Bring summer to your dinner table when winter comes
By Viva Mertlich
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener
Most culinary herbs grow in the heat of summer, or year-round in climates far from North Central Washington. With our long, hot, sunny days in the Wenatchee Valley, you can grow herbs in your garden in summer, but what about winter?
Why not try an indoor herb garden? There are many indoor herb garden kits available to purchase, or you might enjoy making your own.
Popular herbs that can be grown indoors include basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, cilantro and rosemary. Plant them in a commercial potting medium rather than garden soil. Though your soil may produce good results in your garden, it tends to contain weed seeds, insects and pathogens that should not be brought indoors. Most garden soil becomes crusty and does not drain well under indoor conditions.
Place your herbs in a south-facing window that receives at least six hours of sun daily. If you don’t have a sunny window, a fluorescent or LED grow light can do the work of sunshine during our short winter days. For best results, keep plants in a warm place away from drafts.
You need good drainage to keep your potting medium aerated and avoid root rot. A deep tray filled with small rocks under the herb pots allows you to see water draining, while keeping pots and roots, above any standing water.
Drying fresh summer herbs for use in winter months is another way to supply your kitchen. Choose a calm, dry morning to harvest, and pick them just after the dew has dried. You can use a dehydrator, following the instructions on your appliance. For air drying, remove the foliage at the base of each stem and bundle in groups of six to 12 stems with thin rubber bands. Rubber bands contract and hold as the plant material dries and shrinks. Hang in a cool place, away from sun and wind.
If you want to freeze herbs, make sure to freeze each cutting separately on waxed paper trays before bundling together for storage. A useful publication on growing and preserving herbs can be found on line at the Purdue University Cooperative Extension website, extension.purdue.edu.
Herbs are a wonderful way to make your dishes more interesting and they are a healthy addition to your diet. Although fresh vs. dried herbs change flavor and intensity, both are a welcome addition to any dinner table. They are full of nutrients, antioxidants and scrumptious flavor that can help limit the need for salt. They are simple to grow at home with little space, and also simple to preserve after summer days are past.