Drying the harvest

I choose wine by the quality (together with the price), but when the bottle comes in an organza bag, that’s an added bonus. I now have a sizeable collection and there’s always at least one hanging on the washing line at any time of the year. In summer there can be baga good half-dozen.

Leaves are generally tied in a bundle to hang off the laundry door for a week or so, but when flowers are plucked one or a small handful at a time, they go into the wine bags (gift bags, not goon bags) on the back wire of the clothes line where they get shade 24/7. This also goes for tagetes heads which would otherwise shed hundreds of seeds over the floor.

I originally spread some wire fencing over the “rafters” in the shed, placed flyscreen wire on top and spread dahlia flowers over that to dry. Now I find that if there are not too many in one golemon myrtle, they too can go into a wine bag. This is only practical in summer, where they can dry within a day; in winter the tree dahlia heads go mouldy when piled into a bag.

And avocado pits? When a colleague donates them on a daily basis, they stay on my desk shelf at work and dry well without going mouldy. Easy! At home they get put into a bag along with the skins – after going over both with a nail brush to get rid of any remaining flesh.

On the right: half-a-year’s harvest of lemon myrtle from the 50cm-high specimen in a pot. I remember buying 100g of these about 18 years ago when they were $50/kg! Although they’re not native to SA, they’re really easy to grow both in pot and in open ground.


Za’atar – Thymbra spicata

zaatar3I originally came across this plant in Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs many moons ago, and after the internet took off, started searching for it high and low. I was very kindly sent a small cutting by an interstate nursery with an order, but one day of typical Adelaide summer weather put pay to that. Then a couple of years ago,  I was able to order a couple of packets of seeds from a US nursery. This was after waiting for AQIS to list it as a permitted import, which they did quite quickly as they’d had a number of requests about the plant. How’s that for a government department!

I only managed to grow one plant to maturity from the first sowingzaatar-flower, but it produced enough seeds for me to grow a second run this year (which was good as I’d misplaced the packets). This time I thought more about the conditions it would need: a plant from mountains in the Mediterranean and Middle East… The seeds were sown on top of potting compost with a thin covering of vermiculite.

Success! A baker’s dozen meant that I had enough to grow a decent crop for us and pass on plants to interested parties including the “local” herb nursery: Hillside Herbs at McLaren Vale. I’ll also be contacting the nursery that originally sent me a cutting.

zaatar-dryingSo, what’s it used for? There’s zatar (funny, that) – the spicy mixture for dipping bread (after a dip in olive oil), and no doubt any other recipe that calls for some herbal zip. I’ve asked a number of acquaintances from the Middle East what they would use it for, but they tell me that za’atar is thyme, or Syrian oregano. It could be any one of a number of plants, including Satureja. I guess it depends where you’re from and what herb is locally available to give that spicy-herby flavour.