GTTY - June
In June the focus of your garden shifts from planting to harvesting and preserving. Strawberries and mulberries ripen now. Spinach, lettuce, broccoli, all other greens and peas are among the vegetables that are ready to pick. Also, this is the month to pick and preserve your perennial herbs -- thyme, oregano, marjoram, tarragon, chives, winter savory and sage. You will also begin to notice some visitor that you did not plant. Before you pull them out as weeds, read about their superior nutrition below. Also these wonderful weeds are drought resistent and can withstand insects and disease. No work except the harvesting.
The Rest of the Growing Season
Some crops are best if planted several times successively. If you plant at two-week intervals you are assured of having fresh vegetables at their peak all summer and fall. Lettuce, carrots, beets, cilantro, bush beans and corn are vegetables that you want to plant more than once. When an early vegetable has finished (e.g. spinach, peas, lettuce, garlic, even potatoes and onions), its planting space can be reused by another crop. Check your seed packet for days to maturity and calculate back from October 1st. Days start to get shorter again as summer progresses and plants do not grow as quickly as they do in late spring and early summer. Also planting in the summer will often require watering because rain is not as frequent. You can soak seeds and even sprout them (beans and peas) before planting them. Gently filling a drill (grove where you put the seeds) with water and putting the seed in the damp earth also works well to get them off to a good start. Mulch is even more important in the summer to retain moisture and control weeds. Strip composting (leaving pulled weeds in the garden rather than moving them to the compost pile) is one way to have organic material for mulch in the summer. Grass clippings are also a good mulch. Make sure your mulch does not have seeds.
Herb Harvesting and Preservation
June is the month for harvesting perennial herbs (oregano, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, chives blossoms, mints, winter savory – wait until sage blossoms). Harvest annuals in July including dill, basil, cilantro, and parsley (really a biennial). It is best to harvest before flowers form. Sniping the long stems will encourage branching and more abundant blooms. Harvest in the midmorning on a dry day. Shake the herbs vigorously to remove bugs and pollen. The day after a rain is great. If herbs are dirty, rinse under running water or swoosh in dishpan of water. Spin dry. It is now ready to process.
Drying: Herbs can be hung to dry by taking small bunches and tying them to a coat hanger. Hang the hangers in an airy, dustless place away from direct light. Dehydrators are faster, but the results are the same. For small quantities, simply lay the herbs on paper towels or newspaper. When herbs are dry, strip leaves from stems and store in glass jars. Direct sun will make the color fade.
Freezing: Easiest way to process herbs is freezing. Remove leaves, stuff into zip lock bags, suck or squeeze out the air and freeze. To use cut the desired amount from the frozen block. Measure as fresh herb. Another method is good for soups and sauces. Chop the herb, place in ice cube trays, add a little water and freeze. Pop the cubes and store in plastic bag in freezer. Drying takes no fossil energy to process or store.
Vinegar: Simply stuff a glass bottle with herbs and fill the bottle with vinegar. Any type of vinegar can be flavored with herbs. White is used for chive blossoms because the resulting color is more pleasing. Apple cider vinegar is the most commonly used with all other herbs.
Butters or Oils: Chop the herb finely and mix with butter or oil, refrigerate. A healthy alternative uses half butter, half virgin olive oil.
· Check vegetables daily
· Pick at peak, midmorning is best, before supper is second best
· Always pick lettuce early in the day, one leaf at a time or the entire plant if thinning
· Refrigerate, process or consume as soon as possible (zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers do not need to be refrigerated if you use them within 3-5 days.
· Remove diseased plants immediately
· Keep beans, peas, zucchini and cucumbers picked
· Wash dirt off produce before refrigerating
· Pick when plants are wet or damp -- Spreads fungus infections
· Harvest more than you can eat, give away or process within 24 – 48 hours
· Harvest during the heat of the day
· Leave your basket in the sun
· Water in the heat of the day
Composting with worms (Vermicomposting)
Earthworms are one of the gardener’s best friends. They aerate the soil as the eat their way through it. They eat both bacteria and fungi, so the present of earthworms is an indicator of soil rich in micro-organisms. Encouraging earth worms is as easy as keeping your soil high in organic matter, mulching to conserve moisture and not tilling.
