Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gardening Article: Container Herb Gardening

Guest author Jacqueline from deeprootsathome.com, republished with permission.


Growing annual herbs in a container is one of the simplest and quickest ways to bring edible freshness and maximum flavor to your kitchen. You will need a big planter, preferably the plastic kind which can withstand many seasons in the extremes of weather… also enough good soil to fill it.

In zones 4-5, most herbs, even the perennials (like sage, thyme, chives, oregano, and mint) will get too cold in pots and die over winter.

You may not want to put the money into store-bought plants that won’t overwinter, so put them into a bigger mass of soil – the ground or a protected raised bed to enjoy and use them for years.

I brought the rosemary (above) inside last fall, but the sage in the pot didn’t survive the cold.

But for herbs that live only one year (annuals), you can start them from seed right into a fairly large (so you don’t have to water all the time) container and keep them near the door. These herbs, among others, include basil, dill, cilantro, thyme, and parsley. Place your pot where it will not be in the hot sun after 3-4 PM, ideally getting morning and early afternoon sun only, otherwise they may bake in late July and August. And use mulch once the seedlings grow up a bit.

Start thinking about what you need and appreciate in your kitchen. Sow all of these seed (in separate sections) right into the container once the weather is past your frost-free date.

If you would like to try your hand at basil pesto, you might consider planting a giant leaf basil.

I once planted a cute little globe-shaped Greek basil, but it took forever to harvest the tiny leaves and they were a bit tough.

The mammoth basil gives 25 times more leaf, is tender, and has a true basil flavor that pairs well with tomatoes and mozzarella or feta cheese.

Cilantro is one herb you either love or dislike. It’s indispensable in salsas, Mexican, and middle-Eastern dishes.

It is best grown in the early spring or fall when the weather is cool. Even in the best conditions, it will only last 8-10 weeks before flowering. Once it does flower, it will make seeds which can be harvested as coriander or replanted to grow more cilantro.

Its high mineral and phyto-nutrient profile is quite amazing. Cilantro is commonly used in many heavy metal detoxification programs, but it should be paired with a colon cleanse to effectively get the toxins out of the body.

Dill is a lovely, airy herb, and deserves a place where height is needed for the eye. See it in the top photo above.

It is not uncommon to find tiger swallowtail caterpillars on your dill. This provides a special opportunity to watch the caterpillar with your family as it makes its chrysalis, later opening into the elegant black and yellow butterfly.

The seed can be used for dill pickle-making or on baked fish. The fresh green fronds are wonderful chopped into sour cream with chives and sea salt, then used on baked potatoes or salmon.

Thyme seeds are tiny!

Thyme is a perennial herb that survives winters, even in a container. It takes drought better than most herbs, and it has a pretty, delicate texture that goes nicely with other plants.

It really blends well with lamb, eggs, and tomatoes. It is useful to have in my spice cabinet for soups, stews, and casseroles.

Oh – and try it on the barbeque. Like rosemary just toss the woody stems (minus the leaves) on the coals for a wonderful aromatic blast!

It is fun to dehydrate herbs in the fall and have my own home-grown flavors in the spice cabinet of my kitchen. It makes your home smell wonderful!

All of the herbs above dry well and can be stored for a year or more in a dark, dry place.

This is another little opportunity to teach your daughters the ways of proper growing and storage. With the cost of herbs and spices ever increasing, this is good stewardship in action.

Bon App├ętit!

~ Jacqueline

Photos courtesy of Jacqueline.

About the author: Jacqueline writes the inspirational blog deeprootsathome.com, covering organic food and gardening, health, music, and life.

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