Endless Summer…

herb_drying

I get a real kick out of the first day of fall weather. Everyone fawns over the crisp air, the crystal blue skies, the mums and straw this ‘n’ that for sale all over town. If I could, I would turn back the clock to June and replay summer all over again! After a double dose of summer, I might embrace fall as readily as others do.

Fortunately, just because the calendar says September doesn’t mean that you have to give up the best of summer. You can ensure an endless summer by starting at the beginning of the season to preserve summer and keep it going until it rolls around again next year.

Preserving herbs

One of the quickest ways to spruce up winter meals is the addition of fresh herbs. Since it’s too cold to harvest fresh from garden, preserved herbs are the next best thing. The more you pinch back herbs (read harvest them) before they flower, the more prolific their production. Pinching or pruning herbs allows most of them to branch and produce two shoots instead of one at the point where you pinch them back. For best results, harvest them mid-morning after the morning dew has evaporated.

The easiest way to dry herbs is to air dry them. If you need to wash off dirt or insects, spray them with a fine mist and pat them dry between paper towels. Remove the bottom leaves, gather a few stems into a loose bunch and tie them together. Hang them upside down in a cool, dry location. Check them after a couple of weeks and each week thereafter until they are completely dry. To store, pull the leaves intact from their stems to keep the oils from dissipating, and store in air-tight jars in a cool, dark location. Crumble when you’re ready to use them.

Freezing herbs is a great way to preserve them for adding to soups and other recipes that call for fresh herbs. For soft leaves, chop the fresh leaves and add to an ice cube tray. Fill half the tray with herbs and top off with water. Freeze until frozen solid. Remove the ice cubes and place in a freezer bag and return to the freezer until needed. For soups, stews, pasta sauce, roasts, etc., just pop the ice cube into the pot; for butter- or oil-based sauces, defrost the herbs and drain before adding.

For rosemary and thyme, place the branches in a zipper bag and freeze. To use the herbs, remove the leaves from their branches as soon as you remove them from the freezer—there’s no need to defrost before use.

Preserving flowers and foliage

You’ll need to experiment to determine which of these two popular methods of preserving flowers works best for you. If you start early in the season, you’ll have enough dried flowers to add life to your home during the winter.

The best technique for air-drying flowers is identical to the one above for air-drying herbs.

To preserve the vivid color of flowers, the best method is preserving with powdered silica gel. It may take a few tries to perfect this method, but you’ll be richly rewarded for your efforts. You’ll need a shoe box or a clothing box with a fitted lid and powdered silica gel. Cut flowers mid-morning after the dew has evaporated, leaving only about an inch of the stem. Look for near-perfect blooms, because drying brings out the imperfections. Line the box with silica, place flowers on top and then very carefully add silica underneath the petals for support and then on top of the flowers so that they are completely covered. Cover the box tightly.

Drying times will vary, with thicker petals taking longer to dry. Check the flowers after a couple of days, and keep checking until they are dry, but not brittle. Carefully remove the flowers, turn over to release most of the silica, shake gently and remove any remaining granules with a small makeup or watercolor brush. Follow the label instructions exactly if they differ from the instructions here, and save the silica, because it’s reusable.

To arrange in a traditional flower arrangement, secure a wire with florist tape to the stem. Blooms without stems make an attractive arrangement in a shallow bowl or secured to a wreath with wire.

Preserving the summer garden through photography

Perhaps it’s never occurred to you to photograph your adventures in horticulture, but everyone has a digital camera these days, and as a general rule, it should be your constant companion in the garden. With digital cameras, you can click away until you accidentally snap that winning shot. Or, you can incorporate a couple of simple tricks to increase your odds of framing that winning shot in just a photo or two.

Most digital cameras are fully automated. In decent sunlight, all you need to do is compose the photo and shoot. You’ll want to immediately acquaint yourself with the zoom feature on your camera, because it will come in handy for shooting flowers at the back of the garden or zeroing in on a ladybug resting on a leaf.

“The rule of thirds” immediately helps even the most challenged photographer shoot winning photos. Imagine the viewer is divided into a tic-tac-toe board, in a 3 X 3 configuration. Most amateur photographers plant the object squarely in the center box. If you’re taking up the entire photograph with one dramatic bloom, that approach can produce a dramatic shot. However, if you’re photographing three or four flowers, or a landscape or garden scene, try moving the focus of the main object to the left or right third or the top or bottom third.

One more trick that will instantly improve your photography is to capture your subject from a different angle. Novice photographers tend to capture an object dead on. Try capturing the object looking down on it or slightly up from beneath it. What a difference a change a perspective makes!

Not only will your photographs warm your heart during the coldest winter night, but you’ll have a photographic journal of what worked and what didn’t work to aid you in planning for next season. If you’re especially talented, you can create a gallery of paintings from your photography. Preserving flowers and herbs as you go along will help you to create an endless summer and help to mitigate the end of season blues.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MJ Plaster has been a professional writer for more than two decades, originally an instructional designer and trainer, more recently specializing in lifestyle topics. She also serves as managing editor of the Florida Turf Digest. A former master gardener, when she’s not writing, she’s practicing alchemy in her gardens or helping friends to design and plant their gardens.

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