September 29, 2011

Gardening with Mr. C. - Save money with DIY Gardening

It has been two weeks since we posted a survey of past and possible topics. This resulted in 3 comments and 2 requests.  The first request was to discuss the topic below (dehydrating herbs, etc). The second request is for help to eliminate lawn mushrooms (my next topic). The third was a general comment. Do you want more articles after these? Please chime in to express your interests (see archive 09/18 - 09/28 comments). 

Dehydration removes water, usually by evaporation, from food to inhibit the growth of microorganisms that cause decay. The drying reduces the weight and size of the product and increases storage time. Some common methods are electrical dehydrators, ovens, and the sun or air drying indoors. I have a Ranco 5 tray, 125 Watt, natural heat convection (ie. without a fan) food dehydrator (replacement cost $40-$50.). I dry comfrey, sage, oregano, basil, parsley, dill, and cilantro.

Now is an ideal time to harvest your remaining herbs. Consider spraying leaves (top and bottom) with a garden hose and allowing them to dry before picking. Since it has rained regularly, I omitted washing and drying the leaves (but I check the undersides). I pick green mature leaves, leave the smaller ones to grow, and put the older ones in compost (drying will not improve them).

                                                                               Sage plants

I try to pick just enough to fill the dehydrator. This year I am taking the time to remove the sage leaf stems before drying. In the past, I would try to pick them out of the dried sage, but I always missed some, making them still usable but less desirable.

                                                                      Removing sage stems

Spread leaves evenly on the trays in single layers as much as possible. Since the bottom tray gets the most heat and dries quickest, reorder the trays every few hours (sooner for thin leaves like parsley). The thicker leaves (comfrey and sage) require a longer drying time than the others. The ideal sequence (from top to bottom) for 5 trays is: 12345, 54321, 32154. Continue drying until the leaves crumble between your fingers. I dump them into a wide bowl, crush, put into snack bags, seal, date and label them (they will make good stocking stuffers in a few months).

                                                                       Bowl of dried sage

For Italian parsley, I pick the entire stem (instead of individual leaves) and sit comfortably watching TV removing the leaves from the stems.

                                                                    Italian Parsley

If you don't have a unit and don't plan to buy one, you can use your oven. Place herbs on cookie sheets and dry at the lowest temperature with the door ajar (enjoy extra kitchen warmth on a cool fall day). If you have a sun-porch, place your herbs there to dry. My neighbor dries herbs on his kitchen counter (slowest method).

I have not undertaken drying fruits and vegetables yet, but for those who are interested in learning and want a good place to start, click here.

Check your lawn for mushrooms and watch for next weeks blog - Mr. C.