How and When to harvest Thyme
Most thyme farmers do not harvest during the first year of plant establishment. They can get good yields from the second up until the sixth year. After six years, commercial thyme growers plow and destroy the plants so as to rotate the crop or plant new seedlings.
As it happens with most herbs, harvest time differs significantly on whether we grow thyme for essential oil or for plant material. As a rule of thumb, if we want to maximize essential oil yield, we must perform only one harvesting session per year, when 50% of flowers have bloomed. This happens normally during the summer (July in most areas of US). If we are interested in plant material, we can have two or even three harvesting sessions, starting in late spring and ending around early autumn. However, performing multiple harvesting sessions per year is not an easy task and requires experience. It may also require irrigation and fertilization between the harvesting sessions, so that the plants will be encouraged to regenerate quickly. However, these are just some common patterns that should not be followed without making your own research.
If the plants are cut very short, they will be unprotected against the frost and may not survive. Most farmers cut the plants around 5,5 inches (14 cm) from the ground with special scissors. Although mechanical harvesting is possible through harvesting machines that are attached to tractors, hand harvesting is performed in most cases. Contrary to other herbs (rosemary and others) that can be left in the field for a couple of days to dry out after harvesting, sun drying of thyme is not recommended, as it often results in rapid decrease of product quality. In most cases, forced warm air dryers are used.
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