Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How to Freeze Herbs in 4 Easy Steps

Freezing herbs is easy, plain and simple. All it takes is a few minutes of prep work and a couple of supplies found in most kitchens. In four easy steps, learn to freeze your favorites and preserve them for winter use.


  • Cutting Board
  • Knife (paring)
  • Teaspoon
  • Ice Cube Tray
  • Freezer Bags

Step 1: Gather Herbs

The best herbs to freeze are fresh and unblemished. Allow them to mature to your liking and harvest before they get woody or start to wilt. Shake them free of bugs, dirt and debris.

Step 2: Preparation

It’s important to prepare your herbs before freezing. Think about how you normally use the ones already in your kitchen cupboards. Cut, slice and dice them to size using your kitchen knife. I prefer my paring knife and sometimes, my food processor which I use to prepare herbs like basil.

Step 3: Fill Ice Cube Trays

Using your teaspoon, fill each slot in your ice cube tray with 1 teaspoon of prepared herbs. Top off each slot with water and pop the tray into the freezer. As you fill the tray with water, expect them to float to the top.

Step 4: Remove from Tray and Store

When your herb cubes have fully frozen, pop them out of the tray and into freezer bags or containers. Make sure to label each bag with type of herb, amount per cube and date. Pop the bags back into the freezer, storing different types in different bags.

Enjoy Your Fresh, Frozen Herbs

When it’s time to spice up your meals, simply take the desired amount of cubes from your freezer and drop them into your hot dishes. There’s no need to thaw the cubes beforehand as the cubes quickly melt. Add to soups, stews sauces and more. Enjoy!

What are some of your favorite herbs?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hurricane Protection: Keeping Gardens Safe in the North

Here in the northern part of the U.S., we typically don’t get hurricanes; we get the leftovers. That usually means strong winds and heavy rains. Never the less, we should still protect our gardens when hurricane-like weather hits. There are two ways to protect your garden should strong winds and heavy rains sweep over your area.

Step 1: Cover Delicate Plants with Cloches and Plastic Covers

Whether it’s a prized flower or a delicate vegetable plant you’ve nurtured all summer long, cover it up. Retailers both local and online sell what are called garden cloches. These resemble clear domes in different sizes and are placed over plants.

Cloches protect garden plants from heavy rains, strong winds and falling debris. If you’re buying a set of cloches, make sure to get the right size. They come in small, medium and large.

If you’re a frugal gardener or on a budget like me, go ahead and make your own garden cloches. Use empty gallon-sized milk jugs, cut their bottoms off and slip over your plants for instant protection.

Retailers also sell plastic covers. These remind me of the bags used to protect dry-cleaning. If you’re opting for plastic covers, a more affordable solution, choose those that are reusable so they can be used next time a hurricane or its leftover strong winds and heavy rains hit.

Step 2: Stake, Cage and Tie Garden Plants

Stake, tie and cage those garden plants to offer them protection against strong winds; your tomato, green pepper and other top heavy plants and flowers will thank you. Secure trellises with additional stakes and ties. Place cages around small, delicate plants and stakes around those too large to slip a cage over.

Loosely tie the main plant stems to the stakes using garden twine or plant ties. (For strong winds associated with a hurricane, I’d opt for the twine.) Tying them loosely gives plants a little slack to sway in the wind causing less damage to the plant.

Strong winds and heavy rains can wreak havoc on your garden. Though these steps won’t stand up to the brute force of a hurricane, especially if you’re directly in its path, they go along way towards offering protection from the remnants we see here in the north.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

3 Methods to Preserve the Garden’s Bounty

It’s that time of year when the garden is busy producing bushels of beans, pecks of peppers and baskets full of tomatoes. It’s also the time when farmers markets are ripe with fresh fruits and vegetables being sold at their lowest prices. So, how can you stock up on this abundance of produce and preserve it to last until next season? By freezing, canning and dehydrating, that’s how.

