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Harvest Before the Frost for All-Year Garden Power

October 12, 2010

For cold weather gardeners, kale is just maturing and will harvest until Thanksgiving. Collards will survive temperatures down to 15ºF and will grace dinner plates as the holidays approach. In a covered cold garden herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, and peppermint, can also survive the winter because they are kept dry.

But, what can be done with those remaining summer veggies and herbs before the first frost arrives?

For us cold weather beginners, gardening has been mostly a warm weather activity. If you are like me, there are many plants still tethered to the garden, but crisp fall days remind that the first frost is fast approaching. Something has got to be done!

The following Green Quick FixesSM will help you make the most of your harvest and maximize use of the remaining gifts of your waning summer garden.

Cook A Few More Dinners

Delicious herbs can keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and can make it fresh in several more autumn dinners if you keep them on the stalk.

For those flavorful herbs you’d like to enjoy before the season ends, such as basil, cut herbs between 3-6” above the soil. Store stalks upright in the refrigerator in a jar filled with water and with a plastic bag or cellophane placed loosely around leaves. Change water when necessary.

Dry Herbs

Dried herbs, while not a chef’s first choice, can be used to flavor foods until next summer. For example, dried oregano can be added to canned tomatoes for savory winter sauces.

Cut herbs at least 3” above the soil and hang upside down in a dry spot for several weeks. Then crush up leaves and store in a cool dry place.

Freeze Herbs

To preserve flavors, it is better to freeze some highly-flavored herbs (like basil) rather than to dry them. Wash and dry the leaves and wrap in cellophane and store in the freezer, or crush up in a mortar and pestle and store in ice cube trays. You can pop the latter into stews and soups.

Prepare Spreads and Pestos

Ms. Green Quick Fixes' Garden-Fresh Herbed Cream Cheese

Spreads and pestos will carry herbs on for several weeks. And if you leave out cheese in a pesto, it will last in the freezer for months.

A favorite Ms. Green Quick Fixes’ recipe is cutting chives, basil, rosemary, and oregano into the finest pieces and combining with whipped cream cheese (brought to room temperature), and adding a splash or two of red whine vinegar, minced garlic, and sour cream to taste and consistency. Allow to sit in the refrigerator overnight so flavors meld and garlic softens. This garden-fresh herbed cream cheese is great on crackers, cucumbers, and sandwiches and will last as long as cream cheese does in the refrigerator!

Make Vinegar and Oil

Make vinegar and flavored oils with marjoram, oregano, and rosemary to impart your garden’s flavor in your cooking throughout the winter.

Start with whole leaves. Wash and dry fresh-cut herbs and pour warm vinegar over them until they are covered, and then seal inside an airtight glass jar. Allow to sit for several weeks in a cool, shady spot. Add chili peppers and garlic cloves on a wood skewer to ensure they stay submerged.

To sterilize glass jars boil water and let sit for 10 minutes.

Freeze Vegetables

Before freezing, vegetables should be blanched and placed in airtight containers and they will last in good quality for six-to-nine months.

Cut vegetables into serving sized pieces and boil until scalded. The vegetables should stay brighter, so beware of overcooking. Immediately remove vegetables and dunk them into an ice water bath to immediately stop the cooking process. Let excess water drain before storing.

Can Vegetables

A challenging but rewarding craft, canning tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and more can allow you to eat your own vegetables all year long. Use the Kerr Canning Guide to read up on how, or take a class which many CSAs are now offering.

To can vegetables, you must use a pressure cooking method to eliminate risk of deadly botulism bacteria, so learning the proper method is absolutely required for safety.

Try Medicinal Uses

Garden herbs like spearmint can be used as an alternative medicine because they are antiseptic, diuretic, and a stimulant and tonic used to treat fevers, cramps, gastritis, headaches, indigestion, morning and motion sickness, congestion, nausea, and many other ailments. Spearmint is also great for the skin, to massage muscle soreness, and on bruises.

Chop fresh spearmint fine and make a poultice with a mortar and pestle. Add to unscented lotions or oils and use for therapeutic massage.

Chamomile has sedative and relaxing properties. Dry chamomile and use 2 tsp. of the dried flowers per 1 cup boiled water for tea, and steep for several minutes—before adding any cream or lemon.

You can also use chamomile in a bath. Put dried flowers in a muslin or linen bag and add to plain bath water, and then watch the snow fall from outside your bathroom window as the tension melts away.

Mix Up a Garden-Inspired Air Freshener & Pest Repellent

Spearmint can also be used to repel pests and refresh the air.

Mix 1/4 cup baking soda with water in a 16 oz. spray bottle. Make a poultice of the spearmint and add drops of the extracted spearmint liquid to the bottle. Shake well and spray as both an air freshener and in areas where you need a pest repellent.

Tidying the Garden After the First Frost

It’s important to promptly harvest debris left by the early frosts quickly because clearing of warm weather vegetation prevents the carryover of common garden diseases next season. But don’t pull roots out, many plants, like basil and cilantro will come back next year.

Be sure to place disease-free garden debris in the composter, it will provide excellent nutrition for next year’s soil. If your soil is largely clay till, turn over and leave large chunks on the surface so regular freezing and thawing will break them down before next year.

For more information about cold weather gardening, see Local Cold Garden Yields Fresh Veggies All Winter on the Ms. Green Quick Fixes blog.

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