Herbs on the Balcony

Herbs on the Balcony

Herbs are perfect for balcony gardening. They’re easy to grow, many smell quite nice, and they provide ready-to-use flavours for your meals; just harvest them right out of the containers. The selection is almost unlimited; there’s mint, chives, basil, summer savoury, dill, lemon balm, coriander, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme... the list goes on and on. There are a few important things to remember before cultivating herbs. For instance, most of them are quite
vigorous—especially mint, chives, and summer savoury. Because of this, I always keep each variety in its own container. Herbs should be grown in very clean soils with good drainage; high-quality potting soil is best. For basil, I recommend a soil-less mixture; there are fewer problems with disease when basil is grown in this medium. Basil is prone to a stem rot
that garden soils can encourage; clean soil can help prevent this occurrence.

To get the best herbs, I fertilize them with 20-20-20 once every two weeks. Of course, I keep my watering consistent to promote strong, even growth and to inhibit disease. Adding rich compost to the soil gives herbs (except basil!) a real boost, as well.

I always harvest soft new growth to promote branching in the plants, and produces a greater overall yield. When winter arrives, you can bring the smaller herbs like bay, basil, savory, chives, parsley, sweet marjoram, tarragon and sage indoors for year-round production. Just make sure that they receive at least 5 hours of direct sunlight per day (you will probably have to use grow lights in the dead of winter). Indoor herbs will be smaller than those grown outside, but they are still quite tasty and well worth cultivating. With containers full of fresh herbs at your disposal, you’ll have a blast preparing meals with an extra bit of dash.

The Fresh Spring Taste of Baby Beets

The Fresh Spring Taste of Baby Beets

By Judy Schultz

As our season of renewal stretches into early summer, we look forward to the first taste of baby beets. Beloved for their robust, earthy flavour, beets are easy to grow, whether round or cylindrical, red or golden, or the beautiful, candy-striped Chioggia. They’re also entirely edible at every stage, from the first tiny thinnings, washed and tossed raw into salads, to the tender, golf-ball sized baby beets that are so tender and naturally sweet. Beets are a forgiving vegetable with a relatively long storage life. Once you have them in the kitchen, clip the tops at about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm). Wash the tops and refrigerate until you need them, up to three days. Beet tops are good in salads or stir fries, and they give an extra edge to a pot of soup. Beet roots can be stored in your fridge for up to two weeks before cooking.

Roasted Beets in Dill Cream

Vegetable markets in Europe have always sold roasted beets. They’re handy for soups, salads or pickles, and once they’re baked, they keep well for three or four days. To roast young beets, clip the tops but do not remove the roots before putting them in the oven, folded snugly in a foil packet. They can be roasted along with any other oven dish, then cooled and refrigerated until you need them.

2 lbs (1 kg) small beets, scrubbed, tops clipped 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) aluminum foil
1 cup (250 mL) sour cream
1/2 cup (125 mL) mayonnaise
1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh chopped dillweed
1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped chives
salt and pepper

Wrap and seal the scrubbed beets in a double thickness of foil and place in a preheated 400 F oven. Oven-roast for about 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a skewer. Remove from oven and open the foil. When beets are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and cut in quarters. Fold together the sour cream, mayonnaise, dillweed and chives. Fold beets into the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve cool, as a salad, or heat gently and serve as a side dish. Serves 4 to 6.

Sweet-and-Sour Baby Beets

My grandmother, who grew everything and wasted nothing, cooked baby beets and tops together. This dish was her version of spring tonic, and I remember the delicious smell when she whipped the lid off the casserole. I make my own version, using balsamic vinegar, and mixing red and gold beets if possible.

2 lbs. baby beets, tops clipped, baked in foil
tops from beets, washed
2 green onions, diced
1 tablespoon (15 mL) liquid honey
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
2 tablespoons (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper

Slip peeling off cooled beets. Set aside.
Roughly chop beet tops and place in a buttered 10 inch pie plate or shallow casserole. Cut the cooked beets in 1/2 inch thick slices. Distribute red and yellow beets over the greens and sprinkle with diced green onions.In a small cup, melt honey and butter into balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over sliced beets. Season with salt and pepper, and bake, uncovered, at 350 F for about 25 minutes, or until greens are tender. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6

Spring Borscht

On the prairies, there are as many recipes for borscht as there are cooks. I like this one for the clear flavour of the beets, heightened by the acid of tomatoes and the secret ingredient — a fresh lemon, including the peel. Note that the beets are not peeled. Do not substitute bottled lemon juice.

5 or 6 young, medium beets (2 lb/1 kg) with tops
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 small red cabbage, diced
4 cups (2 L) seasoned chicken stock
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) diced tomatoes
1 fresh lemon, well scrubbed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) sugar
fresh dillweed
sour cream (optional)

Thoroughly scrub the beets. Clip tops and coarsely chop the washed leaves. Trim toot ends. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut raw, unpeeled beets into thin julienne. Reserve.

Coat a Dutch oven with non-stick spray. Over medium heat, saute diced onion, carrot, celery and cabbage. Add julienned beets and stir-fry about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and tomatoes. Cut the well-washed lemon in four quarters. Squeeze the juice into the soup, and add lemon peel. Turn the heat up and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender. Add the sugar and a hefty amount of freshly chopped dillweed. Fish out the lemon peel and discard it. Taste the soup and correct the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold, with a dollop of sour cream. Serves 4 to 6.

Favourite Herbs: Dill



Anethum graveolens

Annual; often self-seeds

Height 60 to 90 cm; spread to 15 cm.

Tall-growing green shoots sport umbels of bright-yellow inflorescences and finely fern-like, fragrant leaves.

Try these!

Anethum graveolens (common dill)

Anethum graveolens var. 'Fernleaf' (fernleaf dill): More compact than common dill, with excellent leaf production; a good variety for container growing.


Dill grows best seeded directly into the garden: it dislikes transplanting. Plant a small amount in early spring for salads and new potatoes, and several additional sowings every 2 to 3 weeks through June and early July for pickles. Sow seed thickly, as you would carrots.

How much: A 30-cm row for early harvest; a 3-m row for each later planting.

When: Around the date of the average last spring frost.

Where: Full sun; sheltered. Prefers rich, well-drained soil; will tolerate poor soil. Space rows 60 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Dill is easy to grow! Once sown, garden dill requires little care other than watering if the summer is particularly dry. Dill grown in containers requires more care. Consistent watering and pruning will promote lush, leafy growth all summer. Aphids tend to attack dill once it sets seed.


You can begin harvesting dill when it is only a few centimetres high. The leaves, stems, flower heads, and seeds are all edible.

For best flavour: Harvest whole plant just as the flowers are opening.

Leaves: Harvest as needed throughout the growing season. Clip sprigs where they attach to the main growing stem or cut the whole plant a few centimetres above the ground. Discard thick, tough stems.

Flowers: Pick complete flower heads when they turn yellow, but before they get old. Cut the stalks of the flower heads where they attach to the growing stem.

Seeds: Harvest seeds when flower heads turn brown; ripe seeds will fall easily when touched.

Preserving the Harvest

Use fresh if possible. Freezing is the best way to preserve dill's flavour. Cut the whole plant before it flowers. Rinse the stems quickly, then shake and pat dry; discard any large, coarse stems. Mince with a sharp knife and freeze in a screw-top jar. Another method is to freeze the unchopped stems on a baking sheet, then transfer to sealed plastic freezer bags and return to the freezer. Dill will also keep in the fridge for a few days. Collect dill seeds and store in a clean jar with a tight-fighting lid; the seeds must be fully dried when harvested.


  • Dill can be sown quite early, so I always plant it as soon as I can get into the garden. But I hold off planting my major crop until mid June so that it ripens at the same time as cucumbers. This timing makes pickling much easier. The dill hasn’t set seed at this point, and I prefer to use the lush, ferny growth before the flower heads mature.
  • Dill readily self-sows. The seed usually survives the winter and volunteer plants spring up in the following season. However, volunteer dill usually matures too early for pickling and it's particularly prone to aphids because it matures when the aphids are at their peak, so use volunteer dill when it’s still very young for salads and seasoning.
  • Here’s an easy way to collect dill seeds! Cut stems when the seeds are nearly ripe, then tie a paper bag over the flower heads; hang upside down in bunches. The seeds will drop directly into the bag.
  • For a stronger dill flavour when making pickles, stuff the entire plant into the pickling jars.

To Note:

  • Many people tell me to avoid planting dill near fennel, because the flavour of both plants will be compromised if the two cross-pollinate. I’ve never had this problem, but I figure, why take a chance?
  • Dillweed happens to be one of dill's more common nicknames, alluding to the ease with which it is grown.
  • Dill oil is used in a number of commercial applications, including soaps and detergents.
  • Seed output will decrease if summer temperatures are very high; however, oil yields increase with greater day length and heat.
  • The Romans believed that dill was a "fortifying" herb, so it was common practice for gladiators heading into the arena to cover their (possibly last) meals with the herb to bolster their strength. The Romans were probably responsible for carrying dill to many of the regions where it now grows.
  • In the Talmud, it is noted that dill was subject to a tithe, suggesting the economic importance of the herb in the ancient world.
  • Carrying a bag of dill next to the heart was supposed to protect one against the Evil Eye.