Freezing Fruits and Vegetables

There are lots of fruits and vegetables that can be frozen after a quick blanching. Blanching is the simple process of adding fruits and vegetables to boiling water for a few minutes at a time and then plunging them into a bath of iced water to stop the cooking process. After patting them dry, simply place in freezer bags or containers, label with the date and name of contents and pop into the freezer. This method of preservation keeps fruits and vegetables good for about 8 – 12 months.

Canning Fruits and Vegetables

Canning and preserving fruits and vegetables from the garden is a classic way to preserve the garden’s harvest. With a few pieces of canning equipment, the right spices and a step by step recipe, you can preserve and store pickles, jams, whole fruits and vegetables, sauces and more for up to a year or more.

There are lots of great books on canning and preserving, my favorite being Blue Ribbon Preserves, and lots of free canning recipes online. Whether you’re a beginner or not, you’re sure to find lots of timeless and new recipes to try.

Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables

Dehydrating fruits and vegetables is yet another way to preserve your harvest. This method of preservation can be done in 8 - 10 hours in a food dehydrator or oven. The produce dries instead of baking because it cooks at a low temperature. Dehydrated foods can last up to a year when stored properly.

You can use one or all 3 ways to preserve your garden’s harvest. Personally, I use the freezing and canning methods each year, though this year, I’m going to try dehydrating some peaches and pears from my fruit trees. Which methods of preservation would you like to try?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guide to Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables from the Garden

Dehydrating, or drying fruits and vegetables, is a great method for preserving the garden’s bounty. After selecting the best produce and with a little preparation, you can have your favorite fruits and vegetables fully dehydrated in 8 to 10 hours.

Selecting the Best Fruits and Vegetables to Dehydrate

Fruits and vegetables that are dehydrated at their peak ripeness and those that are blemish-free last longer, look better, and produce overall better results.

Ripeness: Fruits and vegetables should be fully ripe, not over or under

Blemish-Free: No blemishes or bruises

Spoilage: No spoilage or brown spots

The Preparation Process

Prepare fruits and vegetables, especially fruits, as close to the time you’ll be putting them into the dehydrator as possible. This helps keep them from oxidizing.

Slice/Dice: Prepare fruits and vegetables by slicing and dicing them to a size you prefer. Remove the seeds, cores, husks, and any other inedible parts.

Uniformity: Slice and dice all fruits and vegetables as close to the same size and thickness as possible. This helps them to dry evenly and at the same pace.

Blanching: suggests blanching the following fruits and vegetables for 3 - 5 minutes to help them keep their color and shorten the amount of time it takes them to dehydrate.

  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Peas

Spice: Go ahead and sprinkle on salt or other desired spices before beginning the dehydrating process. How much, if any, you add is up to you.

The Dehydration Process

Every make and model of dehydrator is slightly different which affects the amount of time it takes to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. Always consult your owner’s manual for drying times and how to properly operate your appliance. It’s best to dehydrate one type of produce at a time because different fruits and vegetables have different drying times.

Placement: Ensure fruits and vegetables aren’t overlapping after placing them in the dehydrator.

Inspection: As the dehydrating process comes to a close, keep a close eye on what’s in the dehydrator. Remove a slice, let it coo,l and touch it. Does it feel and look dry? Use the inspection process to gage whether or not your produce needs more drying time.

When the drying time comes to an end, cut into a few slices and check for moisture. If you see any moisture bubbles your produce isn’t completely dehydrated and needs more drying time.

Cool Down: Let your fully dehydrated fruits and vegetables cool for 30 to 60 minutes after pulling them from the dehydrator. Drying racks work great for this.

Storing Dehydrated Fruits and Vegetables

Conditioning: Place dehydrated produce in jars making sure they are loosely packed and screw the lid on. Store them in a dry place for 7 - 10 days making sure to shake them once a day. Mason jars will work fine for this. If any jars form condensation, your produce needs to head back to the dehydrator for some additional drying time.

