At least in our hemisphere, it's a glorious time when we see the earth literally bursting with new life, freshness and vibrancy. I love this exhilarating season that compels me to alter my cooking style to accommodate all the wonderful produce that is so abundantly available.
For me, fresh herbs pair beautifully with spring and summer produce and add another layer of delicious flavor to this delightful seasonal cuisine. Although I enjoy cooking with fresh herbs all year long, I have to control myself a bit during the cooler seasons since most of my herbs are taking a long winter's nap and the herbs are expensive at my local grocer, many of them having been imported from who-knows-where.
Come spring and summer though, my heart and my palate are thrilled to be able to utilize an almost endless supply of fresh herbs - growing right on my back deck! There is one slight problem, however, that I used to run into shortly after the lovely baby herb plants began to grow. This "problem" involved my laziness, or maybe it sounds better to call it my busy-ness. Whatever you blame it on, you too may struggle with this problem. It's called "the hot summer sun".
It's usually not long after the first spring whiffs of honeysuckle or lilac for a string of warm, eighty-degree days to creep into our forecast. And all it takes is one or two of these hot sunny days and a busy schedule, on my part, to turn my beautiful potted herb garden into a dismal, wilting mess! Sure, a little water will do a decent job of reviving, but often, it seems that the plants are never quite the same.
A number of years ago my brilliant husband came up with an amazing solution to my problem. It's simple, yet highly effective and now I never worry about my little herb friends, no matter how scorching the weather is. My herbs are as beautiful in the middle of the hot Southern summer as they are in May. I shared this post last spring, but since then, we have had a ton of new visitors to The Café so I thought we'd share it one more time as you get ready to do your spring planting. Oh, and be sure to check back for some fabulous fresh herb recipes this week; Herbed Potato Rolls and a wonderful Herbed Ricotta Tomato Tart - we had both for dinner tonight and they were a huge hit!
Herbed Ricotta Tomato TartEndless Herbs without Endless Watering
This is Scott, Chris' resident photographer and confidante (translated - husband!). If you've followed The Café for a while you might have been wondering; "Where does this girl get all the herbs and flowers that she uses as garnishes and ingredients in her amazing foods?" Well, today we'll explore the answer - It's called an Herb Rack Drip System.
Years ago, as a Mother's Day gift, I wanted to build an herb garden for Chris. As I was planning it, I realized that there were several flaws to the designs I had previously seen in magazines and gardening books. Most people grow their herbs in a regular garden, a raised bed, or in pots directly on their patio or deck. Each one of these plans was OK, but had shortcomings. I also noticed that if we put herbs out in the backyard garden, Chris would seldom walk out to get them because when she was cooking she usually needed them ASAP.
Now, if you were a fly on the wall in our house, you'd know that Chris and I run on two wheels most of the time, so expedience is of the utmost importance! When I tried to move some of the herbs to the deck, they left it in a total mess with water, mildew, plant parts and dirt all over. The other major problem was that, if we went away for more than two days, the herbs in the pots committed hari kari and didn't recover due to a lack of water. Consequently, all our hard work at the beginning of the season was for naught.
One day I was out on the deck and had an "aha!" moment. Why not create an herb rack drip system that would be attached to the deck railing?
By doing that, Chris would have her herbs within easy reach of the kitchen (no muddy, wet feet!), the deck would stay clean and no "sudden death" plants when Carolina summers reach their zenith. Two other advantages: No rabbits and other little rodents AND the plants in the gardens below the herb rack thought they were in seventh heaven, since they received the secondary benefits of all the watering and fertilization above them.
By utilizing the very economical standard drip systems available at Home Depot or Lowes (or any big box store for that matter) you too can easily build a system like this for under $100.
Each pot has one or two drippers depending on the size of the pot and the water needs of the plants. I also attach a pressure regulator and a timer to make the system foolproof (see photo).
The timer turns the system on two to three times a day (depending on the the month and heat) for 5-10 minutes each time to make sure the plants are happy and not H2O stressed. The pressure regulator keeps the water pressure from your garden hose at the very low rate required by drip systems. If you really want to get sophisticated, you can install an additional water valve in your lawn irrigation system to feed the drip system without using a standard garden hose connection.
As the system has evolved throughout two houses and many years, I've let my imagination run wild. "What if all the plants in and around our house could get regular watering like the herbs?" You guessed it !- Now we have an "expanded" drip system that feeds water to over sixty plants, shrubs and flowers, including the knockout roses and topiaries in the front of the house! Chris has learned to expect little drippers to appear almost anywhere around our property.
First - Check the drippers periodically to make sure they're not clogged - If you see a stressed plant, that's a give-away.
Second - Because the plants are in the restricted space of a pot, fertilize them regularly. The daily drip system tends to wash out vital nutrients all plants depend on from the soil. I use regular Miracle Gro and mix it up in a sprinkling can.
Third - Spray regularly with environmental pest spray (The kind that can be used right up to the day before harvest.). If your plants are producing faster that you're using the herbs in your cooking, give them what Chris calls a "haircut". This promotes new growth and you can "donate" the extra "hair" to your friends, neighbors and work buddies who like to cook. They will love you for it!
Happy Herbing! ~Scott
P.S. - Use Chris' comments section to ask questions about the system and I'll publish a Q and A blog with some of the most common questions.