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Harvesting and Preserving Herbs and Vegetables

If you grow your own food, can it.

How to Can Vegetables

If you've harvested your fruits and vegetables, but can't eat them all, don't let them go to waste. When they're at their peak flavor and ripeness, can them. Canning is a great way to store your garden produce. You can even can produce from your farmer's market. Canned produce will keep up to a year if done properly. Also, canning is a fun family project.

How Canning Works

Canning is simply heat processing - place food in sealable jars, heat for a while, and cool later. Heating up the jars kills the microorganisms that cause spoilage. When the jars cool, air pressure seals the containers tight. This keeps out other microorganisms.

Your Canning Materials

Canning uses mason jars, not tin cans. If you're canning foods with high acidity, such as tomatoes, you'll use a boiling water canner. For low-acid foods, such as green beans, use a pressure canner.

Endless Variety

Your fruits and vegetables don't have to be plain when you can them. Feel free to add spices, herbs, and other items to make salsa, side courses, and soups. The idea is to be as creative as you want with the produce you have.

Get Your Kids Involved

There are several steps to preparing foods before you begin canning them. They're a great excuse to invite your kids to work on a fun project. The whole family will enjoy spending time together canning the food, and then eating it in the months to come.

Find Out More about Canning

The internet is full of great places you can visit to find out specific instructions and recipes for canning. The USDA lists several, including

Harvesting and Preserving Herbs

You planted herbs in the kitchen garden and now you are trying to figure out just what to do with them, right? I hear that a lot from gardeners. Folks usually love to grow herbs but don’t always know when they are ready to harvest or how to preserve them for use during the off gardening season.

Herbs are easy to harvest and a wonderful way to season veggie, meat and fruit dishes. Herbs can be used fresh during the growing season, then frozen or dried for later use. The best way to learn about herbs is to grow and use them.

Here are some pointers to help de-mystify the process and get you started:

When to Harvest:

Generally speaking most herbs are best harvested just as they begin to bud or flower. This is when the oils, which provides the flavor and fragrance are the strongest. The best time of day to harvest is usually mid-morning, just as the warmth of the sun starts to release the oils.

If you are harvesting seeds, wait until the plant flowers and seeds form. With a little practice you will know the right time to cut and dry.

Harvesting flowers for tea or other purposes generally wait until the flower is fully open but still young.

How much to Harvest:

For annual and tender perennial herbs, snip fresh leaves when you need them throughout the growing season. Freeze or dry up to 1/3 of the plant as it starts to bud or flower. Make a final cutting before the first frost (usually cutting at ground level) and freeze or dry.

Perennial herbs can be used during the growing season as needed. Cut up to 1/3 of the plant as it starts to form flower to freeze or dry. If your area of the country has hard frosts or cold winters, avoid major cut backs 6 weeks or so before first frost.

How to clean herbs:

I like to clean my herbs early in the morning before harvesting while they are still growing; using a watering wand on a gentle mist setting I bathe the plants from the top and from below, making sure I wash the undersides of the leaves. This takes care of any bird droppings or other debris. The sun dries them off and in an hour or so I can start clipping.

Freezing herbs:

Some herbs have better flavor and color retention when frozen. There are two methods of freezing that work well.

  • Pluck leaves from the plant and snip or stuff whole into freezer bags.
  • Whirl leaves in a blender with a little water and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze and then store in freezer bags

Drying herbs:

  • A drying process known as “hang drying” works well with most herbs. Small bouquets are cut, tied (or use rubber bands) and hung upside down in a spot where humidity is low, air circulation is good and they stay out of direct sunlight. A wooden clothes rack or towel rack is ideal for this.
  • In a week or two when they are thoroughly dried, the leaves can be quickly stripped onto a sheet of wax paper by running the stems between your thumb and forefinger. The dried herb leaves can then be put in a labeled glass container and kept in a cool dark cupboard until they are needed.
  • A dehydrator dries herbs quickly and to perfection and is especially nice for tender herbs like basil which doesn’t hang dry well. Simply place the leaves or stems if the leaves are tiny on the drawers or trays and in a few hours the herbs can be put in a labeled container and stowed away in the pantry cupboard.
  • You can use your oven set on the lowest temperature to dry herbs, sometimes the door needs to be cracked to moderate the temperature. With practice it can be done to satisfaction.
  • Most herbs can be dried in the microwave oven. This process can be done quickly but can be risky. Layer stems of herbs in paper towels place on carousal and microwave on high or medium, depending on your oven for a minute at a time until crispy dry. Check after each minute, should only take 2 or three times. Please use caution with this method as it can start on fire.
  • To dry seeds; pick bouquets of the seed heads and place upside down in a brown paper bag. Cut a couple of ventilation holes, bundle the bag and herb stems together with a rubber band. Hang dry…In a week or so shake the bag to release the seeds and pour into a labeled container.

