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Monday, June 1, 2009

Bello Giardino

Just about every Italian I know, and certainly every good cook, grows and harvests their own herbs. Creating your own small organic Italian herb garden is relatively easy and rewarding.

Six herbs most widely used in Italian cuisine are basilico (basil), origano (oregano), Rosmarino (rosemary), prezzemolo (flat Italian parsley), salvia (sage), and menta piperita (peppermint).

If you have a backyard, you can dedicate a small area of 4'x 6' to a garden. If not, herbs do just as well in pots. An east facing direction is ideal for a small garden or potted herbs.

To prepare your garden plot, you will need to build a border 2 feet in depth using wood, bricks or stone to hold in your soil. Once you have your border, add bags and bags of garden or vegetable soil and leave 5 inches from the top of your border. You can also use compost if you decide to add vegetables like carrots, garlic, and yellow peppers - veggies need good compost to flourish. If you use compost, make sure to turn the compost over numerous times. Then rake the compost until it has a nice even look and leave it undisturbed for two weeks.

After two weeks have passed, and the weather is somewhat mild (best time to plant is Spring when the frost is gone and the ground has warmed) you are ready to plant. My personal preference is to plant from already rooted plants and not from seed. I buy my herb plants from Home Depot or Lowe's and prefer ones that come from Monrovia California home to some of the country's best nurseries. I like Monrovia herbs because you can plant the entire container.

Dig a hole large hole and make sure its deep enough to allow for plant growth (width and height). Place the entire container in the hole, fill with soil, and give it a good watering.

Every few weeks, I feed my herbs and vegetables with organic vegetable food by sprinkling a few tablespoons around the base of the plants, and give them a good hand watering.

My garden is hooked up to an automatic timer which I have set to come on around 5:00 a.m. in summer, and run for a minimum of 3 hours. This is in addition to interim hand watering. If you live in a very hot climate, you will need to protect your herb garden during those hot summer days, and can do this inexpensively. Just measure your garden area and buy some tan shade screen netting or tarp, and place it over your garden. You can also buy, at a local hardware store, some plastic poles with notches and attach your tarp or netting to the poles. This not only protects your garden from the blazing sun, but provides enough filtered light to keep your herbs and veggies happy and green.

Treat your garden and all living things with love and care, and you will have many days of fresh aromatic seasonings for years to come.

Saliva (sage) is wonderful on Turkey, Pork, and Chicken. It's also the main ingredient in Tuscany White Bean Soup. Basilico (basil) and menta piperita (peppermint) are fabulous in salads and tossed with pasta and fresh tomato sauce. Both these herbs make great pesto. Try some fresh Rosmarino (rosemary) with lamb, and some prezzemolo (flat Italian parsely) on roasted potatoes. What would pizza be without fresh orgiano (oregano)!

One final note, as your herbs grow wide and full, cut them and dry them on a paper towel and make an aromatic container of herb d' Italia for those wonderful winter dishes.

Buon appetito!

Ciao e a presto,