Harvesting The Summer Garden

Although we are still fully entrenched in summer, autumn is just around the corner. While I love the cooler fall months, it is always hard to say goodbye to my summer garden. However, I have come up with a few ways to hold on to some of the beauty and flavors of summer.

Seed Collecting

While I won't reap the benefits of gathering seeds until next year, this is an activity that makes me feel the most like I am capturing summer's bounty.

You can save seeds from a variety of plants, just avoid those that are hybrids because they will not come back true from seeds. A few of my favorite flowers for seed collecting are larkspur, nicotiana, globe amaranth, old-fashioned petunias, verbena-on-a-stick, dame's rocket, cleome, Queen Ann's lace, and bachelor's buttons.

To collect seeds, let some of the flowers mature and form seed pods. The pods are ready for harvesting when they are dry and brittle, but before they break open.

On a dry, sunny day, after the dew has evaporated, collect the seeds by shaking them onto a piece of paper. It's important to make sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before you store them in labeled airtight plastic bags or mason jars. Once sealed, store them indoors in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant them.

Drying Tomatoes

Bowl of TomatoesNothing beats a garden fresh tomato and I always seem to have plenty around at the end of the growing season. Drying is an excellent way to preserve tomatoes for enjoying in recipes during the winter.

Certain tomatoes seem to be better for drying than others, the meatier the tomato the better, so Romas are an especially good variety.. Just quarter them or cut them into thin slices and lay them on a flat surface like a cookie sheet. Salt and pepper the pieces and place the tray in the sun. Long, hot, dry days are ideal and it usually only takes about two days to remove the water. If you don't have sustained sun, you can finish them off in your oven, set a low temperature. Once dried, just place them in airtight bags and put them into your freezer. Another way of preserving dried tomatoes is to pack them in jars and pour olive oil over them.

Freezing Herbs

One of my favorite methods of saving herbs is to freeze them in ice cubes. To do this just chop the leaves of your favorite herbs, such as basil or Italian parsley, and put 1 teaspoon into each cube of an ice tray and fill with water. After the cubes have frozen, pop them out and put them into an airtight bag for easy storage. Then when you want to add the fresh taste of herbs to your favorite soup recipe, just drop in a few of these pre-measured cubes and let the flavor melt in.

Air Drying Flowers

It's amazing all the flower varieties you can dry - almost anything that will keep its form and color, from roses, to hydrangeas. There are many ways to preserve flowers, but one of my favorites is also the simplest, air-drying.

To air dry blooms gather them through the growing season when they are looking their best. Right after picking, strip the leaves from the stems. Bundle the same variety of flowers together into small groups with a rubber band, so as the stems dry, the band will continue to constrict around them. Dry large flowers, such as hydrangeas, individually. Hang the bundles or single blooms upside down in a warm, well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight. Once dried, spray the flowers with hair spray or an aerosol floral sealer to help prevent shedding and shattering. This is especially effective on ornamental grasses. If necessary, you can use thin floral wire found in craft stores to strengthen the stems.

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