Harvesting, storing and preserving herbs from the garden
By Melinda Myers
Enjoy herbs all year round. Harvest herbs now for garden-fresh meals and preserve a few for the winter ahead.
Snip a few leaves or leaf-covered stems as needed. For the same intensity of flavor, you generally need two to three times more fresh herbs than dried except for Rosemary which has an equally strong flavor fresh or dried. Continue harvesting herbs as needed throughout the growing season. And don’t worry about harming the plant because regular harvesting encourages new growth, which means more for you to harvest. Just be sure to leave enough foliage to maintain plant growth.
You can remove as much as 50 percent of the foliage from annual herb plants. This is about when the plants near their final height. You can remove up to one third from established perennial plants that have been in the garden for several months or more. Harvest when the plant has formed buds, but before they open into flowers for the greatest concentration of flavor. This is the perfect time to harvest herbs you plan to preserve.
Use a pair of garden scissors or pruners for faster and easier harvesting. Make your cuts above a set of healthy leaves to keep the plants looking good. Then preserve the flavor and zest of herbs with proper storage and preservation.
Store thin leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro for up to a week in the refrigerator. Place in a jar of water, like a flower arrangement and loosely cover with a plastic bag. Keep basil out of the fridge to avoid discoloration and others on the counter for quick and frequent use.
Wrap dry thicker-leafed herbs like sage and thyme in a paper towel, set inside a plastic bag and place in a warmer section of the refrigerator. Freeze sprigs, whole leaves or chopped clean herbs on a cookie sheet or pack clean diced herbs in ice cube trays and fill the empty spaces with water. These are great for use in soups and stews. Store the frozen herbs and ice cubes in an airtight container or baggie in the freezer.
Or bundle several stems together, secure with a rubber band and use a spring-type clothespin to hang them in a warm dry place to dry. Make your own drying rack from an old embroidery hoop, string and S hooks. Visit the Bonnie Plants do-it-yourself Herb Drying Rack project (bonnieplants.com) for detailed instructions.
Get creative and use some of your herbs to make a fragrant edible wreath. Use fresh herbs that are flexible and easier to shape into a wreath. They will dry in place and can be harvested as needed.
Speed up the drying process in the microwave. Place herbs on a paper towel-covered paper plate. Start with one to two minutes on high. Repeat for 30 seconds as needed until the herbs are brittle.
Store dried herbs in an airtight plastic or glass jar.
Keep enjoying these fresh-from-the-garden flavors throughout the remainder of the season. And consider preserving a few for you, your family and friends to enjoy throughout the winter.
Gardening expert Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. She is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Bonnie Plants for her expertise to write this article. Melinda Myers’ website is melindamyers.com.
Capital Roots: Serving the foodshed
By Rebecca Whalen
For Albany resident Hannah Rosen, food is so much more than just food.
“From backyard gardeners to multi-acre organic farmers, all growers are connected with what they have put time, commitment and hours of work into growing,” she says.
With a degree in culinary arts and an integrative studies degree focusing on natural resource sustainability and business management, Rosen has spent much of her life studying the nuances of the farming world; she understood how critical it is to eat food that was grown or raised close to home. However, she didn’t realize the impact that “eating local” truly had on her region until she began her post-collegiate work in the Capital Region, as Food Hub Buyer for local nonprofit, Capital Roots, an organization founded on the principles that eating local is not only recommended, but often the easiest way for urban families to eat well on a budget.
Capital Roots was started in the 1970s to provide community garden space to urbanites in the region. Today, its mission is to nourish healthy communities by providing not only access to green space, but also direct access to fresh produce through a host of unique programs.
When Amy Klein, Capital Roots’ Chief Executive Officer, began with the organization back in 1996, she could never have dreamed of the organization of today.
“At first, it was about fulfilling our name, then Capital District Community Gardens. We represented a four-county region [Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady and southern Saratoga], but we weren’t working in a four- county area; we were simply working within Troy where we were founded,” she recalls. “So being able to realize that goal and ensure that our service footprint reached those four counties and fulfilled that piece of our mission was critical.”
During her first decade there, Klein and her team worked day and night to expand programming into Albany and Schenectady counties and later in southern Saratoga. By the millennium, more than 30 gardens were helping to feed regional families, but there were still many neighborhoods left untouched, many still without access to fresh food.
