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PHOTO: Jose Pablo Orozco Marin/Flickr
So you have a vegetable garden. You might be fairly new at it, or maybe you’re an old hand and grow most of your family’s vegetables, at least in the summer. If you don’t grow herbs, too, you might be surprised how much they enhance your garden and its produce.
First, some strong-scented herbs can help keep insect pests at bay. Alliums such as onions and chives, basil and lavender help deter unwanted bugs, and of course garlic is legendary. (It keeps away bugs, and vampires too.) Many ways exist to interplant your vegetables and herbs to control bugs.
Naturally, you’re growing alliums for your table, not just for bug control. Personally, I almost believe you can’t have too many (though you can certainly have too much aftereffect). These are not technically herbs, but we use them in much the same way—to add flavor and zest to our food.
If you garden, you probably know herbs are mostly easy. Last week’s article on reasons to grow herbs and several good starter varieties introduced parsley, chives and basil, three simple herbs for beginners to grow in pots. That said, you want more than a pot’s worth. One clump each of chives and parsley will meet a household’s needs, but a row of basil will make pesto for the year, and it freezes well.
Add these three more herbs and you’re on your way to creating double the pleasure from your garden in terms of beauty and savor.
Greek and Italian oregano varieties are closely related, but just different enough that it’s worth having both. Oregano (pictured above) is related to mints and will spread, but it doesn’t take over quite as much. Every year I dig around my clump, cutting off wanderers, and give them away as starts. Harvest oregano by cutting tips in late morning after dew has dried, and snip them up in pastas or dry them for future use. I have also made a strong boiled infusion to use as antiseptic on sores, rashes or minor cuts.
If you make pickles, you probably have a row of dill. If not, you should; it’s easy to grow. However, you might need two beds, separated from each other, if you want to help the butterflies. The caterpillars of Eastern Swallowtail devour dill or fennel in no time. They look like Monarch caterpillars with football player shoulders. Cut dill heads and leaves for pickle jars, or snip dill into potato dishes or cottage cheese and tomato. Yum!
Many varieties of thyme exist, all of them delicious in soups, stews and meat dishes. I grow English, French, lemon and silver thyme, and being the hilarious type, I have them around my sundial. Can’t resist the pun! (What thyme is it?) Thyme stems are wiry and stiff when you dry them, so once I’ve dried my cut sprigs, I rub the tiny leaves off the stems. I keep each variety in its own small jar. As for which to use for each type of cooking, I just open the jars, sniff and decide what smells good that day.
As for other herbs to add to your garden, one way to decide is to look in your spice cupboard. What are you buying in bottles that you could grow instead? Try your favorites and see how much pleasure it gives you to grow your food and your seasoning.