Warm days and cold nights mark the beginning of spring.
The days are getting longer and so is my to do list. Spring marks the beginning of the planting season. Canning. Harvesting. Drying. Freezing. The next few months marks the start of the busy season.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that you do not have to have a lot of land or a ton of time to have a sustainable lifestyle. If you organize and prioritize your time, you can accomplish much and reap a large harvest.
Let’s dig in.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. “John Muir
Herbs & Flowers
May is when lemon balm, mint, and oregano start to bush out. If you planted these herbs last year, then you know what I mean. They tend to take over everything
How To Dry Herbs
Drying herbs is one of the easiest things to do. All you need is a little time and a dry place to store your cuttings and in a few days you will have more dried herbs than you know what to do with.
There are two methods for drying that have worked well for me.
Air Drying Herbs
Air drying takes the longest of the two methods, but it works effectively and is less to clean up.
All you will need is some twine or rubber bands (you can get them at the dollar store).
I dry herbs in different places depending on the rains. If you are going to dry your herbs outside, you will need a sunny area to hang them up. I hang my herbs on the wire frame of my gazebo.
Cut the stem close to the ground and pull off the bottom 2 to 3 inches of leaves. This gives you a clean stem to tie.
Remember to check for bugs and disease as you cut. Also look for the thicker stems. The small stems don’t dry well. Tie all stems together and hang your herbs upside down for a few days.
As long as there is no big storm to come and drench or blow down your herbs, they will be fine.
If you don’t have somewhere outside to hang your herbs, you can always hang them inside in a sunny window. The window over my kitchen sink gets the most sun. I put two little hooks on either side of the window and tied a piece of twine from one hook to the other.
You can do the same to any window (the hooks leave a hole about the size of a push pen. If you don’t want to put holes in your window frame, you could get command strips and tie your twine to that.
Hang your herbs just as you would outside and wait a few days. Although it takes a little longer inside to dry the herbs, the end result is the same.
Once the herbs are “crunchy” take them down and pull the leaf from the stem. Store the dried herb in an air tight container. I recommend using mason jars (I use my mason jars for everything!)
Herbs will last for up to a year when stored in your pantry or cabinet. Before using the dried herb, check for mold. If mold is present, throw out all of the herbs in the container.
I have limited in my kitchen, so I store my herbs in mason jars under my cabinets. You can do this too by screwing the lid of the mason jar to the cabinet and then just twist your jar on the lid. This is a great space saver, but it makes a good decoration in the kitchen.
Drying Herbs In The Oven
If you want to dry your herbs quickly, you can always stick them in the oven on low. To do this, you need to go ahead and pull the leaves from the stems of your herbs.
Wash the leaves well, making sure there are no crawlers left. No one wants to eat bugs in your dinner.
Dry the leaves on paper towels before transferring to a sheet pan. Place your herbs in the oven on the center rack and turn your oven on the lowest setting. Once it reaches the set temperature, turn your off and let the herbs sit inside for a few hours. If you have time, it is best to let them sit overnight to ensure all the water has evaporated from the leaves.
Mold grows due to the excess water left in the leaves. You want to ensure your herbs are “crunchy” before you put them into storage, otherwise you may be doing all this work in vain and have to throw out the fruits of your labor.
Drying flowers is a little different than drying herbs. For one, you only want the petal of the flower and not the green of the stem, so there is a little more work involved.
May is when my roses go into full bloom and my year is speckled with white and yellow from the clover and buttercups (or dandelions).
There are a lot of flowers that are edible. Likewise, there are just as many that are poisonous. Make sure you do your research before you start picking flowers for tea.
To dry flowers you can remove the petals from the stem and set them on a sheet pan out in the sun for a day or you can dry them in the oven like you do the herbs. Do not wash the flowers before you dry them.
If you dry your flowers outside, there is a good chance that any crawlers will vacate the flower as it dries.
Store your dried flowers in air tight containers. Their medicinal properties will reduce over time so try to use them within 8-10 months.
Rose petals are used for a lot of things. They are a symbol of romance and love. But did you know that roses also help with common skin ailments.
Making a salve from dried rose petals can help to heal your dried and cracked hands. Also, rose infused oil is said to help reduce the dark bags under your eyes.
You can also use rose petals with lemon balm and Epsom salt to make a bath bag. The sky is the limit to what you can do with the nature around you. Do some research and take some notes.
Dandelions are everywhere in May. Pick the flower soon after it blooms for optimal results. Dandelions are great in tea and for making jelly.
For a great sleepy tea, you can mix dandelions and chamomile in a tea ball. This puts me right out after a long day at work. Other than tea, you can infuse honey with dandelions or create a simple syrup to add to your coffee or tea. This is a great way to reap the medicinal benefits as well as sweeten your beverage.
May is when strawberries start to come in. I have already picked more than a gallon of strawberries from my small berry patch in the yard.
Strawberries are easy to can and put away. There are two methods that I have used that have worked well over the years.
Using a water bath to preserve foods is an age old tradition. The water bath method is the simplest.
