids when we read Potatoes by Sylvia A. Johnson  later in the day. This book clearly illustrates how the food produced in the leaves to transferred and stored in the roots. 
Grandaddy had already explained to J how a corn plant makes the soft, sweet kernels on a cob of sweet corn. J explained it to me almost perfectly a few days later. I was thrilled to find Popcorn Plants by Kathleen V. Kudlinski. It expanded on what we have already observed. While popcorn is in the name, this book talks about all different kinds of corn and the information applies to sweet corn, too. 

Even at our large urban library there weren't very many common garden plants represented in the plant section. I had pretty low expectation of these dry looking selections, but I was totally wrong about these books. They are pure, real fact, clearly presented without pandering to kids who would rather be playing video games or moms who would rather be on instagram. So nonfiction children's book publishers of America, if you're listening, how about a few more single plant science books for kids. We would love to learn more about garlic (cloves underground AND in the flower! What!?!), and beans (how do they know how to climb?) to name a few. I really learned a lot from these books (yeah, meant for kids, so what?), and enjoyed the thinly veiled educational excuse to tear apart some plants with the kids.



Monday, August 4, 2014

Thistle Down

Saw a flock of goldfinches eating thistle down.
Oh look a bee.
And a butterfly.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

This Week in the Garden : July 31

Today we are trying to dry onions on a wet day. I have been waiting for the perfect time to pull onions, but Im afraid that time has come and gone, and I was miles from the onion patch. So now we just have to make the best of it. Its a strangely damp week for late july, really throwing a wrench into curing garlic, onions and potatoes for storage. Usually we uproot these things in the sweltering heat but yesterday was delightfully cool, great for digging, not so great for drying.


This week weve picked more string beans than we know what to do with, our first sweet corn of the season (how did I not take a picture of that?),  a few potatoes, lots of zucchini, and all of the garlic and onions.  



Things are starting to look a little bare. Must start thinking about fall planting...