In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Herbs galore are available for planting this time of year. Grow a selection of herbs to liven up any dish.
Gardening with Herbs
Herbs make life sweeter, healthier, and taste better. They have been cultivated for centuries and, by definition, include any plant used as a medicine or seasoning. The culinary term "herb" usually refers to the leafy part of the plant but may include seed pods, roots, and bark.
Which herbs to grow depends on your personal preference. Here are a few of my favorites.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a native to Mediterranean climates. It prefers full sun, regular watering, well-drained, rich soil, and fertilizer only once during the growing season. Sow seeds in early spring and make successive sowings every 2 weeks for these short-lived annual plants. Keep the flower spikes pinched back to promote bushiness unless you want to attract beneficial insects to your garden. In that case, leave some of the flower stalks, but remember that you'll sacrifice leaf production.
Chive (Allium schoenoprasum) is a perennial plant that requires full sun and fertile soil. Regular watering is recommended to promote strong healthy foliage. Chives can be grown from seed or plants. To harvest, cut a clump of leaves from the base of the plant with scissors. Use chives on baked potatoes, in egg and cheese dishes, and to make a tasty herb butter. The purple blossoms are beautiful as a garnish.
Oregano (Origanum) is a perennial plant that requires full sun and moderate to little water. It's related to mint and is used in Italian cuisine. The leaves can be used fresh or dried. Its low-growing nature makes it an excellent choice for a rock garden or a ground cover.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial herb that's usually grown as an annual. It requires afternoon shade in hot summer regions and regular water. The seeds should be soaked prior to planting to ensure success and, even after soaking, may take as long as 2 to 3 weeks to germinate.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a Mediterranean native that requires bright light, minimum water, and well-drained soil. It's a tender perennial shrub that needs protection from frost. It has very tender roots, and care should be taken not to disturb them at transplanting time. Rosemary is used in meat dishes, stews, and vegetables.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial plant that requires full sun, well-drained soil, and regular watering. It's a traditional poultry seasoning and its leaves are delicious baked in a slow oven for forty five minutes with onions, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Sage is an ancient healing herb used to cure broken bones, wounds, stomach disorders, and loss of memory.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a perennial member of the daisy family that requires full sun, well- drained soil, and moderate water. It's a little fussy to grow, so I suggest purchasing three plants and planting them in different locations to ensure success. Tarragon dies to the ground in winter. It's a classic herb to accompany fish.
All you need is a small, sunny spot to grow herbs in your own garden. A plot 2 feet by 2 feet is adequate to grow enough plants for seasoning your food and still have plenty left over for gifts. You can even grow herbs in a window box or in containers. Strawberry jars (usually ceramic or clay pots with holes all around the outside for the plants to grow through) make wonderful containers for an herb collection.
Making a Strawberry Jar Planter
Strawberry jar herb planters are easy to make. Cover the drain hole of an empty strawberry jar with a piece of plastic screen or pottery shards. Drill 1/4-inch-diameter holes every 4 inches in a 1-inch-diameter PVC pipe. The pipe should be long enough to reach from the bottom to the top of the jar. Stand the pipe in the center of the jar and hold it in place until you add enough soil to support it. Place 2 to 3 inches of soil in the bottom of the jar, firming it slightly around the prepared PVC pipe.
Placing the Plants
Place a plant inside the pot near a side hole and push its foliage out through one of the lowest side holes of the strawberry jar. Leave the roots sitting on the soil in the bottom of the container. (This is less risky to the roots than pushing the plants into the jar through the side holes, as some do when planting strawberries.) Repeat until all the side holes at this level have a plant poking out. Then add soil to the next level of holes, covering the roots of the first layer of herbs. Add more plants.
Continue adding soil and plants until you have plants sticking out of every side hole. Finally, add a last layer of soil to within 4 inches of the rim of the strawberry jar, and plant two or three herbs in the top portion to finish.
The top end of the PVC pipe should be showing at the surface of the soil. Water the herb-filled strawberry jar when you finish planting and thereafter by pouring water into the exposed end of the PVC pipe to thoroughly saturate the roots of all the herbs. Turn the jar frequently so all the herbs receive an equal amount of light.
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