Monday, October 24, 2016



A vase of basil for the kitchen

By Rosemary Louden 
Adapted from The Herb Grower Magazine, 1979

The evenings have grown short again and the ground is damp from more frequent rain, yet the earth remains warm from the summer sun.  Annual plants are putting on a final show of green foliage and bright flowers.  Then, suddenly, the day is warm, bright and breezy.  As the sun sets it becomes quickly cooler.  There is a chill and you realize “It may frost tonight.”

All summer is held for a moment before you, lush and vulnerable.  It will be so different by morning.  Tiny vandals will scamper about darkening leaves and causing them to hang limp in the morning sum.  The impulse is to grab any spare basket, box and sheet for covering the plants as you did against the late spring cool spells; but you are struck by the size of the herbs. Six little basils fit under soup cans then. Somehow they have grown together in a fragrant mass to over three square feet.  Even bushel baskets will bend over the tops and make them look sad from a night of confinement.

Then you look at the number of cold-sensitive herbs in your garden.  So many grew from those few trays of seedlings.  It seems hopeless, short of a tent to cover your whole garden.

After the feelings of guilt for having failed to use, dry and pot plants  subsides, you realize the only road becomes clear: compromise.  Take inventory of the plants to be hurt by frost.  Decide what reasonable action can be taken.  Here is a suggested list:

BASIL - (tender annual) Cut to dry, make pesto, or flavored vinegar.  Put cut sprigs in a vase of water for rooting to grow in a window. If you see black seeds ready for harvest, clip the seed heads, put them in a paper bag, label and keep for sowing in the spring.
CILANTRO (hardy annual) - Cut for using immediately or make an olive oil parsley/cilantro pesto to freeze.  Harvest the brown seeds or scratch them into the soil for next year’s plants.
SCENTED GERANIUMS (tender perennial)- Put sprigs in a vase of water for potting up.
LEMON VERBENA (tender perennial) - Cut to dry. Leave a few leaves on lower stems and pot the main root to bring in for dormant storage. 
ROSEMARY (evergreen perennial) - Pot up and move to a sheltered porch or place up against a building.  Rosemary is cold tolerant but can’t survive a total freeze.  It should be transitioned indoors in the same way you gradually bring plants out in the spring.
DILL (hardy annual)- It is likely that a light frost will not harm dill, but it is better to cut some greens for drying or storage in your freezer and gather seeds when dry. Since this herb goes well with hot vegetables, you can create an herb butter log and freeze it; cut a pat of the dill butter for serving on squash or beans. 

BAY (evergreen perennial) - This tree is happy to stay in a pot all year.  It is time to move it with your rosemary plants and gradually bring it in for the winter.

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