“Going green” has taken on new meaning this year–cooks everywhere are turning to home-grown herbs to replace costly, less-flavorful store-bought varieties. Gardens are overflowing and summer dishes are bursting with fresh mint, oregano, parsley and cilantro. Interested cooks who don’t already have a garden will find the aforementioned and other herbs easy to grow and well worth the small effort.
Some tips to get started:
1. Plant only what you will use.
Herbs grow fast and spread like crazy. You will only waste valuable garden space planting an herb that you don’t cook with and in the case of some ultra-hardy varieties, may have great difficulty getting rid of.
2. Plant several of each herb type.
The edible part of herbs (the leaves) also serve to shield the rest of the plant from too much sun, so planting and picking from several gives each some time to grow new leaves. If a planted herb does get overused and stripped, it should be kept semi-shaded, warm and well-watered to encourage recovery.
3. Pinch off blossoms.
Although fairly attractive, herb blossoms use valuable nutrients that could better be used to produce larger leaves and thicker stalks. As soon as blossoms appear, they should be removed and if dropped onto the surrounding soil will often sprout into new plants.
4. Dry and store any excess herbs.
Pick leaves when mature and if they won’t be used immediately, set on paper towels to dry before storing in jars or plastic bags. Dried herbs should be crushed just prior to use rather than stored in crushed form–this preserves flavor and texture integrity.
5. Don’t get discouraged.
Some fragile herbs like dill and tarragon are very sensitive to over-watering and too much sunlight. When grown from seeds, these herbs tend to die off at less than one inch tall due to too much water and/or sunlight, so keep them moist, but not wet and in sunlight not more than 4-6 hours per day. Plant plenty of seeds and weed out the weakest stalks when they begin to sprout. Herb seeds are cheap and should be planted several to each hole in case one or more don’t survive. Keep at it and experiment with differing amounts of water and sunlight until acceptable results are achieved.
6. There’s no wrong way to grow a garden.
Some folks sing to, other folks talk to their plants, some have been known to bribe, swear at or even beg their plants to grow. Whatever you feel comfortable doing is perfectly fine. If it works, it works…and no one else has to know.
Cooks and gardeners in the Williamsburg area can find reasonably-priced herb seeds at several local nurseries:
Let It Grow
3279 Lake Powell Road, Williamsburg, VA 757-220-0606
1826 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg, VA 757-220-0099
Jamestown Feed and Seed
7348 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA 757-564-8528
Check back soon for some of Chef Alex Grey’s summer recipes featuring fresh herbs and seasonal vegetables!