Final Storage: Place dried goods in air tight jars, freezer bags, or other storage containers. Store them in a dry, dark place with good air ventilation.

Dehydrated fruits and vegetables are good for up to a year, letting you and your family enjoy the garden’s bounty over the long winter months and then some. Remember to label and date your packaged goods and make notes about dehydrating times and other tips you learned along the way to make drying your produce even better the next time around.

Reference: Huffstetler, Erin. "How To Dry Fruits and Vegetables with a Dehydrator." Frugal Living., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2012. <>.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Vegetable Harvesting Guide: When & How to Harvest in the North

You put a lot of work into your vegetable garden and it’s only natural to want to reap the rewards - after all, you deserve it. To get the best tasting vegetables and encourage plants to keep producing, keep track of days to maturity and consult the following guide to know when and how to harvest vegetables in the north.

Chart of When & How to Harvest Vegetables

When: Spears reach 6 - 10" tall

How: Use a sharp knife & cut spears at ground level
Beans, Lima
When: Pods have filled out & before they yellow *

How: Twist & snap pods from plant
Beans, Snap
When: Pods have small seeds, about 1/4 the size of plant seed

How: Twist & snap pods from plant
When: Bulbs reach 2 - 3" in diameter **

How: Pull from base of plant
When: Terminal heads have tight, dark green florets

How: Cleanly slice heads 4- 5" below florets
Brussels Sprouts
When: Harvest when sprouts are small & firm

How: Twist sprouts off starting at bottom of plant & working up
When: Heads are firm and before they split

How: Cleanly slice heads from plant
When: Fruit is beige, blossom end is soft & stem easily slips off vine

How: Twist & pull from vine
When: Roots reach 1 - 2" in diameter ***

How: Twist & pull at base of plant
When: Heads reach 1-2" in diameter, tie outer leaves over head. Harvest 1 -2 weeks later before heads yellow

How: Cleanly slice heads from plant
Chard, Swiss
When: Early summer to first moderate frost

How: Break off outer leaves of plant
Corn, Sweet
When: Tips fill out husk, silks are dry & kernels full. Peel back top of husk & press fingernail into a kernel, if it gives a milk-like sap, it’s ready for harvest

How: Twist & pull ears from stalks
When: Diameter reaches 1 ½ - 2 ½", spines soften & before cucumbers turn yellow

How: Twist and pull from vine
When: Almost full-grown & bright & shiny in color

How: Twist & pull from plant
When: Leaves & stems reach size of hand

How: Snip handful at a time leaving terminal bud on plant
When: Stems reach 2 - 3" in diameter

How: Pull plants from ground, cut tops
Lettuce, Heads
When: Head is firm & before bolting

How: Pull entire plant from ground & slice off head
Lettuce, Leaf
When: Leaves reach desired size

How: Snip outer leaves, working inward as leaves mature
When: Pods reach 2 - 3" long

How: Snap pods from plant
Onions, Bulb
When: Tops have browned and fallen over

How: Pull on dry, windy day, let rest in garden for 1day, cure in dry, well-ventilated area for 2 weeks
Onions, Green
When: 5” tall or when desired size is reached

How: Pull or snip greens to allow for mature harvest later
When: Late fall after a few moderate freezes

How: Twist & pull at base of plant
Peas, Shelling
When: Peas begin to fill pods, pods begin to swell

How: Twist and pull from plant
Peas, Snow
When: Pods reach desired length & before they fill out

How: Twist & snap from plant
Pepper, Sweet
When: Fruits are thick, firm, full-sized & desired color

How: Cleanly slice stem from plant
Potatoes, New
When: 2 weeks after blooming

How: Dig up
Potatoes, Main
When: Tops have died down & ground is dry

How: Dig up, cure in dry, well-ventilated area for 10-14 days
When: Thumbnail cannot penetrate skin, stem browns & dries

How: Cut from vine leaving 1-2" of stem attached to pumpkin
When: Bulb reaches ½-1" in diameter ****

