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Good morning Dupers!
Spring is here with all its colors and scents!
What does spring have in common with the kitchen, you might say? Well, these are the best months to start your small cultivation of aromatic plants!
Do not be alarmed! It does not take much space, you can easily use the space of a small terrace and, in exchange for some care and a bit of water, you will have fresh flavors all summer (and beyond!).
Would you be able to make even a cactus die of thirst? You are not alone. But if you are able to master your smartphone, I am sure that you will also manage some innocuous pots of seedlings!

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Which plants to choose?

The ones you like! Trivial? No, because if you cannot stand the taste of sage or basil, it’s useless f to add them in your little herbarium.

Been on the classic, choose between rosemary, sage, basil, thyme, parsley, chives, oregano, marjoram. Crazy for mojitos? A moroccan mint plant! Do you like spicy? Choose a variety of chili. You can also cultivate some medicinal plants, such as mallow, nettle, lavender and prepare your teas. Mosquitoes torment you? Citronella is the answer!

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Seeds or seedling?

Choosen your plants (if you are a beginner, start with 3-4 varieties), you have two alternatives: the seeds or seedling ready in his jar. In the first case, you will need to arm yourself with a little patience, to see grow your seedling. In the second case, well… you just have to find a beautiful vase!

In general, parsley, chives, basil and chili grow very quickly. Within a month or two you can already reap the benefits. Rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and marjoram are a bit more complicated. In this case, perhaps seedling ready made are for you. Good seedlings cost 1-2 Euros depending on the variety chosen. Make sure they are edibles (some varieties are for decoration purpose only).

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The sowing

If you choose sowing (brave you!), you should also buy a small seedbed, or small jars. There are very practical peat diskettes which when wet increase in volume by providing the necessary basis for the cultivation of your plants (without the need for heavy bags of potting soil). Also choose a good liquid organic fertilizer, to add to the water you will give to your plants day after day.
You can find beautiful starter kit with everything you need to get started, pots, seeds and peat diskettes: you can find them at Tiger or Ikea or on Amazon like these fantastic from Plant Theatre, if you dare!

Behind the seed packaging there’s all you need to know about seeds first aid: the best months to plant, how deep should be the seed, if you can leave them outdoors in full sun or shade, when repotting. Spread some seeds of the same quality in 2-3 different jars: not all will germinate, so you will increase the chances of success, and use slates, cards or popsicle sticks to remind you what kind of seed you planted. When your seedlings begin to grow strong and healthy, proceed to repotting.

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Pot and repotting

Do not be fooled by those little cute jars: the plants need room to grow! So, whether you purchased  seedlings, or if your sowing was successful, sooner or later you will have to proceed to repotting.

8-10 cm pots will only last for the first few months and they will be very spectacular on your balcony, in the kitchen or on your table set. But unless you want to experience the rosemary bonsai cultivation, I suggest you to move to 15-20 cm pots.

The pots (clay or plastic) should be drilled on the bottom and also remember to take the corresponding saucers, if you do not want puddles and mud everywhere. It’ll need a bit of new land and fertilizer: consult a vivarium or a specialized store to find the one that best meets your needs.

You can also choose rectangular long pots, and repot the plants together, leaving enough space between one root and the other: you will have a beautiful and very decorative composition!

Just remember that the plants should be repotted with the block of land where they are grown, to avoid damaging the roots.

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Care and Maintenance

Plants means care! For this it is useful to have a small notebook where to mark each as they go wet, if they need light or shadow, if they suffer the heat, when they were fertilized, etc. Tiger presents this: isn’t beautiful?

To avoid that your plants are infested by small parasites, there’s a simple tip: a clove of garlic stuck in the soil. Quiet, you won’t feel smell and if you are lucky, it will even sprout!

If cannot stand garlic at all, you can prepare a strong infusion of nettle and spray it on the plants a couple of times a week, with a special sprayer.

Use only natural or organic remedies, because those plants will end up on your table and in your stomach!

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Use and Storage

Once your plants are grown up strong and healthy, they will lend themselves to all your culinary uses: salads, vegetables, roasts, cheeses, sauces and they will make a good basis also for the whole winter.

At harvest, do not decimate as if a scraper were passed over. I understand you want to prepare the pesto with fresh basil, but if you love it so much, probably you may think to multiply seedlings before decimate the only, perhaps little one, you have on your balcony.

A sprig of rosemary, a few sage leaves, some stem of chives or thyme at a time, I took a bit here a little there, especially in the beginning, will be enough.
If you see that your production is at full capacity, you can expect to put away a little for the cold months.

Basil, mint and sage leaves are perfect frozen. Just pick them up, wash them well, arrange them neatly on a sheet of parchment paper and freeze (or they will made an indivisible single block). The next day, you can quickly gather them in different bags and put them back in the freezer.

The same goes for parsley and chives: in this case, however, I recommend you to chop and put them in small containers with lid suitable for the cold, you will dose them easily with a spoon when you need them.

Thyme, oregano, marjoram and chilies are perfect if dried: make a nice bunch and tie them upside down in full sun, protecting them from moisture. Once completely dry, you can put them into separate glass jars to avoid losing their aroma.

The same procedure can be done with rosemary, although I find that its taste appears a bit altered: it’s still a tough plant, then, with proper care, it will resist all winter.

Herbs and chilies are also fantastic to flavor the oil: attention, however, they must always be perfectly dried, because the water present in them can create mold or dangerous toxins (botulinum word mean anything?).

No danger, however, if combined with the salt, finely chop everything in a blender and letting them spread out to dry a few days before they close them in a glass jar: if you love meat or grilled fish, this aromatic salt will be your best culinary weapon!

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In short, you just have to roll up your beautiful checked shirt sleeves and put your hands in the mud, just as children do!

Good cultivation and… bon appetit!

 

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