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Woman in flower garden
Consider making space for flowers and herbs in your garden.

By Elizabeth Joseph, garden and education coordinator at Heifer Farm

It is a joy for gardeners to pore over seed catalogs, nurturing expectation for all the goodness to arrive in springtime. The pages brim with vivid and inspiring descriptions of plants, and glossy photos illustrate seemingly endless possibilities of color and shape. You can all but taste and smell the abundance to come.

There was a time when, admittedly, not every page of the seed catalog received my full attention. New to farming, I would skip over the pages of striking flowers and beneficial herbs and go straight to the vegetable section, opting for utility and function over beauty and fragrance—or so I thought. I sketched my garden maps to maximize growing space for potatoes, tomatoes, corn, beans, squash … crops of bulk and substance.

Preserve Your Herbs in the Freezer

By Emily Rose, event and outreach coordinator at Heifer Farm

Give your food the fresh taste of summer any time of year by preserving fresh herbs from your garden. You’ll have little cubes of fl avor to pop into salad dressings, soups, sauces, quiches and more. They’re easy to make. Here’s how:

1. Wash herbs and remove any thick stems.
2. Pack herbs into a food processor.
3. Turn the food processor on and drizzle in a little water or olive oil*—just until the herbs make a paste.
4. Scoop the herb paste into an ice cube tray, with 2-3 tablespoons in each cube. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze.
5. After a day or so, pop the cubes out of the tray and store in plastic bags in the freezer for up to six months.
*At Heifer Farm, we process basil, dill and sage with olive oil and every other herb with water.

Now, eight seasons later, the strategy is different. While vegetable crops still claim the majority of garden space at Heifer Farm, an entire 140-foot row is devoted solely to planting flowers and herbs. We also grow flowers and herbs under vegetable canopies where they can thrive in unused space—staying low as a ground cover or vining upward on stalks and stems. Herbs and flowers, I’ve come to learn, offer both beauty and utility in field and kitchen alike. In the garden, pops of color amidst a sea of green expand the color palette, while flowers’ roots stimulate and feed soil microbes. Scents from leaf and blossom ward off some pests while attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Herbs’ scents signal culinary and medicinal significance as well. The very definition of good things coming in small packages, a tiny bit of an herb can transform a dish—elevating both the flavor and nutrition with only a pinch of this, a sprinkle of that. Small quantities in teas, tinctures, oils, salves and syrups can have healing properties for mind and body. Herbs and flowers are perhaps best enjoyed fresh during the season, and the type of plant determines whether you use stem, root, flower, leaf, seed or a combination thereof. Cilantro and dill are two examples that are enjoyed in both the leaf and seed stage of growing (cilantro changing names to coriander in this case).

With care, herbs can be stored and enjoyed all year long. Dry them on screens, in the oven at a low temperature, with a dehydrator, or tied together in bundles and hung in a dark, dry place. They can also be easily frozen in individual portions by blending them with oil or water and poured in ice cube trays (see accompanying recipe).

If you’re planting a garden this spring, consider making space for herbs and flowers. I was late to the game, but now I can’t stop singing their praises. If you already know the benefits of these plants, write to us and share your favorite herbs and flowers to grow and enjoy. Happy blooming!

Homemade Ranch Dressing

• 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
• ½ cup milk
• 1 cup sour cream
• 1 large garlic clove or 2 garlic scapes, minced
• 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine
• 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped fine
• ½ teaspoon onion powder
• ¾ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
• ½ teaspoon black pepper

Combine the lemon juice and milk and let sit a few minutes, until the milk curdles a bit (like buttermilk).
Mix the milk mixture with the sour cream in a bowl and whisk to blend well. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk again until well combined. Taste to adjust seasonings. Makes 1 1/4 cups.

This dressing works great on salad. If you want it a little thinner, add a little more milk. To use it as a dip, use 1 ¼ cups sour cream to make it thicker.

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