How: Pull from base of plant
When: Stalks are ½-1" in diameter, & 10-12" tall (leaves are poisonous)

How: Twist & pull stalks at bases
When: Leaves reach desired size

How: Snip or pinch leaves working from outside of plant inwards
Squash, Summer
When: Young & tender, skin is penetrable by thumbnail

How: Twist & pull from vine leaving ½" stem attached to squash
Squash, Winter
When: Thumbnail cannot penetrate skin, stem browns & dries

How: Cut from vine leaving 1-2" of stem attached to squash, cure for 10 days in well-ventilated, dry area
Sweet Potato
When: In fall, before first major frost               

How: Dig up, cure 1 week in well-ventilated, dry area
When: Firm & uniformly red

How: Twist & pull from plant
When: Bulbs are 1" + in diameter & before first major frost

How: Twist & pull at base
When: Sounds dull & hollow when thumped, bottom yellows & tendrils brown & die

How: Snip stem from vine

* Beans, Lima: For tender lima beans, harvest right before beans mature. For meatier beans, harvest when fully mature.

** Beets: Harvest beet greens when beets are about 1" in diameter. Spring planted beets should be harvested by July while fall planted beets should be harvested before the ground freezes.

*** Carrots: Harvest carrots planted in spring by July and carrots planted in fall before the ground freezes.

**** Radishes: Harvest radishes planted in spring by July and radishes planted in fall before ground freezes.

Reference: De Long, Eric. "Guidelines for Harvesting Vegetables." Cornell Cooperative Extension, Chemung County, Oct. 2001. Web. Aug. 2012. < >.

Friday, August 10, 2012

3 Tips to Extend the Growing Season in Your Maine Garden

For some, especially those of us in Maine and the north, when August rolls around the growing season never seems long enough. So, how can we extend it and keep our vegetable gardens producing a little longer?

The answer is to pamper our vegetable plants by snipping away dead and dying leaves and vines, harvesting all mature vegetables and blanketing our most delicate plants with floating row covers.

Tip # 1: Say Goodbye to Dead and Dying Foliage

Before you begin snipping away dead and dying foliage, take a good look at your plants. Focus on the ones that are healthy and still have vegetables to bear. Snip off the yellowing and brown leaves and vines. For example, when cucumber vines begin to die off, snip them off from the main plant stem.

This move helps extend the growing season by refocusing plants on producing and maturing more vegetables instead of spending energy trying to repair damaged and dying plant parts. Remember, you don’t need to go crazy doing this. When all is said and done, toss the clippings in the compost pile, woods or whatever, but don’t leave them piled up in the garden. Leaving them in garden invites garden pests to over winter under them.

Tip # 2: Harvest all Mature Vegetables

Some vegetable plants, string beans for example, stop producing if their mature vegetables haven’t been harvested. So, harvest them when they’re ready to help extend their growing season. You put all that work into growing a garden, so why wouldn’t you want to harvest everything it produces?

If you end up with more vegetables than you know what to do with, freeze and preserve them, give them away to friends, family and neighbors or drop them off at the local food pantry. Someone is sure to enjoy them, even if it’s not you.

Tip # 3: Floating Row Covers

Why am I talking about floating row covers in August? It’s still summer right? Well, here in Maine, temperatures can dip pretty low at night, even in summer, especially towards the end of August. Floating row covers help lock in heat during the day keeping plants and soil temperatures warmer at night. Warmer temperatures encourage plants to keep producing, thus extending their growing season.

Floating row covers can easily be pulled back for harvesting during the day. You don’t have to cover all your plants, only those that are still healthy and producing vegetables.

A great time-saving tip is to snip away dead and dying foliage as you harvest. Yesterday, as I harvested my wax beans and the first of my burgundy beans, I pinched of the yellowing and brown, crispy leaves, though there were few of them. I’ll continue to do this as I harvest and weed as August moves along.

I’m always on the hunt for tips to extend the growing season; do you have any to share?