Chef Tim Says...

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Dr. Tim Says...

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Chef Tim Says....

Growing Herbs

I am not much of a gardener. It's not for want of trying, and it's partly because I don't have the time. I have friends who make it look so easy, but somehow I am not one of those who has been blessed with a green thumb.

The one place that I do have some success is in planting herbs. I am able to get them to grow for some reason, and for this I am very happy. There's no doubt that there's a time and a place for using dried herbs, but for so many recipes using fresh herbs makes the meal. Considering the cost of fresh herbs in most markets, planting your own makes sense.

As I said, I am not generally a successful gardener and it may be that my positive results with herbs is because I like being able to go out and clip them fresh for dinner each night. While it could be that this motivates me it is, however, more likely that the success comes from the fact that most of the herbs used in our kitchens are simply weeds and will grow pretty easily.

You can grow your herbs from seed but it is easy and inexpensive to purchase seedlings. Four inch pots are generally less than $2.00. Even adding up a small garden growing your own is cheap by comparison to purchasing fresh herbs at the store. Here's a list below to help you get started on your herb garden. Hey, if I can do it, you certainly can.

Basil - There's a lot of varieties to choose from but one Sweet Basil plant will grow well in full sun and provide fresh leaves into late October in most climates. I like to plant spicy basils and purple varieties as well. You'll have to replant each season as basil is an annual. Basil does like to be watered regularly. As the basil grows and the flower buds appear, pinch them off to keep the herb from turning bitter.

Thyme - Like basil there are so many varieties to choose from. Thyme likes full sun with some partial shade. A perennial, your planted thyme will last for multiple years depending on the climate.

Oregano is much like thyme in that it will grow year on year. There are a number of varieties and most creep. It'll take over the garden if you're not careful. They like full sun to partial shade also.

Chives - Once I plant chives they just seem to grow and grow. While they are a perennial I have had years that they don't return and I need to replant. They love full sun and need to be trimmed regularly to keep them growing beautiful leaves.

Cilantro is one that I have variable success with. It does require a fair amount of sun and doesn't tolerate conditions that are too dry. Dill is similar to cilantro in that it does like water but will tolerate sun fairly well.

The other herb that can be a bit fickle to get started is rosemary. There are a wide variety of rosemary and I have had plants fail, but once established they do grow well. They like sun for at least part of the day. They will grow into lovely shrubs if protected during the winter.

I have found marjoram, tarragon and sage to be quite simple and even my lack of a green thumb can't seem to keep them from growing. I suppose that they are really quite successful weeds. All three like full sun to partial shade and do tolerate a drier climate pretty well. Like thyme, all three make lovely ground cover and are pretty to line your sidewalk with.

Parsleys -- both curly and flat leaf -- will also grow well but don't hold up in the full sun of a harsher summer climate so having them in partial shade is a good idea.

Mints -- both peppermint and spearmint -- are a bit like bamboo in that if you plant it, the herb will truly grow like a weed and take over your garden. It's very pretty I think and loves good sunny sites. Plant it away from other herbs in an area that it won't matter too much how much it takes over.

Dr. Gourmet
April 14, 2008