Herbs to freeze:

Basil – Harvest it all through the growing season by cutting back up to 1/3 of the plant each time. By cutting often it encourages the branches to bush out and grow even more leaves. Don’t worry if it flowers, you can use the flowers, as long as they are still soft. Cut the plant to the ground before the first frost to harvest the remaining leaves.

Pluck the leaves (whole) and stuff them into a small freezer bag. Label and freeze; when you need some basil to cook with just pull out the bag and chop off however much you need of the now frozen cake and pop the rest back into the freezer.

Basil can be whirled in the blender and frozen in ice cube trays. Drop a cube into soup or sauce when needed.

Chives – harvest blades anytime at the base of plant starting at the outside and working your way in. Snip into a bag and freeze or blend and make ice cubes.

Cilantro – Harvest leaves while the plant is still fairly short before the leaves turn ferny and flowers form. Pluck leaves and stuff into freezer bag or blend and make ice cubes.

Parsley – Snip leaves (start from outside and work toward center) anytime during the growing season to use fresh or blend and freeze in ice cube trays.

Herbs to dry:

Dehydrator – all herbs do well in a dehydrator but it is not necessary; some herbs dry best only in dehydrator.

Basil – Pluck leaves and place in dehydrator for best dried results.
Chives – Snip and place in dehydrator
Cilantro – Pluck leaves and dehydrate before it bolts (flowers) 
Parsley – Cut anytime to use fresh or dry. 
Pineapple Sage – Cut throughout growing season to use fresh, some before it flowers to dehydrate for later use, leave lots of flowers for the hummingbirds and dry some flowers for tea. Don’t worry, it is a large plant!

Hang Dry Method –

Bee Balm – Cut bouquets of flowers in full bloom just after they open to hang dry.

Catnip – Harvest just before it flowers.

Coriander – When cilantro grows up and flowers the seeds formed are coriander. Cut the stems when the seeds are gray-green. Follow the seed drying method above.

Dill – Harvest this herb while it is young to hang dry for the ferny leaves or wait and harvest when the seeds have formed and hang dry seeds in a bag.

German Chamomile – Cut small bouquets of opened flowers and hang dry.

Lavender – Cut spikes of flowers just as they start to open and dry in bouquets for best results.

Lemon Balm – Snip leaves anytime you need some lemon flavor during the growing season. Harvest by cutting before it flowers and hang dry in small bouquets.

Marjoram – Snip leaves throughout the growing season then harvest just as buds appear and hang dry. I cut this to the ground when it buds and dry it all because it is treated as an annual where I live.

Mint – Cut leaves anytime to use fresh or hang dry. Mint appreciates a “hair cut” periodically throughout the growing season. Flavor is strongest just as it starts to flower.

Oregano – Snip fresh leaves anytime during the season; hang dry small bunches just as it starts to bud or flower.

Sage – Use leaves fresh anytime; harvest leaves to dry before it flowers. I plant several of these plants to allow them to flower in the garden because they are so beautiful. Then I cut them back and dry the leaves for wreaths.

Summer Savory – Snip leaves to use fresh until just before it flowers then cut the whole plant and hang dry in small bunches.

Thyme – This woody herb can be used throughout the year in snow free parts of the country but the flavor is strongest just as it starts to bloom.

Rosemary – Use fresh throughout the growing season or year round if you live where this herb is perennial or if you bring it indoors for winter. Harvest before it blooms or if it doesn’t bloom where you live don’t worry the flavor is strong enough to harvest and dry anytime.

Cindy Shapton
Gardening Expert for TSC
“Make Gardening Fun or It Will become Work!”

Available at TSC


TSC offers many products to help you with your herb garden:

  • Seeds
  • Garden gloves, boots, hats
  • Watering can
  • Hose
  • Water wand
  • Harvest basket
  • Shears for cutting herbs