Wish you could save some of the zesty and aromatic herbs your garden produces during the summer?
When the growing season has started to slow down with shorter days and cooler nights but you still have a good crop of herbs and wish to continue to use them in your fall and winter dishes. If they are planted in the ground you are going to have to preserve what you can by drying or freezing.
Find a method that works for the time and space you have. I dry a little throughout the summer. Small batches are easy and require little drying room. When you snip thyme for your marinate recipe, just snip some extra and dry on a paper towel and place in an air tight jar when completely dry.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) can be difficult to dry with good results. So try freezing some rolled up in plastic wrap and use in recipes still frozen.
Now if you really plan ahead for Christmas this year, pick out some pretty containers that go well on your patio but also will work in front of your “best light” window. Have your favorite herbs picked out and plant them in these great containers and can even give as gifts for Christmas or anytime during the winter.
When you do most of your spring planting, leave these containers until last as they will have an extended season inside. When the days get shorter and nights get cooler bring them in and your herbs will continue to grow for several more months. Most of this depends on the amount of light available from your windows as to how they grow inside. You will need to check them for water on a regular basis when first brought inside, as they need to be dry on top before you water them or they will rot and a fan for air circulation will help.
During the winter if you have a number of plants, turn your ceiling fan on reverse and run for awhile this is very helpful for all plants. You can mix herbs in one container, or if you have enough room, keep them separate. You are probably not going to be harvesting lots of herbs but any fresh herb will add a fresher taste to your dish. Take time to thoroughly clean and de-bug plants before bringing them in the house.
Basil does not like cool weather. Thyme, Thymus, parsley, Petroselinum and rosemary, Rosmarinus, are a few herbs that can take some cold weather, so leave them outside for as long as possible, even taking a slight frost. The Omaha Herb Society members have a running contest on who can winter over rosemary for the longest time. It’s a hard one so if you fail, you’ll have lots of company.
If you are wondering about starting herbs from seeds for spring, that is another topic with several different methods.
In Nebraska, a fresh home grown tomato or any garden produce is hard to come by in the late fall months. After a hard freeze in Nebraska we can pretty much say farewell to fresh garden produce for the season. That was until several producers in the state invested in high tunnel hoop houses.
High tunnel hoop houses are unheated greenhouse-like structures where plants are grown directly in the ground. Greenhouse grade plastic is stretched over a hoop frame and serves as a barrier which shields plants from natural elements giving them two to six extra weeks of growing on each end of the season. Without an added source of heat, producers carefully choose plants to grow in the high tunnel. These structures make it possible to harvest produce early in the summer and late in the fall, giving producers a jump on revenue for the seasons. A handful of producers in the state of Nebraska have utilized this value added resource to create longer seasons.
Early last year the University of Nebraska Rural Initiative saw this as an economic opportunity for Nebraska growers to potentially gain higher revenue and to satisfy those fall-fresh produce cravings many of us are guilty of having. Partnering with the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture at UNL, funding was made available through University of Nebraska Rural Initiative and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to purchase the materials needed to build a high tunnel at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte. A 21 foot wide by 72 foot long, high style tunnel was purchased which features a gothic style frame, automated roll down sides, and double plastic layers.
The project, managed by Researcher and Extension Professor Dale Lindgren, was delayed because of windy conditions when it came to installing the plastic. “Wind is a major factor when it comes to installing the plastic cover,” comments Lingren. Installing the cover is easier on smaller high tunnels.
Tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, zinnias, and snapdragons were planted in the high tunnel in May, 2008. After the growing season appeared successful, late season plantings occurred in late June. Green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers were among the vegetables chosen. Research is focusing on planting design and layout, variety selection, influence of the natural environment, extending the season, and economic benefit.
The new structure has proven to be of great interest to the public. This spring and summer several organized groups visited the West Central Research and Extension Center to catch a glimpse of the high tunnel. A wide range of visitors from youth on up to adults has brought over 580 people this year. Groups including Chamber of Commerce Ag Groups, local Community Leadership groups, Master Gardeners, Garden Clubs, high school and elementary youth field day participants and representatives of commercial agriculture groups and general public walk-ins have visited the site to tour and ask questions about the high tunnel. The tunnel has also served as an educational tool for college and high school biology classes. University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student, Natalie Sukup developed an informational brochure which has been handed out to visiting groups to help answer questions and where to find more information about high tunnels.
This summer the high tunnel was featured in two local television segments. The high tunnel has created more than just local interest. Backyard Farmer, a Nebraska Public Television (NET Television) gardening program, featured Lindgren and the high tunnel reaching not only Nebraskans but worldwide viewers through online internet viewing.
Future plans for project research will focus primarily on quality selection in vegetables with cultivars of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and beans. Other important activities will include detailed data collection on temperature, production, and yield, controlling insects and disease organically, and evaluating woodchips as mulch. Some companion field gardens will be implemented to compare planting dates, yields, and produce quality. Additional sites across Nebraska will be evaluated to build added affordable high tunnel models more appealing to the Nebraska producer.
Public education is a primary goal for the Rural Initiative and University of Nebraska Extension. Sukup will be using the high tunnel research to develop curriculum for producers across the state. The curriculum will focus on aspects of a high tunnel system that ranges from selecting an appropriate site to marketing the products it produces. Other states including Iowa, Kansas and Kentucky have developed high tunnel programs that producers are finding successful in season extension and quality control. Some studies have been conducted at UNL prior to the addition of North Platte’s high tunnel. These studies, conducted by UNL faculty member Laurie Hodges, has focused on cut flower production in high tunnels and understanding the microclimate within them. She has also contributed to the hightunnels.org website, dedicated to providing high tunnel education to producers and educators across the Midwest.
The North Platte high tunnel is available for viewing at the UNL West Central Research and Extension Center by scheduling an appointment with Dale Lindgren from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information about high tunnels or visiting the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, contact Dale Lindgren at 308-696-6706 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive an informational brochure or to learn more about high tunnel resources contact Natalie Sukup at 402-472-1725 or e-mail at email@example.com.