There is also another worm ally, the redworm. Redworms don't like soil and won't survive outdoor winter temperatures here. They live in your house and eat your kitchen garbage. You can buy a worm bin (see sources below) or make one from instructions on the internet. Once you have their home ready, you can get worms from us or over the internet. They multiply quickly. You can use shredded paper, cardboard or leaves for bedding. They will consume the bedding and the garbage, producing vermicompost. You can mix this rich product with vermiculite to make potting soil, use it as a mulch in your garden, a layer in a lasagna bed or anywhere else you would use regular compost. The redworms also produce worm “juice”, a brown, odorless liquid fertilizer that can be diluted to water plants. The worm container and worms are productive, inconspicuous and inoffensive. Having so many beneficial pets, makes a good conversation piece too!
Sources of containers: Amazon (as usual) has a good selection:
Many garden supply stores sell a few of them, like Gardener’s Supply Company
and some have many, like
Wonderful Volunteer Vegetables, Seeds, Fruits and Flowers
Our ancestors carefully brought many plants that we consider weeds to this country from Europe. They choose the most nutritious, versatile and hardy plants to bring to the New World. What all weeds have in common is that they produce many seeds and grow prolifically. Our only need is to know, beyond any doubt, how to identify any plant that we pick that we didn’t plant. Many plants look alike. Some will make you sick to eat or touch them. A good field guide or knowledgeable friend is a must to learn which are beneficial and which to avoid. Also take care to pick away from sources of pollution, e.g. roadways or areas that use pesticides. Experiment with each weed, eating it raw and cooked, and watch it during the entire growing season, so you can identify it at all times of the year.
In addition to using weeds for food, many have powerful medicinal properties. Some are just beautiful and much hardier than ornamentals. Some are very helpful to attract pollinators (e.g. anise hyssop) or attract pests from other plants (e.g. evening primrose attracts Japanese beetles).
Lamb’s Quarter, Pigweed or Goosefoot (Chenopodium album) from Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. “An erect, much branched weed. Stems and undersides of leaves often mealy-white. Leaves somewhat fleshy, variable; upper leaves narrow, toothless; lower leaves roughly diamond-shaped, broadly toothed. Flowers small, unobtrusive, greenish, may turn reddish. Seeds tiny, black. 1-3 ft. Use: Cooked green, cereal, flour. The tender leaves and tips are excellent steamed or boiled for 10-15 minutes. Bulk greatly reduced after cooking. The highly nutritious seeds can be boiled to make a breakfast gruel or ground into flour.”
Pick the tender tips, stems and leaves. Rinse and use as you would spinach, raw or cooked. It is one of the most nutritious vegetables in Handbook #8, Nutritional Content of Foods. Below is a comparison of several weeds and vegetables for 100 grams or ~3 oz.
|Vegetable||Calories||Protein (g)||Calcium(mg)||Iron (mg)||Vitamin A (mg)||Vitamin C (mg)|
Wild plants are drought resistant, grow under crowded conditions, do well in poor soil, take no work and cost no money. They are simply something for which to be grateful.
Other Weeds to Eat and Appreciate
Chicory is closely related to lettuce and its leaves can be eaten in the same way or blanch briefly for a cooked vegetable or wilted salad. Its blue flowers are a delight. The roots can be chopped roasted and ground as a coffee substitute.
Purslane can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. It is very high in vitamin C and indicates a soil high in organic matter.
Red Clover’s blossoms make a mild tea that is good for your heart. The flowers attract bees and produce a sweet, honey-like flavor when you suck on them. The roots fix nitrogen in the soil.
Stinging Nettle has to be harvested with gloves on because it has stinging hairs on the stem and leaves that will keep your hand burning for about 24 hours. It is very high and vitamin and minerals and tastes like spinach when cooked.
Evening Primrose has beautiful yellow flowers that glow in the dark. The entire plant is edible, raw or cooked. It is a biennial, flowering only it its second year. The roots are best the first year or early in the second.
Chickweed is good raw in salads or cooked for five minutes and eaten as a cooked green.
Nancy is a retired secondary teacher. She built and lives in an active and passive solar, high thermal mass home. She is an avid gardener and helps others to learn how to garden.