Overwintering your Herbs
It has been a scorching summer. One of the reasons I like to grow herbs is that they require minimal care. Except this summer : My herbs looked like they are on a permanent state of collapse unless they get watered almost daily, some leaves got burnt from the sun, the thyme had a permanent dry look, the sage looked wilted on most days, the sorrel had a hard time staying upright, and for some reason, the chives, the supposedly pest free chives, were covered with black aphids. Luckily, I did have a wonderful production of lavender, basil, French tarragon, and mint. But I am glad to say good bye to Summer. Let us hope that Autumn will bring us the much needed rain.
In the next few weeks, you may want to prepare your herb garden for the coming months. You may want to start to process of overwintering your herbs, or you may want to bring them indoors for a continuous supply of fresh herbs.
To bring your herbs indoors, start digging them out from your garden and place in pots with potting soil. Leave these pots outdoors for at least several days. Bring them inside when the weather turns cold or when the temperature outside is not so different from inside your house. The idea is not to shock your herbs to big change in temperature.
A sunny, west facing window is an ideal place for growing herbs indoors. Similar to growing them outdoors, herbs demand light, good drainage, moisture, proper temperature, room for growth, a little fertilizer, and good air circulation.
Any type of containers can be used for indoor herbs. Unglazed terra-cotta pots are a good choice because of the material's porosity. Plastic pots will work as well. Whatever container you choose, make sure it will provide for proper drainage.The size of the pot is also important to allow for your herbs to grow. A pot a least six inches in diameter is recommended by some experts, and if the herbs have long taproot, a deep container will be needed. Another guideline is to first determine the height of the fully grown herb, then half to a third of that height will be the suggested diameter of the pot.
A south facing window will usually provide for at least five hours of sunlight, so it is an ideal place for your potted herbs. Do remember to turn your pots on a regular basis so that the herbs will have their share of direct exposure to light. Fluorescent light can also be used but it needs to be on for more than half a day. If you can not provide for adequate lighting, there are herbs like thyme, parsley, rosemary, mint that actually can take a little shade. The recommended indoor temperature for growing herbs is 50-70 F degree. In addition, if your home tends to be dry in the winter, then make sure steps are taken to provide for humidity and good air circulation.
Water your herbs when they appear to almost dry out and fertilize sparingly. A half strength application of fish emulsion is probably sufficient to ensure healthy growth.
Before long, you will have an ample cache of fresh herbs. The potted herbs, like house plants, can brighten your home especially on those dark rainy days.
We are fortunate in that our Portland winter is not usually harsh. If you choose to overwinter your herbs outdoors, then there are just a few tasks to complete. Herbs such as rosemary, sage, bay, thyme, and oregano can still be harvested as needed during the dormant months. It is time to slow down on the harvest/pruning though, and plan to mulch your herbs. Collect seeds from your cilantro, dill, fennel as they are favored in many recipes. Below is a yummy recipe for basil using miso paste instead of cheese. Thanks to our MG Jack for sharing his recipe.
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic or more as desired
2 Tbsp of miso paste ( mellow red or sweet mellow brown rice or barley)
6 Tbsp of pine nuts ( or nuts you normally use for pesto)
1/4 cup of olive oil
Put everything except the oil into a food processor.
Course lay chop, use a spatula to push the mixture down as needed.
Slowly pour in the oil while the processor is running.
Process until blended.
Store at room temperature if using within an hour.
Store in the refrigerator if using within a week.
Freeze in ice cube trays or small bags for use within a year.
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs Claire Kowalchik & William Hylton, Editors (Rodale Press 1998)
The Kitchen Herb Garden. Maureen Little (Springhill 2012)