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Increase Flavor and Decrease Cost with Your Own Herb Garden

by Maria Liberati, copyright 2008

editor: Lauren Scheller

Herbs are quintessential to Italian cooking and everyone knows that the fresher they are the better they are. So, why not plant a mini-herb garden this summer to bring the taste of Italia right to your kitchen table. Don’t worry if you haven’t a green thumb, with these simple steps you’ll have a hassle free herb garden in no time!    

            First, you must decide what to plant in your garden. You need not go over board in this area. While there are certainly a variety of herbs in Italian cooking, carefully choosing five or six key spices that you enjoy and use often will suffice. Just remember, a little fresh flavor goes a long way. A good place to start is with the following five herbs which are common in numerous Italian dishes and always delicious: rosemary, oregano, basil, fennel, and parsley. Sage and thyme would be great additions or replacements too, depending on your taste.

            After choosing your herbs, the second step is to decide where to plant them. Depending on the climate in which you live, warm and sunny preferably, planting your herbs outside is an option. However, for convince sake it may be better to plant your herbs in small terracotta pots. These pots can be placed in sunny areas of your home, such as window ledges, or placed outside daily to get maximum sunlight. This method decreases the amount of pesticides needed, extinguishes the need for transplanting perennial herbs come winter, and, as an added bonus, will make your house smell great.

            After securing your pots and potting soil, it’s time to plant! Rosemary, basil, and fennel seeds can be placed directly in the soil, covered lightly, and watered. Parsley seeds should be soaked two days in cold water (leaving them in the refrigerator is fine) and then planted, this cuts down on the seeds germination time. Oregano can be grown directly from seed as well; however, a new oregano plant can easily be started from a cutting of an existing one. Talk to a friend or gardener with their own oregano plant, and ask for a cutting. Your chances for success will increase dramatically. Now place your pot(s) in an area of your home which receives the maximum amount of daily sunlight, and remember to water- lightly, but often.

            Hopefully if all goes well, you will see buds in no time. But how will you know when your herbs are ready? Each herb is different oregano and rosemary are ready once they flower. The basil plant will single its ripeness with flowers as well, but these should be pruned as they cause the plant to lose its flavor. Parsley will be ripe about 70 days after planting and fennel will be ready about two weeks after the bulb reaches egg size. While this may seem like a lot to remember, the pay off is certainly worth it. Good luck and best wishes!

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