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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Drying Herbs for Winter

A dark, airy attic is the perfect place for drying herbs of any kind.
Copyright©Jim Long, 2012

Last night while I was making a pot of spaghetti sauce, I reached into the spice cabinet for my jar of Italian Seasoning. It was nearly empty, which reminded me I had not dried many herbs to replenish it. Fortunately there were plenty of fresh herbs in the garden to season the sauce, and those taste better anyway. But I will get busy this week putting together the ingredients for another jar of Italian Seasoning.
Lemon balm ready for drying.

Italian Seasoning, from my book, Great Herb Mixes You Can Make, needs (all dried): 2 parts marjoram, 4 parts basil, 2 parts oregano and 1 part crushed rosemary. Depending on the volume you want to make, parts can mean tablespoons, cups or pounds.
Springs of herbs ready for drying.

My method for drying herbs is to harvest stems with leaves, about 6 inches long, and tie 6 to 10 stems in a bundle, holding them together with a rubber band. I hang those in my drying room which is dark, airy and well-ventilated (an attic works well for this). I sometimes use my food dehydrator, which works really well, but this of year it’s filled with hot peppers drying.
You can put about twice this amount in the paper bag.

The other method that works well is to put 15 - 20 stems, a big handful, of the herb you want to dry into a brown paper bag. Fold the top closed, held with a clothespin or large paper clip, and toss it into the trunk of your car (or back seat if you don’t have a trunk). The paper slowly wicks away the moisture in the herbs, the paper keeps out sunlight, and the trunk of your car is often hot for much of every day. Give the bag a shake every 2 or 3 days to keep the herbs from compacting, and in about a week to 10 days, your bag of herbs will be crispy-dried and ready to use.
Herbs ready for drying in the car.

What not to do: Don’t hang herbs for drying in the kitchen. The light from household lighting breaks down the colors of the leaves, and when that happens, the essential oils that give the herb its unique flavor, will be lost. Additionally, drying this way leaves the herbs open to absorbing all your cooking and household smells - you end up with rosemary that smells more like bacon or pot roast, or even the family dog! Also, drying in the microwave isn't a good idea, either. Microwaves, by their design, vaporize moisture out of whatever is put in them. When the moisture is vaporized, so are the essential oils that give the herbs their flavor. You’ll have a great smelling microwave, and dried herbs that taste slightly better than hay.
Recipes and formulas for over 100 seasonings and projects.

Once the herbs are dried, crush the leaves from the stems, then measure the amounts to make the Italian Seasoning. Store your mixture in an airtight container in a dark place, like the kitchen cabinet or pantry. More seasoning mixes can be found in my book, Great Herb Mixes, which is available from my website ( or from a store near you. Happy seasoning!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bring Houseplants Indoors

Allspice and Bay Rum plants moved indoors.

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright© 2012 Jim Long

Every year I put off the job of bringing my indoor plants back into the house. They always do better outdoors on the deck than they do in the winter. But it’s a job that has to be done and as the nights get cooler, the plants need to come indoors.

I cease all fertilizing in early August. Giving houseplants fertilizer too late in the summer may cause a growth spurt, then when there’s not enough sunlight indoors, the plants suffer. The plants can even die due to too much fertilizer at a time when they’re going dormant. So definitely no fertilizer this time of year (that holds true for outdoor shrubs and roses, as well, they are all slowing down and going dormant for winter).
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Year around I keep Horticultural Oil Spray on hand. It’s mixed with water and sprayed with a small pump sprayer, and works well on vegetable crops in the garden as well as on houseplants (but not on African violets). So before I bring my plants indoors, I prune them some, then give them a thorough spraying, enough that the spray solution is dripping off the leaves. I’m careful to spray the undersides of the leaves as well as the stem or trunk of the plant, and even the top of the soil and edges of the pots.

If I dig up something from the garden - for example I’m bringing one of my hot pepper plants indoors - I’ll spray that the same way. Then in about 2 weeks, on a warm, sunny day, I’ll carry all the plants back outside and give them a second spraying. Why, you may wonder?

The life cycle of most houseplant pests is about 10-14 days. If you sprayed well before your brought the plants indoors, you’ve killed the insects that were on the plants already. But any eggs they laid will hatch out in about two weeks. The second spraying is necessary  to prevent new batches of pests.

The most common insects that plague indoor plants include: red spider mites, scale, mealy bugs and aphids. All of those are easily killed with the Horticultural Oil Spray. It’s available in some garden supply stores and on-line. I keep it on hand for sale when someone requests it, as well. It’s the most reliable way of keeping indoor plants healthy and pest free.

Scale insects are slightly more difficult to deal with and may require 3 or 4 sprayings over a couple of months. If you have old ferns or citrus plants, you’re likely to have scale. It looks like little bumps on the stems and undersides of leaves. Horticultural Oil Spray kills those in one spraying, but the eggs that haven’t hatched yet remain and repeated sprayings are necessary.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Plant Bulbs for Spring

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright©Jim Long 2012

It’s a challenge to think about next spring’s garden right now. Most of us feel like  our gardens have been whipped, beaten, starved and tortured by Mother Nature. Some folks have just given up and plowed under whatever was left of the summer’s garden. But those of us who are stubborn, hardcore gardeners know that come spring, we’ll be thirsty for some green and some colorful flowers.

Spring is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. Remembering what spring is like, is what gets me through the gray, dreary days of winter. Knowing that by spring, morels will come up, dogwoods will bloom and the tulips and other bulbs will burst out of the ground like pompom girls at a football game motivates me to plant.

To have spring color means getting down on your hands and knees and planting bulbs (or talking your grandkids into doing it). Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring bulbs, have to go in the ground in the fall. Anytime between the first of September and the first of December is good timing. Make sure the bulbs are healthy (meaning fleshy, rather than hollow or dry-feeling). Plant tulips, jonquils and hyacinths about 6 inches deep. For smaller bulbs like grape hyacinths, 2 inches deep is adequate.

Forget the sales pitches about adding bone meal when you plant tulips and jonquils. Bone meal is for building up bulb size, it’s what the commercial growers use to grow the bulb you eventually buy. Bonemeal does absolutely nothing to make the blooms better next spring - I learned this directly from a commercial bulb grower. If you want to fertilize and use bone meal, use it in the spring after the blooms have faded to build up the bulb’s strength for the next year.

Fall is the time to dig and divide iris and peonies and those will benefit by some bonemeal and some compost. Don’t use anything with a lot of nitrogen or you will get big leaves and no blooms next spring.

Garlic is another crop that should be planted now. I’ve planted as early as August and as late as the end of November, but the ideal time is mid to late September. It will grow throughout the winter and spring and by early summer, garlic will be ready to harvest. Because you are wanting big bulbs on the garlic, it too, benefits from bonemeal. I apply a cup of bonemeal for about every 18 inches of garlic row. And like all bulb crops, don’t get carried away with nitrogen. If you’re thinking of using fresh or not yet rotted cow or chicken manure on such plants - don’t. The high nitrogen content will  give you great big, green leaves and little else. That holds true for any bulb crop, whether garlic or decorative bulbs in the yard.

With a little effort now, a little bit of time digging a few holes, you will be rewarded next spring with loads of flowers. You’ll think back to this year and be glad you made the effort.