One of the many things I love about autumn in the Old Pueblo is that it's time to plant some really cool, cool climate herbs. Like dill. And also calendula, caraway, chives, cilantro, coriander, fennel, feverfew, German chamomile, parsley, and salad burnet. These are grown as annual plants in our area. They thrive all winter, ripe for the plucking, then pass into the compost heap in the sky when the weather warms up.
First note that many of our cool season herbs are in the carrot family. This makes their care virtually identical. Caraway, cilantro, coriander (another name for cilantro), dill, fennel, and parsley are all kissing cousins.
Calendula, chamomile, and feverfew are in the daisy family. Chives are, no surprise if you've ever tasted them, in the onion family. The surprise is salad burnet. It looks like parsley on steroids, tastes like cucumber, and is in the rose family. This week we will look at the carrot kin. Next week we'll cover the others.
Soil. All these herbs grow best in a well-drained, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. They are easy to grow in containers. Use a pot one and a half feet deep. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media.
Light. These herbs need six or more hours of winter sun to do well.
Location. Choose a spot that is protected from high winds, because towards the end of the season the tall ones, caraway, coriander, dill, and fennel, will have hollow stalks that can easily be blown over unless they are staked.
Plant. Dill and caraway do not transplant easily, so sow seeds directly where the plants are to grow. Cilantro, fennel and parsley are more tolerant of transplanting and can be started from seedlings from a nursery, or from seed. Set the seeds a quarter-inch deep in rows two feet apart. When seedlings are two inches high, thin them to stand around ten inches apart.
Water. Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. You can let herbs dry a little more between water once they get larger. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.
Fertilizer. These herbs do not require fertilizer. If you amended your soil at the start, they should do fine. Plus, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. Come late February, you could apply a half strength general purpose fertilizer.
Harvest and storage. Almost the entire dill plant is used, fresh and dried. Leaves, flowers and seeds are all useful. Caraway and coriander are grown for the seeds. Cilantro and parsley are grown for the fresh leaves. Fennel is grown for leaves and bulbous leaf base which tastes awesome roasted or raw.
Harvest seed by cutting stalks and tipping the entire mass into a paper bag. Let dry for several weeks before cleaning and storage. Harvest leaves early in the morning for peak flavor. Dry in a paper bag or large clay saucer. Two weeks is usually enough. Cilantro and parsley lose a great deal of flavor when dried. These can be diced and frozen or preserved as flavor in herb vinegars. Store all herbs in airtight containers out of direct sunlight.
These lovely herbs look pretty in the garden, plus they attract winged wildlife. Butterflies, birds such as the lesser goldfinch, and bees all visit the blooms. You may also see the larva of the swallowtail butterfly eating the leaves. Because the larva pupate into such lovely butterflies, I always plant ample fennel and dill so there is plenty for me and enough for baby butterflies, too.
Jacqueline has been gardening in the Southwest since childhood. Dr. Soule has been writing articles about how to garden successfully in our area for over two decades. Look for her column in these pages every week.