The past few years have seen a steady growth in the public’s desire for home grown vegetables. Some of this has been brought on by economics but the impact of food related television shows should also not be underestimated. One important tip that chefs share with viewers is the use of herbs to flavor all sorts of dishes but when these viewers look to purchase these herbs in the supermarket they often get “sticker shock”. Growing your own herbs is a great way to stretch your grocery dollars and as plants go they are among the easiest to cultivate and generally don’t have to take up too much space in your garden.
One herb that has grown in popularity is Dill. Dill is a member of the parsley family and native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia. As a result it is a staple of Mediterranean cooking but references to Dill being used as an edible and even for medicinal purposes go as far back as Egyptian times. It is used in potato salad, soups, and fish dishes and of course, pickles. When its stems and leaves are cut or even if you just brush up against it Dill gives off an aroma that is truly distinctive and once you smell it you will know what I mean. A small amount can go a long way!
Dill prefers cooler growing temperatures at least here in the Mid-Atlantic and it usually stops producing new leaves or flowers when the temperatures get warmer in June and July. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall and has lacy foliage and yellow flowers which eventually turn into seed heads from which you can collect seed for future planting. Although Dill is considered an annual, meaning it only grows for one growing season, it self-seeds rather freely. I have never found it to be invasive but if it finds a spot that it likes I never have a shortage of it. As a matter of fact although it loses its vigor in June and July I can rely on new plants coming back in the fall. Dill is very easy to grow from seed and I usually collect the seeds in the fall so I can plant them the next spring.
The one key to growing Dill is that the seeds need light to germinate. When you plant the seed you don’t want to cover it too deeply in the soil. You simply scratch up the soil surface with a hand tool, put the seed down and lightly scratch the soil again. Dill thrives in sunny conditions and prefers soil that is on the dry side. It will not tolerate wet conditions at all. Dill also attracts beneficial insects to your garden including predatory wasps that will kill the larvae of other pests such as tomato horn worms. Like many other herbs Dill has beneficial qualities that go beyond just its use in cooking so what are you waiting for? Go get some Dill for your garden!
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