Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The basil is so big it’s almost hard to see. These once little plants are vigorously pushing aside tomatoes and overpowering cucumber vines as the heat of the hoop house fills them with an abundance of solar supercharge. Delicate herbs are not what you would find upon entering this greenhouse, but rather hefty plants in overwhelming quantity.
It is certainly not an overly onerous problem to have. Of the hundred-plus basil plants in this particular locale, some were easily up to my chest in height, and threatening to flower beyond usefulness. Luckily, Plymouth State University freshman orientation service projects coincided with an ideal synchronicity.
It was therefore with an enthusiastic posse of fresh area residents that I headed to the upper hoop house this past weekend, scissors and bushel baskets in tow. My cohorts were quick studies, and after a few tutorials about plant care and harvest techniques, we were moving down the rows, harvesting long limbs laden with pungent basil. Rather than harvesting single basil leaves, we were harvesting individual branches, cutting them down to where new growth was evidenced. This eliminated the immediate threat of flowering, and would encourage the plant to grow in a bushy habit, generating multiply basil branches where previously there had only been one.
Our baskets quickly filled up with only a fraction of the harvesting completed. The act of stuffing (gently of course), piling, and heaping basil in a delicate balancing act ensued until the plants had all been sufficiently pruned. With our aromatic bounty in tow, we traipsed back to the D Acres Community Building: our work was only half done.
These herbs, you see, were destined to be dried in the loft of our Red Barn. Once crisp to the touch they will be stored in glass jars, then used to flavor our meals throughout the winter as well as sold as culinary spices. To get to this end product, however, requires the tedious work of bundling and tying the freshly harvested basil into long strands that can be hung from the barn rafters.
Thus we gathered round the table, and – four or five stalks to a bundle – slowly tied the basil with twine, forming long strands of sweet smelling herbs. In an excellent group effort, this was completed with good humors still in tact, and gracefully hung from nails affixed in the barn’s beams. With a week of two of decent weather, this basil will soon be dry. The processing will then ensue in reverse, stripping the crispy leaves from the stalks and storing it for the winter. Imagine the meals it will enhance! A taste of summer to last all year long, how excellent is that.
You can read more about Bethann Weick and her permaculture farm at www.dacres.org.