COLUMN: Gardened out? Don’t quit just yet

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By Cheryl Steenerson

Well, the garden’s harvest is winding down for many.

Folks are stocking the pantry with all the freshness of summer that can be done.

Those of you with herb gardens need to step it up. The herbs are stronger before they go to flower.

Saving your herbs for use over the winter isn’t hard. You can dry the leaves or freeze them. There are more than a few methods for drying. You can use a cookie tray in a low temperature oven. You can spread them out between window screens (one top and one bottom) and let them dry outside in a partial or full shaded area. The screens keep the critters out and offers protection from the winds.

You can also pull the entire plant up and hang it upside down in a dry, dark place. If you’re worried about a mess then put the stem end into a paper bag and tie it off with a twine. Now hang it up by the root end. Don’t worry about them for a month or so. When they have dried enough to crumble into little flakes you can harvest the leaves, whip them in the blender and store them in airtight jars.

Freezing herbs takes a little more work. Wash the leaves and pat them dry. Let them lay out on a screen to dry thoroughly. Then, pack them into Ziplock freezer bags and store them in the freezer. When soup season rolls around open the freezer and add what you need.

If you’re about “gardened out” don’t quit yet. A little work now will save you from a lot next summer. This is the perfect time to start your no work garden for next season. It will save you a bunch of time and make your garden healthier at the same time.

First, plow up the garden. Next, give it a dose of fertilizer with a high nitrogen content. Finally, start emptying your grass clippings and leave rakings onto the garden soil. I like to mow the leaves so they break down easier. Get this layer up to about 6 inches.

Finally, lay down a foot thick layer of hay (old, new, or spoiled will work). When spring rolls around, all you have to do is pull back the hay to plant. Keep the hay down everyplace else. It will act as a mulch and you will not be bothered with the work of hoeing and weeding your summer garden.

Rose lovers may want to lay down a thick layer of mulch on all but the climbers. This will protect the roots from suffering any damage this winter. You can plant some garlic around them first. This will help fight black spot next summer. Roses love garlic!

If you are having trouble with insects chewing on leaves you can try a simple garlic spray. Mince about six cloves and put in a gallon jug. Add water and let sit for several hours. Add one tablespoon of cooking oil and shake. Strain out the pieces and use the liquid to spray your plants. This protects the plants and still leaves any harvest safe to eat.

Everyone has been talking about the rains we’ve had this summer. I thought it might be fun to take a stroll down memory lane. To get an idea of the difference between last summer and this summer, you just need to look at the statistics.

So far this summer, we’ve had 16.99 inches of rain. Records show that we got 4.99, 4.86, and 7.16 inches In the months of May, June and, July, respectively. Last summer we had 0.0, 0.0, 0.09 inches for the same period. Whew!

We all know that the amount of rain that falls in one part of the county, may not even wet the dust in another. The best way to know your totals is to get a rain gauge of your own. They’re easy and fun. You can go simple with the kind you stick in the ground or attach to a post or go high tech. I went high-tech with a wireless remote temperature and rain gauge because it works all year long. The simple ones must be brought in for winter.

Keep track of your own weather. Write down the amount of rainfall received each day and at the end of the year, you’ll have your own rain calendar.

We all know every year is different here in dear old Kentucky, so a few years of doing this will definitely give you a step up for your personal planting schedule. Keep the temperatures next to the rainfall amounts and you can pretty much forecast your own weather.

Now get out there and watch for that last spurt of growth in the garden. Watch out for those colorful Japanese beetles, too.

Hurry up the harvest; daylight is burning. Happy growing!