I bought a small bay tree from a mail order house over five years ago and have been pruning and transplanting it into bigger pots ever since. Once it reached a couple feet in height, I began taking a leaf here and there for fish chowder, vegetable soup, or spaghetti sauce. I haven’t had to buy bay leaves in years.
I used to garden for a woman who had a green house attached to her southern exposed walk-out basement. When the weather would get cold, she would open the basement door and let the warmer air from the house flow into the greenhouse which was also partially earth bermed on the sides and the lower walls lined with one-gallon milk jugs filled with water. Her tender semps and orchids also spent the winter in the greenhouse along with a very large bushy bay tree–it was more of a shrub really.
I don’t have a greenhouse, so I move my bay into the house each fall as the temperatures begin to drop. My bay seems to do well under the fluorescents in our basement home office during the winter and in the dappled shade of my patio during the summer. (Too much sun and it gets sunburned.)
In an effort to train my plant to be more shrub-like, I’ve pruned it severely. As a result, I’ve ended up with a lot of bay leaves. I decided to air dry them because they seemed to be sensitive to heat when on the plant. I didn’t want to take the risk of ruining them.
I clipped the leaves from the branches with my trusty kitchen scissors and spread them in one layer on a perforated pizza pan which I set on a wire cookie rack. This allowed for good air flow and helped the leaves dry more quickly. With the humid weather we have now, I was having a hard time getting the crispy dryness necessary for storage, so I put the pan in my electric oven, covered the leaves with a piece of brown paper, and turned on the oven light. This raised the temperature in the oven just enough to finish the job without damaging the leaves. (If you have an old gas oven with a pilot light, just set the pan inside in the warm, dry dark. You might want to experiment with a few leaves first to make sure it isn’t too hot.)
Once the leaves were dry enough–just an hour or so–and they were ready to be stored in a airtight storage jar. I keep all the herbs, vegetables, and fruit that I dry in my dark pantry in glass jars. Begonia