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Spice It Up With an Herb Patch

Growing your own herbs is a simple way to get into gardening and a great addition to home-cooked meals.

So your garden is tilled up. You've planted baby starts—or at least sown some seeds—and now you're waiting.

And waiting.

Waiting for that first spinach leaf to unfurl, the moment when your tomato plants will actually need those cages you've already staked around them, the bean starts to climb the trellis.

Instead of driving yourself insane watching the garden grow, get another project started—and preferably one that will reap great rewards but not require much work once it's underway.

The answer? Plant some herbs. You can get herb garden starts or seeds in Arcadia at the Arboretum Garden and Gift Shop or in nearby Monrovia at Armstrong Garden Centers or in San Gabriel at Rosemead Gardens.

So there are a zillion herbs you can grow in Southern California. They're a tasty addition to those summer meals that will come out of your garden (rosemary new potatoes or a Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes and basil) and they're easy to grow.

The important part is determining what you will actually use. Dill is great. It grows like a weed. But how often do you cook fish? Mint is a hardy perennial that will grow everywhere you let it. But unless you're using it for landscape purposes or you're drinking a lot of tea, may not be necessary to grow at home.

Personally, I've found basil to be difficult to grow from seed. I'd rather just pick up a leafy, voluptuous plant at the store for $5 and stick it in the dirt. Pinching off the blossoms that appear as the plant is going to seed can prolong its production.

Cilantro, on the other hand, is a great seed start in my experience. The plants grow faster than I can make guacamole and fish tacos. These ones, I allow to go to seed, then collect the BB-looking seeds to plant the next crop. It keeps our cilantro crop thick all summer long.

One of my favorite herbs to grow at home is oregano. It's something I use a lot of, plus it's easy to cut sprigs off to dry. Crush the dried oregano (in a spice grinder, with a mortar and pestle, or just use a ladle in a bowl) and refill your spice jar so you have oregano all year long.

Any home-grown herbs can be dried, either on a rack (think old screen window) or hanging from a line. Running a string over your sink to dry herbs will add a farmhouse feel to your kitchen. Regardless of how you dry the herbs, take them down as soon as the moisture is gone. Otherwise, they may end up a dusty mess that you don't want anywhere near your kitchen.

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