Whitesburg KY

Build herb bed for your cook

Points East

If you have needed to have your sinuses cleared out over the last week or so, out kitchen would have served that purpose well. The aroma of drying herbs is so heavy in our house that you can almost feel it.

One night last week, whatever day it was that we had the freeze warning, Loretta and I were out in the garden with flashlights gathering the last of the green tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and okra.

An hour later she held the light while I used garden shears to harvest the herbs that relatives can expect from us for Christmas. Parsley (two varieties), sage (three different kinds), rosemary, and English thyme along with sweet marjoram, summer savory, Greek and Italian oregano, French and Italian basil, Texas tarragon, dill, chives, cilantro along with lemon grass, chamomile and catnip for tea. We also have three flowerpots with bay plants that we bring inside during winter because soup ain’t soup and stew is inferior if it doesn’t have a bay leaf cooked with it.

All of this is grown in a culinary herb bed that I built 10 or so years ago right beside the kitchen door. It’s eight feet long, four feet wide, six inches deep and built out of three deck/patio support posts. I simply tilled the soil as deep as my tiller would plow, put the rectangular frame on top of it and then filled it up with a 50-50 mixture of composted cow manure and cheap potting soil and a hundred pounds of sand.

This took about an hour and cost less than $25 for lumber, manure and potting soil.

Without making a long story out of it, just let me say that most of this stuff comes back year after year without me paying much attention to it. The stuff that isn’t perennial (basil, cilantro, dill) reseeds itself and actually has to be thinned out. I do save seed off the mature, annual plants and drop a few into the bed every three weeks or so throughout warm weather so that we have a constant, fresh supply. We use basil and cilantro, especially, on everything except cornflakes and Honey Oat Cheerios.

I usually have to buy new marjoram and summer savory plants and I’ve discovered that it’s more practical to purchase three or four parsley plants than to fool around starting them from seed. I also replace my rosemary plants every three years or so when they start looking more like bonsai trees than herb producers.

Fifteen or 20 years ago I got sucked into calling an 800 number while a TV ad was running by one of those companies that is always trying to sell you a miracle contraption that slices, dices or catches fish. This one was for a food dehydrator at $19.99. Of course when they get you on the phone they tell you that if you really need a dehydrator you ought to see the one that costs a hundred bucks and to make a long story short, that’s the one that I wound up buying.

I put it on the credit card and my marriage just barely survived what Loretta considered a convulsive act of total stupidity and a huge waste of money. But it turned out to be a smart move because it would take at least twice what I paid for it to get it out of our kitchen now and only if we knew we could another one that works as well.

The herbs alone, that she has dried in batches over the last few days, would cost $300 at the grocery store for far inferior products. Don’t get me started on drying tomatoes, apples, carrots, beans, venison jerky.

Anyway, we use herbs in something every time we cook, but I’d tend my herb bed if we didn’t use anything out of it, simply for the satisfaction of watching it grow and just to pinch off a leaf of something to sniff whenever I go out the door.

If there’s a serious cook in your family, may I suggest that you build him or her an herb bed now and tie a bow around it for Christmas. Come next spring start filling it with whatever herbs your cooks like and soon they’ll tell you that they don’t know how they ever got along without it.

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