July is an intense gardening month. There is still planting to do, harvesting is getting into full swing and preserving is just starting. In the busyness of this time of year, take time to watch and appreciate the beauty and cooperation of all living things. Be grateful.
Planting: Plant lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli, radishes and bush beans in July for a continuous supply of premium produce. In August, plant lettuce yet again and try for a fall crop of peas if you have left over seeds. Even if you do not get peas you can sauté the vines in butter for a pea-flavored vegetable. In September, plan to plant spinach and the last of the lettuce. In October, it is time to plant the garlic. Both the garlic and the spinach will winter over. Watering is necessary to help seeds germinate in July and August.
Harvesting: Pick your vegetables and fruits at their peak (one of the greatest benefits of home gardening). In July you can harvest new potatoes by simply feeling around at the base of the potato plant for the little potatoes near the surface. Leave the rest in the ground as long as you want if animals aren’t a problem. Onions and garlic will be ready this month. They need to be dried for 10-14 days on a table in the shade. Don’t rinse them; just let the dirt fall away. It is helpful to harvest when the ground is dry. Try your best to eat everything else the day you pick it. There is frequently too much to eat on that day. You can prepare all the beans, for example, and freeze the excess. The huge quantities of zucchini and summer squash can just be cubed and put in plastic bags in the freezer. Suck out as much air as possible. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, squash and lots of fresh herbs make a great soupy side dish. Put the rest in the freezer for winter enjoyment.
Preserving: There are many ways to preserve your vegetables. The easiest is storing – placing produce in baskets and on shelves with the proper humidity and temperature. Onions and potatoes like it cool (35-45) and somewhat moist. Winter squash and sweet potatoes like it warmer (55-65) and dry. Winter squash should be harvested before the first frost, washed gently, cured outside in the sun for several days (cover or bring in on cold nights). Sweet potatoes should be cured on a warm porch or attic for 2 weeks, then wrapped in newspaper and stored in boxes or baskets. Garlic can be stored from 40 to 60 degrees, braided, hung in a mesh bag or in a basket. Carrots and beets can stay in the ground as long as it doesn’t freeze. When you bring them in, five gallon buckets with wet sand or sawdust keep them plump and crisp. They like it cold (35-45). If there aren’t too many, you can just scrub them and put them in your refrigerator.
Freezing also is very easy. Many vegetables can simply be cut up and put in plastic bags or cartons and placed in the freezer. These include summer squash, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, kale, and celery. All berries can be frozen right after picking with no special treatment. Berries do well quick-frozen on a tray and then poured into a container. As mentioned above, you can freeze all vegetables in their cooked state. Many vegetables should be blanched (cooked briefly in a pot of boiling water), cooled in cold tap water, drained and then packed in plastic bags or cartons. This method is necessary for beans, peas, spinach, chard, corn, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. In these vegetables, enzymes will continue to work even after freezing, spoiling the taste and texture. Blanching stops this process.
Drying or dehydrating is another good method to preserve vegetables and fruits. It is especially nice to have dry vegetables and herbs for winter soups and stews. There may be expenditure of fuel initially, but then the product will stay without further use of electricity.
Finally, produce can be canned. Tomatoes, applesauce and pickles are the easiest because no special equipment is needed. There will be instructions for canning tomatoes next month. There are many little “tricks of the trade” to share.
Tea plants can be dried or frozen. The cultivated ones, chocolate mint, lemon verbena, peppermint, anise hyssop, holy basil and ginger mint, can be dried or frozen. Lemon balm loses its flavor when dried, so is best frozen. To freeze tea herbs just remove the leaves from the stems and stuff in a zip lock bag. Suck out the air and put in the freezer. When ready to make tea this winter, just cut or crumble off the desired amount and pour hot water over it. Drying the herbs is also easy. Just hang them, stems and all, in a dust-free, airy space out of direct sun. Herbs harvested after the dew is gone will dry in a week or two. You can strip the leaves and put them in glass jars or leave them intact if you have the room to let them hang. Sheep sorrel makes a good lemonade substitute; pine needle tea has a surprising flavor and red clover blossom infusion (another name for tea) are drinks made from native plants. To make tea, just pour boiling water over 1 tsp. of dried or 1 T. of fresh leaves and let steep for 5 – 15 minutes, depending on desired strength. I find that when I make one cup or a whole quart, leaving the leaves on the stems makes it easier to fish them out and you do not have to strain the tea.
Healing Oils and Salves
Many native plants have medicinal properties. To make an oil extraction, select the plants that you wish to use. Harvest the leafs, stems and/or flowers and spread them on your counter overnight to dry a little. The next day, chop them finely and cover with olive oil in a clear glass jar. Let the jar sit outside in the sun or in a sunny window for 2-3 weeks, shaking daily. Strain the oil through a coffee filter in a strainer. Store the oil in a cool place out of the light in a dark jar or bottle. The oil can be made into a salve by carefully heating the oil in a double boiler and melting beeswax in it. Pour into dark colored jars while hot. The ratio of oil to wax is roughly 5:1 (100 ml oil to 20 grams of wax). The oil or salve can be used to treat skin ailments such as rashes, insect bites, shallow cuts, diaper rash, sunburn, and chapped skin or lips. Possible ingredients and their actions are:
Plantain – antiseptic, good for acne and eczema, itch of bug bites
Calendula blossoms – anti-inflammatory and antibacterial to treat cuts, old burns, abrasions, sunburn chapped skin, diaper rash or as a general cosmetic
Comfrey – speeds healing of cuts, ulcerations, bruises, broken bones, pulled muscles and ligaments and sprains
Jewel Weed – remedy for poison ivy (also can be used as a infusion/tea applied to rash)
Goldenseal – antibacterial and especially healing to mucous membranes
Cilantro – rashes and insect bites
Mallow – used for burns, wounds and swelling