This week is National Pollinator Week. To increase awareness of how herbs can be great for pollinators, each day of the week I will post a short article about a culinary herb in my Virginia garden whose flowers are known to attract pollinators. Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of flowering plants. It is especially vital for gardeners who are growing fruit and vegetables. There are many plants that attract pollinators but it is also important to reduce or eliminate pesticides, provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season, create large pollinator targets of native or non-invasive plants, and situate the plants in sunny areas with wind breaks. Culinary herbs are often harvested for the foliage but if left to flower they can attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Plant several of one type of herb so you can harvest some to use in the kitchen while letting a few flower. Or, plant perennial or shrub herbs in your landscape to add flowers to your garden.
To learn more about pollinators, check out the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society, National Wildlife Federation, U.S. Forest Service, and the Horticulture Research Institute’s”growwise.org” page. To learn more about herbs, visit the Herb Society of America.
Monday June 20, Cilantro
Tuesday June 21, Dill
Dill is easy to grow from seed; I just throw a few seed in a large plastic container on my deck in late March. I don’t worry about frost or cold nights but I do make sure the top of the soil is moist until I see the leaves come through the soil and then I water a little less often. In Virginia, we seem to have plenty of rain or snow in March so the seeds do not dry out. Now, when the garden soil is warmer, I will gently lift the seedlings out with a trowel and plant in the garden bed in full sun.
Dill is an annual, but it may re-seed in the garden. Dill foliage, also called dill weed, can be used fresh or dried. We tend to use fresh in the summer for egg dishes, fish, tomato salads, cucumber salads, cooked carrots, fresh veggie dishes and even dill butter. In the winter, we use the dried dill for canned veggies, egg dishes, and tuna salad. It is easy to dry the foliage, just wash and let dry flat on paper towels for a few weeks, then store in a glass jar.
Dill tends to flower quickly in the summer so it is best to sow seed several times to ensure a continuous supply of dill weed. By summer, I simply sow seed directly into the garden bed, making sure the seeds do not dry out. The flowers are actually beneficial to the garden, they attract the good bugs and the pollinators. However, once the plants flower, they set seed and the plant itself starts to put energy into the seed and not the foliage. It is easy to save the seed because they are all in one structure called an umbel. When the seeds are brown, simply cut the stalk to the umbel into a large paper bag. Let dry for a few weeks, then put the umbel on a plate or in a large bowl and rub the seeds off. Store seeds in a glass jar and either use them in the kitchen or plant them next year.