Mobile veggie market
“It really was with the creation of the Veggie Mobile, our mobile market, that our service footprint grew,” Klein says.
The mobile market, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is a produce aisle on wheels, driving into neighborhoods lacking access to fresh, affordable food and letting residents hop on board to buy. However, the creation of the Veggie Mobile wasn’t only about bringing fresh food to families; it was also about supporting another vital portion of the region: the farmers.
“That was one of the key elements of creating the program,” she says, “to support the local farm economy, not exclusively because we wanted to be sure that we were providing our constituents with everything they could get in a supermarket produce aisle which included tropicals, but we wanted our consumers to have access to those top quality items that we loved, that came from our region’s farms. At the same time, we wanted to be able to support the farmers themselves.”
And so the relationship began: Capital Roots and Capital Region producers.
According to the USDA’s most recent Agriculture Census, nearly 850,000 acres of land are farmed in the Capital Region’s 11-county foodshed, which includes Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren and Washington counties. Rosen says these farms are vital to the region.
“Focusing on the local markets minimizes the use of resources involved in distributing products,” she says. “Small farmers, like the ones here in the Capital Region, are critical in the maintenance of biodiversity and sustainability of local resources.”
Today, Capital Roots partners with upwards of 75 different farmers and producers from across the region’s 11-county foodshed, and that list continues to grow. Rosen says working with so many farms means that Capital Roots is able to support as many small farms as possible while providing necessary and interesting produce varieties to consumers.
“When we need one product and have a farm that can provide some of that need, we are able to reach out to other farms to fill in those gaps,” she says. “This system of purchasing from many producers makes it possible for a small farm to still be successful.”
Black Horse Farms in Greene County began working with Capital Roots back when the Veggie Mobile first launched.
“Part of my father’s mission was to get out more fresh fruit and veggies to people who couldn’t afford it or didn’t have the means,” says Lisa Buhrmaster, the farm’s proprietor. “This partnership went hand-in-glove with us.”
Products of all kinds are purchased from her farm for sale on the mobile market and the organization’s other food access programs. Everything is purchased at wholesale cost and then sold at that same price, meaning farmers are able to sell their product and urban consumers are provided the freshest produce at affordable prices.
“It’s great that Capital Roots is helping all of these smaller farms,” Buhrmaster says. “If they weren’t here, where would these farms be going? People are being told to go out and make farms and grow, grow, grow, but no one is giving them the avenue for markets.”
This is one of the issues Capital Roots is actively working on. Klein says it’s an underlying mission of the organization to support this regional farm economy and identify—or create—other markets for these farmers to sell.
In 2014, the organization launched its Virtual Veggie Mobile, an online marketplace for farmers to sell their product more directly to urban consumers. A Washington County farm, Crandalls Corners, is just one of a few dozen farms selling their products virtually through Capital Roots.
‘We have it right here’
“It’s important that there’s a resource to connect farmers with those customers in cities and more populated areas,” says Julie Callahan, co-owner of the farm. “As long as Capital Roots has a program like the Virtual Veggie Mobile, we will remain a partner…. It’s important to have local sources of food and customers supporting local farmers so we don’t have to rely on food coming from across the country. We have it right here.”
And instead of placing the burden on the farmer to drop off the produce, Rosen and her team drive out to farms across the 11 counties on a weekly basis to pick up the produce from them. “We work with each producer individually to figure out what products would sell best for which program, and then we figure out the best way to get their products to our Food Hub,” Rosen says.
It was a natural fit for Capital Roots to work with these farms, but today the staff sees much more than simply product that they can obtain close by.
It’s about building a sense of consumer appreciation for the people who are putting in the work to feed our region. “We place a high value on local product, and we understand the challenges that farmers face in terms of the economics, regulations, markets, transportation issues, and deliveries of farming,” Klein says. “There are so many challenges they are presented with and yet, the passion they feel for it and the love that they have for it is so incredibly real. We all appreciate them so deeply for what they do, and we want to ensure that our farmers are here to stay.” Readers can place orders through the Virtual Veggie Mobile at market.capitalroots.org. Products change regularly.