01 Nov Tips & Tricks for Harvesting Basil and Other Herbs
Whether you’re a novice gardener or a seasoned garden expert, herbs make a great addition to your garden. Herbs can be enjoyed fresh throughout the growing season or dried, and they add a ton of flavor to your dishes.
Most herbs enjoy full sun, but it’s best practice to learn the proper amount of sun for each specific herb. Unlike many vegetables, herbs will produce through the entire season. Even if the weather becomes too cold or too hot, herbs can grow indoors as well.
Herbs have a tendency to grow into tall, tree-like structures, and they need to be pruned in order to prevent that. Pruning your herbs should be done regularly, and you want to snip the tips of the plant right above a set of leaves. This encourages the herb to produce more and form a shrub-like structure. When pruning your herbs, you should never trim more than ⅓ of the plant at any one time.
Some herbs have been rumored to keep certain unwanted pests away. For example, mint is supposed to keep mice away. Many people like to plant mint around doors or entrances that mice might otherwise find extraordinarily inviting. Whether or not you believe in mint’s mice-repelling properties, mint spreads rapidly and makes a beautiful ground cover wherever you plant it.
When to Harvest
Many herbs are not cold-tolerant and will die off when the weather begins to cool down. Basil, for example, is extremely sensitive to colder temperatures. You should harvest basil well before the first frost, as it doesn’t like temperatures into the 40s. Other herbs, like parsley, can handle the cold weather better, but many people like to bring their plants indoors during the winter.
Extend the Growing Season
A great way to extend your growing season is by using a cold frame. A cold frame is a structure made of wood and plexiglass that protects your plants from the harsh cold. The cold frame holds in the heat of the sun and can extend the season by a few weeks.
On the contrary, if the weather becomes too warm, many herbs will bolt, or flower. While the flowers are beautiful, many gardeners do not want their herbs to bolt, as it can create a bitter, less potent herb. One way to fix this is by learning your gardening region. For example, if you know your cilantro always bolts in August, you can shift the growing season up a little to harvest the plant before it bolts. You can also choose to move your plant indoors if the weather is too warm.
End of Season Harvest
When you harvest your herbs at the end of the season, you can trim your plant to the ground. If your herb is a perennial, it will come back in the spring. If it is not a perennial, you can always save seeds from that plant or purchase new seeds or transplants in the spring.
The optimal time to harvest your plant is in the morning, right after the dew has dried from the leaves, but before the full sun hits the plant. This is when the oils are in the leaves, and the herb is its most fragrant and flavorful.
Drying Your Herbs
If you wish to dry your herbs, there are several ways to accomplish this. Herbs can be dried by air-drying them, microwaving them, putting them in the oven on low, or even by using a dehydrator. You decide which drying technique works best for you.
If you wish to air-dry your herbs in bundles, tie your clippings together with twine or string. You need to hang these bundles, so find a dry location in your home. A great way to hang these bundles is by flipping a rake upside down and hanging them on the tines of the rake.
Since the stems of herbs can become woody and bitter, many people prefer to dry only the leaves to avoid that bitterness. An awesome way to air-dry the leaves is by laying them on a window screen. This allows air to reach the leaves from both sides, and they will dry out faster. Dry them until they are crumbly.
Once your herbs are dried, you can store them in Mason jars or in recycled herb containers. For maximum flavor, store the leaves whole. By not crumbling them until you are ready to use them, the oils in the herbs are better preserved, creating a more potent herb flavor.
Bring Your Herbs Indoors
If you choose to bring your herbs indoors during the winter instead of drying them, there are a couple of ways you can choose to do this. For example, after harvesting your plant at the end of the season, you can place those trimmings in a jar of water and set them on your windowsill. Make sure to trim any leaves that dip below the water-line, as this will cause them to mold. These trimmings will eventually root, and you can either choose to transplant them into soil or leave them in the water. They will produce through the winter, and in the spring, you can transplant them back to their outdoors location.
Additional Tips and Tricks:
1. Combine several different types of herbs in a single pot on your patio if you don’t have much space.
2. Strawberry pots with the individual pockets or openings make great herb planters.
3. Mint is best grown in a container so it doesn’t spread. Try cutting out the bottom of a 5-gallon pail and sinking it into the ground and planting your mint in that to contain the roots from spreading.
10 Basil Varieties to Try in Your Garden
- Lemon Basil. With lighter green leaves and a refreshing lemon scent and taste, it goes great in teas, marinades and grilled veggies.!
- Cinnamon Basil. Spicy and fragrant, Cinnamon Basil has a more mild taste than its strong and sweet cousins. Cinnamon basil is popular in Asian dishes.
- Holy Basil. Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil is prized in Indian cuisine for its sweet/spicy and musky scent. This basil goes best in cooked dishes as it’s a bit bitter.
- Spicy Globe Basil. Use this spicy basil in salads, pasta and soups!
- Greek Basil. With its spicy anise flavor, Greek Basil is a no-brainer for your favorite Greek-inspired recipes.
- Dark Opal Basil. Boasts distinctive clove flavor, making it an intriguing addition to oils and vinegars. It’s decorative leaves also make a great ornamental plant.
- African Blue Basil. Ideal for meat and veggie dishes, African Blue Basil includes a strong pepper/clove/mint scent.
- Thai Basil. An oft reached-for herb in Thai cooking, Thai Basil has a slight licorice taste and remains flavorful, even when cooking at higher temps.
- Green Ruffles Basil. Mildly flavored, Green Ruffles Basil is a great addition to your pasta dishes or salads.
- Lettuce Basil. Lettuce wraps, anyone? Lettuce Basil has, you guessed it, lettuce-like leaves and tends to thrive longer in the summer heat.
Read More: Growing Herbs For Hot Winter Tea
Tips and Tricks from Lisa Steele:
Lisa Steele is an author, 5th generation chicken keeper and Master Gardener who tends to her flocks and gardens on a small farm in Maine. The founder of Fresh Eggs Daily, she shares natural chicken keeping and gardening tips as well as recipes using eggs fresh from her coop and produce fresh from the garden on her website.