Published March 2005

Spring is coming soon and shortly area gardeners will be planting the first lettuce, onion sets, and radishes.  Not long after will come spinach, early potatoes, and peas.  But there’s one garden plant that I never bother to do much with, maybe because it isn’t necessary.  That’s dill, an herb that’s vital for good dill pickles and similar preserves, and very good in salads and various other side dishes.

I don’t plant it, because I don’t have to.  Each summer I walk through the clusters of ripe dill plants, grasp the heads and roll them in my fingers releasing the small dark seeds.  Some seeds I’ll keep for winter use in a stoppered container, and the rest is released in its usual spot to lie there, fall into cracks in the soil, and make a new crop next year with no further effort.

Dill, for you history buffs. is a member of the carrot family that’s been a culinary herb for centuries, favored for its flavorful foliage and for its pungent seeds.  The name “dill” comes from an old Norse word, “dilla”. which means to lull, since the plant was frequently used as a tea to treat insomnia and digestive problems.  It was a charm against witchcraft in the Middle Ages, and later on became a herb commonly used in German, Scandinavian, and Greek dishes, particularly salads, fish, soup, breads, and cheeses.  A very nice plant that you too should grow.

Since your garden doubtless has no dill, you’ll need to start it for at least the first year.  Pick a corner of the garden that will receive full or nearly full sun, a corner that you won’t need for other things in years to come.  Make very shallow rows with a stick, then dribble the tiny seeds through your fingers and brush soil over them lightly.  They’ll need only a little fertilizer since dill is a light feeder, and you can expect the first lacy sprouts in 10 to 14 days.  After that, it grows fast, reaching 3 to 5 feet eventually, and is ready to harvest foliage in just eight weeks.  If there’s no garden room, put some in your flower beds.  The plant is filmy and lacy, a nice backdrop for petunias, daisies, marigolds, and others.

If there’s no room even in your flower beds, go to Plan B and plant some in containers.  Fill a 10 inch high or more pot with potting soil, add some granular fertilizer, and plant dill seedlings from a local nursery or seeds.  Water plants or seeds well and keep them moist and out of bright sun for a couple of days, then make sure they don’t dry out for the rest of the spring and early summer.  An easy business.

Keep in mind that dill leaves taste better picked just before flowers form on the plant, and keep in mind too, that you can start picking fresh leaves just as soon as they are large enough to use.  It’s best to do that harvesting early in the morning or in late evening, clipping them close to the stem.

If you prefer to harvest dill seed, allow the flowers to mature, then clip the seed heads and hang them upside down by their stems in a paper bag.  The seeds will fall into the bag as they dry out.  For winter use, freeze by cutting the leaves, long stems and all, into sections short enough to fit into plastic bags.  They’ll keep for about six months.  However you plant and use dill, it’s good to have some around.  And you can plant it mighty soon.

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