Chat Leftovers: Herbs you gotta have

May 15, 2013

Good morning. Even if you don’t like tofu, you’ll like today’s look at Twin Oaks, a so-called “intentional living” community near Charlottesville where the residents live and work communally, growing and making much of their own food. Joe Yonan visited to get a look at their thriving tofu business. There’s a story — and links to tofu recipes — right here.

Also in Food, cookbook author Kathy Gunst writes about how cooking sustained her through cancer and chemotherapy. Dave McIntyre writes about interesting new research in the world of wine. And we are in Week 8 of our search to find the best gosh-darn doughnut in the Washington area.

Want to talk about tofu, cooking and health, wine, doughnuts or anything else that strikes your culinary fancy? Then join the staff of Food for today’s Free Range chat. We’ll be on hand at noon for the usual weekly hour of give-and-take. Meanwhile, whet your appetite with this leftover question from last week’s chat:

Is it too late in the season to put together a planter for my balcony? And, if not, what are the essential herbs to stick in there? I’ve been flirting with the idea of dill, basil, rosemary, thyme, and maybe a couple of other basics, but what do you recommend as essential?

Not too late! I just planted some thyme and tarragon over the weekend.

A key question is: How big is your planter? I would say that most balcony-size planters wouldn’t be the best place for rosemary, which can get really big and woody, and for sage, which also can get pretty large in just one season. Of course, you could always get rid of them if they get too big, but it seems a shame to waste perennials in that way. If you can spare the space for separate pots for those two, then go for it.

Do consider parsley. Pedestrian, maybe, but you can’t beat the convenience of being able to stroll out and pluck some whenever you need it, and I don’t know about you, but I need it fairly often. Plant the flat-leaf kind.

Your idea of thyme is a good one. Dill (a relative of parsley) might be okay, but keep in mind that a dill plant can grow as much as a yard tall or even higher. I always think basil is a must; if you cook a lot of Asian food, then plant Thai basil instead of the more common variety, because it’s harder to find in stores. I adore tarragon. And if you have room for a separate pot, you can plant some mint, another herb that frequently comes in handy for summer food or drinks. You want to give it its own container because it can spread rapidly and choke out its neighbors.

I also like to have a pot of nasturtiums. They flower prettily all summer, and both the blossoms and leaves are edible and make a nice addition to salads.

During a recent chat, someone suggested growing lovage, because if you like cooking with it, you know that it’s hard to find commercially so you pretty much have to grow your own. Ditto for lemon thyme.

Whatever you choose, remember that most herbs need lots of sun — several hours of direct sunlight daily. And they need to be watered faithfully because containers can dry out fast. Treat your containers right and you’ll have months of happy balcony farming.

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