Spring Into Spring With An Herb Garden
Planting Your Very First Herb Garden - Why Not?
One of the best ways to cook with fresh ingredients is to take 10 steps out your backdoor and snip some great herbs.
One of the restaurants my wife and I love to eat at is in Napa Valley, it's called Brix. This restaurant is meaningful to me since it's herb garden has inspired me over the years to want to start my own. One of the great things about this restaurant other than the food is the massive herb garden they have outside the back patio of the restaurant. As you look out to the coastal range from the restaurant, you can see planters full of herbs and plants that are used in the culinary process of menu design by the chefs. The magnificent view not withstanding, one is in awe of the beautiful layout of the garden.
This brings me to Spring cleaning and planting your very first herb garden. Why not? Unless you live in Siberia, you can plant an herb garden that will prove to be a valuable weapon in your cooking arsenal. Fresh ingredients can be big game changers in cooking. Never mind the fact that you don't have to run to the store and pay $10 bucks for a few obscure herbs that have been flown in from South America.
In California, we get a lot of sun. Even in the winter time we don't see really extreme temperatures. And this leads me to the fact that depending on where you live in this great country, you will have different strategies of planting your herb garden. Once you hit March in California, the chance of frost goes down dramatically. In other parts of the country like Montana, you can see snow well into June.
One of the first things you want to do is think about the location of your herb garden. I'm not a genius at gardening, but obviously, you will want to pick a place that has some good exposure to the sun with some shade perhaps in the latter part of the day.
How You Want Herbs Planted: Ground, Planters or Old Wine Barrels
Many of the gardens I've seen are using old wine barrels cut in half and planted packed with potting soil and and young seed. Some others use elevated growing areas that avoid a lot of the ground issues of bugs and crawly things. Wine barrels in California are plentiful and depending on where you're looking, you can find them pretty cheap and arrange them in your backyard in such a way that they don't look overly cumbersome. Guys: let your wives figure out where to put them, we don't have that genetic gene in our body!
Do you want to have to slug the hose around and water all your plants or do you want to rig up some automatic watering devices to makes sure they get watered when you're gone for the weekend and the temperatures hit the triple digits? I prefer the latter unless you find yourself a homebody, never the thought of leaving the homestead. In this case, you might want to stick with the watering hose with a nice water spout container! Either way, watering becomes important during the long days of summer, and depending on where your garden is located, you will find yourself watering more depending on the heat index. What you don't want to come back to is a very dry garden that has been sapped of life.
Herbs To Consider
What types of herbs do you want to plant? I would first consider the type of food you like to cook and build your garden around what you you like to eat. Marjoram for instance, is not a major ingredient in most of the recipes I cook but you can certainly plant it.
What Variety Of Herbs? Annuals and Perennials
Annuals are those that are only good for a growing season such as basil and cilantro. You will have to replant these every year. Most of the herbs that you can grow are periennials, those that grow year around.
Basil, for instance, is one that I really need to be growing every summer. Basil is a good example of an annual. You will have to replant this variety every year. This should produce some great crop for your kitchen and grows very well in heat. This herb grows to around 1-2' tall and can be used in a variety of Italian dishes. Since one of my passions is Italian cuisine, this makes perfect sense for me. Basil can be used in all sorts of dishes such as pizza, pesto, salads and a variety of tomato based dishes.
Caprese Salad - One of my favorite summer time preparations involves fresh chopped basil on top of garden fresh tomatoes cut into thick slices, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil with a complement of fresh mozzarella. If you want to kick the dish into high gear, try drizzling a little balsamic vinegar on top of it as well.
Marjoram is another annual that is grown in the summer. This plant can reach around 1-2' tall. This herb has small leaves and has sweeter and milder flavor than Greek Oregano. This herb can be used to flavor eggs, soups, herb butters and vinegars (Sunset.com/garden/flower-plants/cooks-garden-of-culinary-herbs)
Chives - milder herb with sweet onion taste. Chives can be used in almost any salad and potato recipes. There's nothing better than a baked potato with sour cream, bacon bits and chopped chives. Let's get back to the basics! One of the great things about cooking is to take simple ingredients, combine them in such a way that they synergize and create some great flavors and enjoy! Why do we have to use 30 ingredients in a dish to make it sound good?
Mint - I don't use a lot of mint in any of my cooking. I might use this herb in the future. I've seen it used in lamb recipes. Mint should be planted in it's own planter as the roots tend to overreach other varietals if put together.
Winter savory - I've personally never used this herb but is often used in vegetables, fresh and dried bean recipes and certain cream based soups.
Rosemary - this is one tough plant and it will grow year around. This herb has a pine type of scent and can be used for poultry, lamb, beef, and pork. You cannot kill this herb even if you try! It's one tough plant and once it gets going, you will not be able to hurt it. Typically, I cut the fresh sprigs that are young and just sprouting. These sprigs are tender with plenty of flavor. If you use some of the older and more developed sprigs, these can be more offensive in the way of smell and taste.
Sage - when it comes to dressing turkey and doing some marinades, sage is a real good one to have handy. I see this herb in a lot of recipes. Can be used in sausages, meat pies, lentil soup and bean casseroles (Sunset.com, "Essential Herbs", Sharon Cohoon)
Oregano -many know of this strong herb used in many dishes. I will often use it in my chili recipe and in many soups, stews and Italian tomato based sauces. This is usually dried and used as such. I've never really used fresh Oregano. Would like to hear from someone if you have any good uses for the fresh herb.
Parsley -usually grows in little 6-12 inch clumps and is used as garnish and for flavor. Italian flat-leaf parsely is often preferred over the other varietal.
Thyme - will grow to around 1 foot tall and has small leaves with a pungent tasted. Will use this to flavor chicken, fish, pork and vegetables. I have often used this in a variety of chicken dishes and a favorite, Linguine with Clams.
Tarragon - this will grow to around 1-2' tall and has slender green leaves with hint of anise flavor. I see this herb in many recipes with chicken and fish. Usually, I have to run to the store for this one. If you can run out to your garden and snip some fresh tarragon, you will be miles ahead of your friends.
In summary, I hope that this will do the following:
Spur you to consider and implement your own herb garden starting this Spring.
Consider ramping up the quality of the food you are putting on the menu this summer.
As you consider they types of food you enjoy cooking, consider and make a mental note of the types of herbs that will be needed in your food creations. As you take inventory, think about what herbs you normally run to the store for, and often pay a huge premium for, and consider planting them in your very own backyard. I know my family has done this for a number of years and we have enjoyed many dishes with some beautiful flavor. This will keep the masses occupied, satisfied and wanting to come back to your personal restaurant again and again.
Kathleen Brenzel http://www.sunset.com/garden/flowers-plants/cooks-garden-of-culinary-herbs