Cut off the green stem and then cut the strawberry in half. Cook strawberries in a large sauce pot on medium high heat with about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water.
Add in about 4 cups of sugar for each gallon of strawberries. Sugar is a natural preservative. This along with the pectin will keep your preserves fresh for up to a year if stored correctly.
After your berries, water, and sugar have cooked for about thirty minutes (stirring frequently) it is time to mash the fruit.
You can do this a number of ways. I use my emulsion blender. But if you don’t have an emulsion blender, you can always use a potato masher. Both methods work well.
Blend (mash) the fruit until you have very few lumps of fruit left. Add the pectin. One bag of Mrs. Wages Fruit Pectin works for this recipe. You will need to adjust the amount of pectin you add according to the number of berries you are working up.
Make sure to spread the pectin along the top and blend it into your berries until there are no lumps. If your preserves are not hot enough, the pectin will not spread through the preserves like it should.
How To Set Up A Hot Water Bath
It is ideal if you have a canning tub set up for a hot water bath. The basic tools for canning are not expensive to purchase and you can find them at any grocery store.
If you don’t have a canning tub, you can always use a tall stock pot and a steamer basket. The methodology is the same. Heat the water without heating the bottom of the glass jar.
I use a double burner out on the back porch so that I don’t heat up the house. It runs on propane and doesn’t increase the power bill.
Prepare The Mason Jars
If you have a dishwasher, run your jars, lids, and seals through the wash and heated dry. This will ensure your jars are sterile before you fill them with your preserves.
If you don’t have a dishwasher, wash your jars, lids and seals. Then boil them for about two minutes in your hot water bath.
Jarring The Preserves
Your preserves should be near boiling when you go to jar them up. Remember that heat kills germs. You want to do the next step as fast as you can without loosing too much heat in the process.
Fill your jars until about a quarter of an inch from the top. Place seal on each jar and secure with ring. Tighten the lid and place jar in the hot water bath.
The jar should be submerged in the water. Some of the older canning books I have read say that your water should come up to the top of the jar while others say that the jar should be completely submerged.
I tend to cover the jar fully and then boil it in the hot water bath until the water reaches a quarter of an inch below the top of the lid. Usually this takes 20-30 minutes of rapid boiling.
After your jars have processed in the water bath, remove them from the water and tighten the lids one more time. Allow the preserves to cool completely before storing in the pantry. You should hear the pop of the lids as the jars cool off. This is the suction of the air inside the jar. If your jar doesn’t pop or the lid isn’t concave after the jar has cooled, then the jar isn’t sealed.
Refrigerate any unsealed jars or freeze them for later use.
If you don’t want to use a hot water bath to can your preserves, you can always freeze them.
Prepare your preserves for canning just as you would for the hot water bath. After you fill your jars, allow them to cool completely. Make sure the lids are screwed tight and then move jars to the freezer.
Jam will remain good for up to one year. To thaw, allow preserves to sit in the refrigerator or thaw under cold running water.
A tincture is made from alcohol or vinegar that has soaked in the medicinal properties of herbs for several weeks. They are used as herbal remedies for sickness and ailments.
One of the tinctures I make in May is with Lemon Balm. Lemon Balm is a natural anti-inflammatory as well as good for cold and flu.
Take a clean glass bottle and fill it with a cup or two of chopped fresh lemon balm. Fill the bottle with vodka (the cheap stuff) until is covers the lemon balm. Place in a cool dark place for 4 to 6 weeks. Make sure the vodka doesn’t touch any metal when you cap the bottle. I recommend using a bottle with a cork.
Shake the tincture once a week. After the tincture has sat, strain the lemon balm and then use within 1 year. Think of this as medicine. You don’t want to take a lot at one time. 1/4 to 1/2 tsp once or twice a day for colds is all you need. This tincture works best when you feel the symptoms of a cold coming on.
Seeding The Garden
This is the time of year to plant your tomatoes in the ground. If you got an early start like I did, your tomatoes should already have blooms on them.
Other than tomatoes, now is the time when squash starts to come in and asparagus pops up from the ground. Your blueberries should be getting plump (not yet turning in color) and the blackberries should be blooming.
I was out pruning my grape vines the other day and say lots of baby grapes starting to form. I can’t wait until I get to harvest them for homemade wine.
Now is the time to plant fall bulbs if you haven’t already. You should also take a good look at your fruit trees and prune off the limbs that growing where they shouldn’t.
So far, my garden has tomatoes, cucumber, squash, zucchini, lavender, hot peppers, sweet peppers, and a large variety of herbs. I have a large garden every year.
But I don’t have a lot of time to spend in it. You can have a garden and enjoy sustainable living in only a few minutes a day. If you have been to my blog before, you know that I love to plan my day using my bullet journal. My bullet journal is the one tool that I couldn’t live without. I am productive by completing a small number of tasks each day.
I enjoy spending time outdoors and living a semi-sustainable lifestyle. You can do it too, if you put your mind to it. For more information, click on one of the links below.