Preserving Herbs - Freezing and Drying Techniques
Fresh herbs add pizzazz to any meal. You can enjoy your garden-fresh herbs all year with one of several easy techniques.
Freezing preserves essential oils, and it's the oils that give herbs their flavor. Freezing herbs is easy. There's no need to blanch them; just rinse, remove the leaves from the stems and let them dry on a flat tray. You can then put a bunch of these leaves together in a bag and freeze them. You'll end up with a clump of herbs that you can cut up and add to sauces, soups, etc. Or you can freeze the leaves individually first on a flat tray (like a cookie sheet) and then place them in a plastic bag; when you open the bag later, you can pick out as many individual leaves as you like.
Another great method is to blend the herbs with oil to make a paste, which you can then freeze in a plastic container, bag or in ice cube trays. You can freeze just one kind of herb, such as basil, or make your own blend, such as oregano, thyme, parsley and sage.
Some herbs, such as oregano, sage and thyme, can be air-dried. Just hang small bunches in a well-ventilated room, away from light. When leaves are dry, remove them from their stems and store in an airtight jar.
Unless you live in a very arid climate, herbs such as basil and parsley, which have thick, succulent leaves, are better dried in a dehydrator. Once dry, store them in an airtight container.
Whatever method you choose, be sure to harvest herbs after the flower buds appear but before they open. That way, you'll be sure to get the highest concentration of essential oils. Early morning is the best time to pick your herbs, after the morning dew has evaporated but before the sun gets too hot.
Herbs to Preserve Herbs for Freezing
Basil (retains flavor but discolors)
Sweet marjoram **
** Can be frozen on stems
Herbs for Drying
Bringing Birds into your Garden
Most birds are rather particular about the types of food they’ll eat and the types of feeders they’ll visit. So it's not surprising that the more types of food and feeders you provide, the more types of birds you’ll attract. The most successful backyard birders have an assortment of different feeders, installed at different heights to simulate the way birds feed in the wild. If you want to cover the gamut, here are the three basic types of feeders:
Clinging Feeders – for Clingers. Some birds, including woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees, prefer to grab right onto their food. Some of the feeders that suit these “clingers” include suet feeders, mesh bags filled with thistle seed, compressed seed balls held together with non-toxic glue, seed-covered pinecones, and seed-covered structures that look like birdhouses.
Suet cakes are typically made from ground beef fat, often supplemented with seeds or berries. They are a great source of energy for insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers, bluebirds and nuthatches. Suet cakes are usually put inside a metal grid or mesh bag. Until recently, suet was only offered during the colder months when it wouldn’t melt or spoil. But there are now no-melt suet cakes that can be offered year-round.
Compressed seed balls, peanut butter coated pinecones rolled in seed, and birdhouses covered with seed make fun and attractive feeders for birds that like to cling.
Platform Feeders – for Ground Feeders. Ground-feeding birds prefer to eat from an open platform that is either directly on the ground or is elevated by several feet. To attract field sparrows, tree sparrows and juncos, you can offer white proso millet. Black-oil sunflower seed will attract a wide variety of ground-feeding birds such as cardinals and grosbeaks. Mourning doves are another common backyard ground feeder.
Perching Feeders – for Perchers. These feeders usually have a central seed chamber and multiple feeding ports. Most common are tube feeders, which have multiple feeding ports, each with its own perch. Another popular style for perchers is the hopper feeder. This type dispenses seed from both sides of a central hopper. There’s usually one wide perch on each side of the feeder that will accommodate multiple birds.
Most tube feeders and hopper feeders can be hung or pole-mounted. Mounting feeders at a height of 5 to 6 feet will suit most species. Black-oil sunflower seed is the hands-down favorite of most perching birds, so it’s a good choice if you want to attract chickadees, cardinals, titmice and nuthatches. Thistle seed, which requires a feeder with smaller seed ports, is particularly appealing to goldfinches, pine siskins and purple finches.