(Anethum graveolens), a member of the
carrot family, has been a favourite culinary herb for centuries. It is
valued both for its flavourful foliage and for its pungent seeds.
Dill is a delightful herb with many
culinary uses. Fresh or dried, dill leaves add a distinctive flavour to
salads, fish, vegetable casseroles and soups. Used whole or ground, dill
seeds add zest to breads, cheeses, and salad dressings. The seeds are the
best way to use dill in dishes that require cooking over a long time. Of
course, dill is best known as a pickling herb for cucumbers, and also
green beans, carrots, and beets.
Annual, dill grows well in gardens
throughout the US and southern Canada (Zones 4-9)
Properly sited and planted, dill is so
fast-growing that some of its foliage is mature enough to be harvested in
only eight weeks. Plant to sow several crops in succession, three weeks
apart, to assure a supply over the entire growing season. Dill does best
in full sun. While fairly tolerant of poor soil conditions, it prefers a
sandy or loamy soil that drains well. It is a light feeder, so extra
fertilizer is not necessary in a reasonably fertile soil.
To sow seeds directly into the garden in
rows, trace shallow 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep indentations in the soil with a
stick or pencil to guide planting. Then dribble the tiny seeds through
your thumb and forefinger into the indented rows. Mixing them first with
some dry sand distributes them more evenly. Firm soil over the rows of
seeds and water softly. Expect to see sprouts in 10-14 days. For a more
naturalistic planting, scatter the seeds over a patch of ground; cover
with 1/2 inch of soil, and water.
Choose an overcast day or wait until late afternoon to
plant homegrown or commercially raised young seedlings so they will not
have to cope with hot sun as they overcome transplant shock. Dig holes in
the prepared soil in the planting area about the size of the containers
the seedlings are growing in. Space the plants 8-10 inches apart if
harvesting leaves, or 10-12 inches apart if harvesting seed. Gently pop
each seedling from its container by tapping it on the bottom of the pot.
Take great pains to avoid disturbing the taproot that has formed. Set a
plant in each hole and form the soil over the root ball and around its stem
to support it. Water immediately. Shield new transplants from bright sun
the first day or two while they cope with the shock of transplanting.
Depending on the
variety, these fast-growing dill
plants will grow to maturity and set seed in about 60 days.
Care for Dill
When growing from seed, reduce crowding
by pulling up weak, spindly sprouts to allow 2 to 6 inches of space
between them. Dill prefers fairly moist soil throughout the growing
season. Once plants have established good root systems, water only when
rainfall is sparse if your soil is decent and mulched. In thin, poor and
unmulched soil, dill needs watering a couple of times a week when it does
not rain. If possible, avoid overhead watering in favor of a drip or
porous hose system.
Spread a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch on
the soil around the plants when they are about 6 inches tall to discourage
competing weeds. Mulch also helps keep soil moist and contributes organic
matter to the soil as it gradually breaks down over the season. As the
mulch decomposes in the summer heat, add more to maintain optimal mulch
Harvesting and Storing Dill
Dill leaves taste better picked just
before flowers form on the plant. Start picking the fresh leaves just as
soon as they are large enough to use. Pick early in the morning or in the
late evening, clipping them close to the stem. If you prefer to harvest
dill seed, allow the flowers to form, bloom, then go to seed. Cut the seed heads
when the majority of seeds have formed--about 2 to 3 weeks after
the blossoming starts--even though some tiny florets may still be blooming.
Hang the seed heads upside down by their stems in a paper bag. The seeds
will fall into the bag when they mature and dry out.
Freshly picked dill leaves have the best
flavour. However, they keep for several days in the refrigerator, their
stems in a jar of water and covered with a plastic bag. They store for
several months if you layer them with pickling salt in a covered jar in
the refrigerator. When you are ready to use the leaves, simply wash then
and use them as fresh.
There are several ways to store dill
longer term. Dry it by hanging bunches of stems upside down in a dark,
dry, airy place until they are crumbly. Store them in a tightly sealed jar
away from light and use within 4 to 6 months. Freeze dill by cutting the
leaves--long stems and all--into sections short enough to fit into plastic
bags. Do not chop the leaves into bits because fragrance and flavour will
be lost. They will keep in the freezer for 6 months.