Q: Why can't I grow dill? When I was young, I remember that it came up all over the garden. What I am growing now makes puny little plants.
A: Years ago there was one variety of dill. It made three or four foot plants with big seedheads. The seeds went into jars of homemade dill pickles, and that was that. Then cooking with herbs returned to the American kitchen, and dill became an ingredient in many dishes. The contemporary use of dill has split into two parts. The leaves as well as the seeds now flavor a variety of dishes.
This split means that one kind of dill has been bred to grow more leaves, and the other kind makes huge seedheads. If your plants seem wimpy, they are probably a cultivar bred to grow leaves, which become the "dillweed" of recipes. Since leaves must be harvested before the dill plant flowers, these cultivars are slow to bolt into bloom. Eventually they flower, with small to medium flower heads, and finally they make seeds. Varieties widely grown for dillweed are 'Fernleaf' and 'Diana.'
For dill seed, the cultivars are tall, with big flower heads and sparse leaves. These plants bloom earlier than the leafy types. Common varieties are 'Dukat' and 'Bouquet.' If you want dill seed from small plants that are still growing leaves, just be patient. Any dill plant should bloom and make ripe seeds before summer is over. For the best flavored seed, cut the heads while seeds are swollen but still green and gold, before they turn brown. To store dill seed, let it dry indoors for at least two weeks before putting it in containers. If it is not going to mold in storage, its moisture must be nearly nonexistent. Seedheads added to pickles need not be dried before use.
Q: Is it just because it is fun to grow vegetables that they taste better from my garden than from a store?
A: Not at all. The taste of home grown vegetables is wonderful for a simple reason. The first criterion of vegetable varieties developed for home gardens is superb flavor. Taste is important in commercial varieties too, but other qualities are paramount.
Commercial vegetable plants have to ripen all at the same time, so that a field can be harvested in one sweep. Also, many kinds of vegetables are harvested mechanically, rather than by hand. Varieties for commercial use have to withstand a trip through a machine without being smashed. After commercial vegetables are picked, they must also tolerate shipping, sometimes for several thousand miles and several days. It is no wonder that sturdiness and shelf life do not usually pair with the best flavor.
Carrots are a good example. Favorite home garden varieties are Nantes and Nantes hybrids. Deliciously sweet, fairly long and disease resistant, they are what I grow every year. But Nantes carrots are never grown commercially. Because they are brittle, they always break during shipping.
'Tis the season for lilies to bloom. That means that 'tis also the season for orange stains on clothes, where they brushed against lily stamens and took on a load of pollen. To remove the stains is simple, as long as one follows the right technique. Brush or rub off the excess pollen, then spread the stained clothes in a sunny spot. The orange color will fade gradually over a period of several hours. Sometimes sunbathing for two days in a row is necessary. Do not let the stained clothes get wet until the pollen color is gone. Moisture may make the stain permanent.
Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails.