Try Growing Dill For An Infusion Of Spice
In Dozens Of Dishes
Growing dill in your herb garden offers several pleasant benefits. First, it grows into an attractive plant with soft, exotic tufts of dark green leaves. Second, it is a great herb for blending with other, stronger flavors like bay and garlic. It is versatile and can be used in everything from meat dishes to herb bread and soups.
Third, it is a favorite food for swallowtail butterfly larvae. These gorgeous yellow and black striped caterpillars will brighten up your garden. Dill grows lushly enough to support a large population of swallowtails and still have plenty left over to add to the clusters of drying herbs in your pantry.
Planting & Care
Dill has no strict soil requirements. Regular yard dirt with a little compost dug in will work fine. This herb is a relative of the carrot and has a long tap root. Your garden bed should be dug fairly deep so this central root has plenty of room to grow in aerated soil. You can sow the seeds 1/4” deep in rows 1 to 2 feet apart. Or, you can simply scatter them across a section of the bed. Cover the seeds lightly with soil.
Water the seeds regularly during the first several weeks after planting. Germination usually occurs in less than 2 weeks. Once the growing dill plants are well established, the long tap root will keep this herb hydrated. Then, it will only require extra water when the weather is dry for more prolonged periods.
If you want to try growing dill in a container, choose a pot that has good drainage. Add a stake as the plant gets taller since the herb will not have other plants surrounding it to help hold it up. Don’t try to transplant your potted seedlings into your garden. Like most plants with a tap root, it doesn’t respond well to being disturbed.
To keep this herb producing leaves for as long as possible, pinch off flower heads as soon as you notice them. If you plant dill early in the year, you may need to plan for two crops. In warmer climates, it is possible for this spice to overwinter. However, it is so easy to grow that simply starting fresh each year is no trouble.
Harvesting & Storage
You can pick fresh leaves off the plant starting just 2 months after sowing the seeds. Fresh dill is more potent than the dried variety. Just a couple of small fronds will be sufficient for most dishes.
Some gardeners avoid drying herbs like dill because they may lose flavor. In my experience, as long as the plant retains its dark green color as it dries this is not a problem. Harvest your growing dill before it starts to flower to achieve this. You can also freeze dill, but I find this makes it turn soggy. Since I like to crumble this spice into fine pieces, I prefer drying herbs to freezing them.
If you are pickling cucumbers, go ahead and let your dill plants flower. These flavorful heads are the part of the herb that is used for making pickles. You can also allow the plant to go to seed and use the dried seeds as a spice in creamy vegetable dips or potato dishes.
Image courtesy of CC license by Flickr user jeffgodesky