Farmer and owner of Purple Sage Farms in Middleton, Idaho, Tim Sommer believes that growing herbs goes hand in hand with cooking at home.
Many people across the country have recently started or expanded their home gardening business by planting lettuce, vegetables, and herbs for culinary or medicinal purposes. Knowing what’s in season guarantees optimal taste and freshness.
During the growing season, summer recommends visiting local farmer’s markets, plant nurseries, or farms for live plants or naturally harvested seeds, often combined with growing advice from local experts.
Mike Sommer in the greenhouse amid Purple Sage Farms organic basil.
Once potted or in the ground, herbs thrive in well-drained soil, says Mike Sommer, Tim’s son and manager of Purple Sage Farms. Coarse sand or fine gravel can be helpful additions.
“The herbs don’t need to be spoiled,” adds Mike. Some herbs, such as coriander, even gain flavor when you are stressed.
Be aware that too much water can cause fungal growth on the plants and certain plants may require different watering techniques.
Growing pollinator plants along with herbs will attract local bees while repelling more harmful insects. When choosing flowers to aid pollination, the Idaho Botanical Garden recommends adding plants that bloom at different times during the growing season. For example, crocus flowers support the first wave of bumblebees in late winter, while Oregon grape flowers and catnip feed the insects until late spring. Good choices for summer are ceiling flower, fern bush, and coneflower to feed butterflies; Asters and rabbitbrushes also provide nectar and pollen in the fall months.
Once spring arrives, the Idaho Botanical Gardens do not recommend removing dried plant stems that are home to overwintering bees and raking leaves that can provide helpful compost. Purple Sage Farms uses sheep dung as compost, which the farm in turn uses to grow miner’s lettuce and comfrey, which can be made into a compost tea that can be sprayed in a garden or as fertilizer on plants. Feverfew, lemongrass, and mint can act as natural insect repellants.
If you are interested in growing a variety of your own herbs, Idaho Botanical Garden recommends considering a greenhouse in a sunny part of your property. When growing herbs in beds, regular weeding is beneficial.
Calendula is one of the many edible flower varieties grown on Purple Sage Farms.
Harvest, use and storage
When it comes to harvesting, Purple Sage Farms recommends hand-harvesting herbs in their prime at their peak of nutritional value and flavor, when essential oils are most abundant.
“Herbs love to be harvested, so cut and use them often,” says Mike.
The summers recommend leaving the herbs on the stalk as they dry. If you live in a warm, dry geographic area, place herbs on paper towels to dry naturally on a flat work surface away from the sun. It might be tempting to speed up the process in the oven, but Jackie Sommer, Mike’s wife and manager of Purple Sage Farms, doesn’t recommend it.
“Most ovens don’t have a setting below 170 degrees, which is way too hot to dry herbs,” she says. “It is best to dry herbs at 110 degrees or lower to preserve their taste, nutrients, color, and shelf life.”
Once dry, the herbs may need to be hand-sorted for unwanted, leftover stems or flowers before use.
Dried Marigold Give petals. Aliveness and a touch of bitterness any enterIt ise, starter or salad. Photo courtesy of Purple Sage Farms.
Freezing is another preservation option, but not all herbs work well for the process.
“Rosemary wouldn’t be a good herb to freeze because of all the essential oils,” Jackie continues. “Some herbs, like basil, are great to freeze when they have been made into foods like pesto. It just takes some lemon juice and a protective barrier like plastic wrap to preserve it most effectively. We prefer freshly dried herbs over any other method; in our experience nothing else is comparable. “
Dried herbs can keep their quality for up to three years if stored in an airtight jar or container in a cool, dry, dark place out of the sun.
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