June 27, 2016

How to Grow, Dry, and Use Dill in Your Garden and Kitchen

In front of a dovecote, a large stand of dill flowers on tall stalks grows with nasturtiums in the potager.
Flat-headed umbrellas of yellow seed heads grow with nasturtiums in the potager.
Newbie gardeners, or experienced gardeners who have not yet grown this versatile herb, simply MUST try growing dill in their potager or ornamental gardens. It is the easiest of herbs to cultivate and is a joy to use in the kitchen, vase, and garden vignette. Here are my top five reasons to grow dill in your edible garden.

Profusion of orange nasturtium, yellow lantana and zinnia seedlings grow in the potager.
Cheery and colorful nasturtiums make wonderful dill companions , complementing and enhancing the beauty of both.
#1 Dill is the easiest of herbs to start from seed.  I generally sow my dill as soon as the ground can be scruffed up and worked in late winter/early spring. I seldom even amend the soil...dill is remarkably unfussy. Broadcast the seed over the rough surface, allowing it to fall in the nooks and crannies of the bed. If you are a more detail-oriented gardener, about 1/4" deep. (Don't work your soil if it is too wet. It will ruin its tilth and friability.) Warming earth and spring rains will help the seed germinate into delicate, thread-like seedlings. I seldom thin, but if you choose to, simply clip out the unwanted or, if large enough to be worth the effort, toss into a salad. It will eventually put out a deep root, so if you want to move any seedlings about, do so when they are small and can easily adjust to new surroundings.


Looking through the front arbor into the boxwood enclosed kitchen garden with dill, peppers and sunflowers.
Notice how its flower heads (upper right) literally float over the garden.

#2 It is lovely in the garden and attracts a bevy of pollinators, equally as beautiful. Notice how it hovers over the boxwood and other companion spring edibles like lettuce and radishes (above), not unlike the butterflies themselves. I always save some stalks from harvest for the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail, papilio polyxenes (here),

The striking yellow and black striped caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on a dill stem.
The striking yellow and black striped caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on a dill stem.
The striking yellow and black striped caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on a dill stem.
The striking yellow and black striped caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on a dill stem.
The striking yellow and black striped caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on a dill stem.

 unbelievably striking and fantastic in their own right.

lacy, fine textured dill foliage with red chair in background
Delicate, thread-like dill foliage
The foliage is the most nuanced and muted of colors, a lacy blue-green that echoes that of nasturtium foliage and lady's mantle, that when growing in profusion looks cloud-like in appearance.

boxwood enclosed kitchen garden is punctuated with rounds of golden eponymous and clouds of dill

One can pinch it back of course to keep it bushy and the delicate fronds coming in abundance, but I am always so anxious to see its beautiful flowers and seed heads that I rarely do so. For a wide variety of dill seed, like Dukat, Fernleaf, and Bouquet, go to Johnny's Select Seed (here)  Its delicacy and gentle growing habit lends a certain grace note to the garden that few other plants, edible or no, do. Absolutely magical when it moves and sways in a gentle wind.

Need I say more?
Tall dill stalks grow with swiss chard in a quadrant of the potager.
Fern leaf dill and swiss chard make for a wonderful textural contrast of foliage and growing habit.
#3 Its fragrance is fresh and clean and smells like summer....very attractive and evocative. In fact, it is a highly sensual plant overall....beautiful, scented, delicious and textural. Consequently, a great herb for kiddie gardeners to try.  Seed heads are fun to to shake when dried...

Dried dill seed head

(I always let some of them go to seed to have a potential second coming in the fall). And of course, young and old gardeners alike find the stalks entertaining to watch for incoming caterpillars. In fact, in my experience, dill attracts children almost as effectively as caterpillars. I recall telling a little visitor to my garden that dill 'is the dill in dill pickles' to which she responded with an enthusiastic "Really?!?" Who knew that would be so very interesting to a six year old?

Arching stems of dill sway in front of an ivy covered wall with french doors.

#4 It doubles as a great cut flower. I appreciate its hazy airiness in the vase as much as in the garden. Its dainty nature is a nice foil to daisies and veronicas and roses, performing not unlike Queen Anne's Lace lacy blooms in the vase. Plus its pleasant scent infuses the room and reminds me why I love it so much.

Pitcher of dill and daisies adorn the kitchen table in front of the fireplace.
Daisies and dill keep company in a pitcher.
Fuzzy, blue green foliage and yellow blooms marry nicely with daisies in a summer fresh bouquet.
Daisies and dill keep company in a pitcher.
Fill your kitchen with the scent of summertime

#5 Lastly, but certainly not leastly...it is invaluable in the kitchen. Whether for those dill pickles, warm dill potato salad, grilled fish....well.  Use it fresh or dried. Drying dill is simple. I just spread the feathery fronds on cookie sheets and set out in the hot sun to dry. On a hot Oklahoma day, this takes not time at all. Simply crush the dried stems and store in a dry location until ready to use. I could go on and on, but I won't.

Masses of dill await a culinary fate.
Dill's culinary value is immense
Instead, watch Linda Cavanaugh and me make tzatziki (find a variety of basically the same recipe here consisting of yogurt, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, and dill, of course). Simply click here to watch 4 YOUR GARDEN from last Friday, and forgive me if I sometimes confuse my tsatziki with my falafels.  :) Live tv, you know.


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