Garden Docs offer summer harvesting techniques


Lori C. of Santa Rosa asks: I am growing a few different varieties of hot peppers and would like to dry them for use throughout the year. What’s the best way to do this?

The easiest way to dry hot peppers is to pull the whole plant out of the ground, tie a string round the base, and hang it upside down in a dry, well-ventilated room. Be sure that the plants are not getting hit by any direct sunlight, such as through a window. Depending on the size of the peppers, it can take a while for them to dry out completely. Once a week give them a squeeze to test.

When the peppers are dry, cut them from the plant and store them in a paper bag. If you want to display the peppers and have them handy for use, thread a needle through the stem and hang them up. You probably have seen peppers made into wreaths, and other shapes. The peppers, on average, can last about two years.

Gary B. of Santa Rosa asks: I would like to grow some fall/winter vegetables this year. I never seem to plant or sow at the right time since I have not been too successful in the past. I’m either way too early or too late. Are there any guidelines?

A general rule of thumb for gardeners growing vegetables anywhere in the United States, is to subtract 8 to 10 weeks from our first fall frost, which is Nov. 15 here in Northern California. Since we have such unpredictable weather at that time, we just do the best we can.

Cover your plants, if possible, with shade cloth if you hear that the weather is going to be pretty warm.

If it’s going to be especially cold, cover them with frost cloth.

You could grow your fall/winter veggies in coldframes or plastic hoop tunnels to protect them from the elements.

You can make them as big or small as you want, depending on how much and what you’re growing.

Bobbie L. of Santa Rosa asks: I have quite a few sunflowers that have produced some nice seed heads. I would like to dry them and save the seeds for the birds, use them in decorative arrangements, and save some of the seeds for next year. What’s the best way to dry them so they don’t rot and insects won’t get to them?

When the flower heads start to sag keep an eye on them because you want to cut them when the seeds are dried out just enough, but before they start to fall out of the seed head itself.

At that time, cut the stalk, leaving enough stem to be able to hang them upside down.

Put them somewhere cool and dry with good air circulation for at least a month or two.

If you have had problems with flying insects of any kind, cover the seed head with a lightweight mesh bag that you can buy at any fabric/craft store. That should keep anything from getting to the seeds.

If the variety of sunflower you bought is a hybrid, then you will not be able to save the seeds.

You can, but when you sow them next year, you will not get what you purchased.

You will get the varieties that were crossed with each other that produced the variety that you bought.

If they’re not hybrids, then you will have that same flower.

The easiest way to pull the seeds from the seed heads is to gently, lightly, tap the seed head on a table until a few seeds fall out.

Then, starting from that spot, use your thumbs and pry the seeds out.

It’ll take a little while, so ask a friend to help or put on some music to help pass the time.

Keep the seeds in a glass jar with a tight lid to prevent any flying insects from getting to the seeds and eating them.

The empty seed heads can be sprayed, or not, and used in dried flower arrangements.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at