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Container herbs' care and consumption

May 20, 2002|BY Dorry Baird Norris

We hope you have everything in hand for your window box herb garden from last week's column. Now let's chat about their care and use.

First and foremost - watering. It looks like this is going to be a dry summer. You can keep your boxes in perfect condition if you can get your family to shower with a bucket. No sense in letting your shower water stream down the drain. It can easily be collected and used in the garden. Dump the water into a watering can with a "rose," that's the gadget that goes on the spout of the can to spread the water evenly and gently. You can measure the boxes' need for watering by shoving your finger into the soil to see how damp it is.

Because your plants are jammed together they'll need regular meals. You won't need to fertilize the boxes with the added Osmocote but the other two boxes will need a snack every two weeks. My plants do well on meals of fish emulsion diluted to half strength according to the label's instructions every two weeks. The Osmocote boxes can go for six weeks without additional food. Then use the fish emulsion mixed as above every two weeks.

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Give your herbs a week to settle in, then you can harvest them in moderation. Pick off sprigs of the fresh new growth for kitchen use. As a rule of thumb you use three times as much of the fresh herb as the dry herbs called for in your recipe. Growing seasons differ. Some years, herbs have extra strong flavors so I often add just twice as much, then taste and add more if necessary. Herbs have the best flavor for fresh use if they are picked before flowering.

You've done all the preliminaries now it's time to enjoy new flavors.

n Box 1 - If this box feels dry down to your first knuckle, water.

Thyme, a tiny leafed perennial, was traditionally used as an antiseptic but we prefer to enjoy it in our food. Both the French thyme and lemon thyme will enhance everything from a baked winter squash to steamed carrots, grilled tomatoes or a cup of tea

Greek oregano is the pizza herb. This pungent perennial, often paired with basil, is wonderful with tomatoes or in a marinade for turkey kabobs. Minced, it lends real distinction to roasted vegetables when added for the last five minutes of cooking.

In our climate, sweet marjoram is best treated as an annual. The small, light green leaves are as ornamental as they are flavorful. It is wonderful added to a vinaigrette for spinach salad.

Pansies will bloom well until it gets really hot, provided you keep the faded flowers picked off. The flowers are edible. Pull the petals off to mix into spinach salad with marjoram vinaigrette or use the whole flowers to garnish French toast.

The flat, thin spears of garlic chives are stronger than regular chives. Thinly sliced they are wonderfully tasty on baked potatoes. The white, surprisingly fragrant flowers are edible. Harvest the spears close to the ground.

Calendulas love to bloom and the yellow or orange blooms are tasty. Dead head the plant regularly to assure fresh crops of blooms. The plants will re-seed with vigor.

n Box 2 - This is a box that needs water when it dry to your first knuckle.

Parsley is a biennial, it will produce generously this year and next year will sprout but don't get your hopes up for a second season for it will quickly go to seed. Harvest parsley stems from the outside of the plant.

Please turn to HERBS, E7

Continued from E6

Lemon verbena is said to be the most perfect lemon scent in the plant world. Regularly nip off the tips of the plant and use for tea or dry for winter use. A tender perennial, lemon verbena will have to spend the winter in the house in a cool north window (a sometimes tricky operation).

Pineapple sage is a member of the mint family and, like mint, is perfect for iced tea. Brew briefly for the best flavor. If the summer is long and warm you may even get to enjoy the red flowers.

Chives will thank you if each time you nip a spear you cut it off at ground level. The flowers are both hot and sweet and are a taste treat strewn on grilled chicken breasts.

Cilantro is a short-lived annual. You will need to sow a new batch of seed every three weeks for a continuous supply. The leaves are great in salsa and Indian dishes. If your plant does go to seed you can enjoy the seeds in Indian dishes masquerading under their other name - coriander.

Box 3 - This window box should be kept on the dry side, water when it's dry to your second knuckle.

Rosemary is usually considered to be a tender perennial but this year our rosemary bloomed from January till April apparently content in its south-facing gravel bed. Rosemary is fussy. It rebels when its roots are too wet or too dry. Try some snips in summer squash dishes and with roast chicken for a warm, Mediterranean flavor.

Perennial winter savory is often called the "bean herb" for when it is added to dried bean dishes, it is supposed to reduce flatulence. It has a sharp, spicy flavor.

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