So far, our area has dodged the bullets Jack Frost has been shooting elsewhere in the United States. The average first-frost date in our region of Massachusetts typically occurs anywhere from October 1 through 10. But we’re still waiting, and the balmy temperatures throughout this month have created a false sense of security.
Today, we decided to stop tempting fate and brought in the last of our plants: a 3-year-old rosemary pot and a small heap of thyme which seemed very happy in its terraced spot on the herb spiral. Both of these plants have inspired many wonderful meals as well as two our our shrub flavors: Peach Rosemary and Tomato Thyme. Although our home-grown herbs can’t be used in commercial products, we’re always happy to have a robust crop growing indoors to provide inspiration.
Thanks to the wise advice provided by The Herb Farmacy in Salisbury MA, we’ve been fairly successful wintering-over our outdoor herbs over the years. Here are some of the things we have learned.
There are three key things to know about keeping potted rosemary alive and thriving:
Keep it cool: Don’t bring the outdoor plant into a warm part of your home right off the bat. It needs to be transitioned to prevent shock. The first transition spot can been anything from a garage to an unheated sun porch to a drafty attic. Even after letting the plant spend a week or so in its temporary quarters, look around for a room where the plant won’t freeze or be subjected to cozy heat. We keep our pot in the sun porch, right next to the back door. The room temperature never gets above 60 degrees, and the plant doesn’t even seem to mind getting a cold blast of outdoor air whenever the back door is open.
Keep it moist: Herbs that have delicate leaves can dry out quickly. Keep the pot elevated above a bed of pebbles to ensure drainage and also to create a moist microclimate. Also, mist the leaves every couple of days with spring water.
Keep it trimmed: A rosemary plant can turn dry and woody quickly. Frequent trimming stimulates new growth.
Due to their tiny leaves, thyme plants are notorious for drying out quickly in an indoor setting. However, they are also pretty fussy when it comes to being too wet. If you over-water a thyme plant, the base can quickly get soggy and rot. The solution:
When digging up a thyme plant, put it in a pot that’s at least twice the diameter of the plant. The extra soil will retain moisture better than if you were to put the plant in a container that’s more proportional to the size.
Surround the base with pea stone to help encourage drainage and to keep the lower branches from coming in contact with the soil.
Keep a plastic spray bottle handy and mist the plant regularly so that the tiny leaves will remain hydrated.
As with rosemary, keep the plant in a cool spot and trim often to encourage new growth. Even if you aren’t in the mood for the fresh herbs, you can dry them and store in a bag, or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and toss in the freezer.
If all else fails and you find yourself with a crispy crunchy herb plant, don’t throw it out. Instead:
Snip the branches and store them for use in soups. Or put them in a small saucepan, cover with water, and simmer on the back burner of your wood stove or stove top to keep a wonderful green scent wafting through your house. Throw in some chunks of lemon or any other aromatics you have left over from your latest culinary endeavor. Replenish the water level and keep heating until you no longer can smell the herbs.