Peas, leafy greens, potatoes, Swiss chard, tomatoes and numerous herbs have thus far been harvested from my straw bale garden this year, states University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. The bales are lined up in pairs standing just east of her driveway, close to a water source. Every now and then, Allsup spies a 4-year-old grazing on onion greens and Swiss chard.
The tomato plants can only be described as lush and fruitful.
The mint, basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme are flourishing.Although a large percentage of Allsup's meals either have basil or chives, she also has a few methods for saving some of this year's bountiful herbs through drying and freezing.
Drying herbs concentrates the flavors and freezing allows recreation of summer freshness throughout the year.Drying herbs can be easy, however the bags involved in the process take up sufficient counter space in the kitchen. Lunch bags filled with sprigs of rosemary, sage and basil are allowed to dry to the point of crumbling before they are cleaned from the stem and put into jars for storage. The smaller herbs such as oregano and thyme are placed on trays lined with paper towels. The most important step in the process is ensuring the herbs are fully dry before storing them, otherwise they will not keep. Resist the urge to crumble up the leaves or else the herbs will lose their flavors faster.Dried herbs last about three months in the cabinet and up to a year in the refrigerator. Substitute one teaspoon of dried herbs for every tablespoon of fresh herbs when cooking.
Freezing herbs can be just as easy as drying and provides an alternative method. There are two common ways to freeze herbs: cubes and the blanching method. In the former process, roughly chop up the herbs to release their flavors, place them liberally in an empty ice tray and fill the spaces with water. Once frozen, place the cubes in a plastic bag for easy access during the cooking process. Cubes last about three months before their flavor is lost.For the latter process, blanch herb leaves for one minute until they brighten in color. Fish the leaves out, dip them in a cool water bath for an additional minute and then dry. Chop up the herbs and place them in freezer bags. Blanching herbs before freezing will ensure the freshness, taste and color of the herbs as opposed to putting them directly in the freezer.Do not let your herbs go to waste this summer. Dry them. Freeze them. Use them liberally. For more information on growing and preserving herbs please visit the University of Illinois Extension website on herbs at web.extension.illinois.edu/herbs/.