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There is nothing better than opening a brand new jar of homemade pickles and taking the first crunchy bite. The briny, tart, salty flavor is hard to resist. During the winter months, a taste of these pickles becomes my respite from the cold, dreary days as it pulls me back to summer and time in the garden. What would a pickle be without dill? Dill is an easy herb to grow from seed and can be used in many ways to add a fresh flavor to dishes.
How to Grow Dill
Dill should be grown from seed directly sown in the garden. It does not do well when transplanted because of its taproot system. Dill is an annual, so it will need to be planted each spring. If you let it go to seed, it will reseed itself if left in the garden. Because it can reseed itself, it is beneficial to give it a space in the garden away from other plants where you are okay with it growing each year. You can start planting dill two weeks before the last frost. It is beneficial to plant dill seeds every 10 days or so to ensure that you have a dill crop for the entire season. You will want to have that fresh dill ready for when the cucumbers ripen!
Dill can get up to three feet tall, so make sure that you plant it in a place that it won’t be likely to blow over. One way to keep dill plants standing on their own is to plant them close together so they can hold each other up. Alternately, dill can also be staked to keep it from blowing or falling over. Dill seeds can be sprinkled liberally over an area and then soil lightly raked over. Once the dill seedlings start to come up, thin them out to about every 12-18 inches. Don’t throw away the seedlings you pull out when thinning. Use them in salads or other dishes.
Dill needs full sun but can handle some afternoon shade. Water dill once the soil is completely dry. Do not over water dill plants. Clip off dill leaves as needed for recipes. Always leave about 1/3 of the plant when harvesting dill so that the plant will continue to produce. Like many other herbs, once dill flowers, it will die off. If you want to continue using the dill leaves, make sure to clip or pinch off the flower heads. If you are ready to let the dill go to seed so that you can collect seeds for cooking or planting, then wait until the dill flowers and has seed heads on it. Clip off the seed heads and save them in a jar for use in cooking or for next year’s garden.
Dill can be used fresh or dried (learn more about drying herbs here), leaves or seeds in many dishes. To use dill fresh, clip or pinch off the leaves. To dry dill, use an oven, dehydrator, or dry, warm place. Once the leaves are brittle, store the dried dill in a jar away from sunlight. The flavor of dried dill is a lot less intense than fresh dill so adjust recipes accordingly. Dill seeds can be saved by cutting the stems off the plant as they go to seed. With this method, tie the stems together and put them in a paper bag. The bag will catch the seeds. I like to let the seeds dry on the stems and then just collect them in a bag by shaking them off of the stem outside. Any of the seeds that fall when I am collecting will just reseed themselves for another dill crop.
Dill pairs well with many dishes, including fish, soups, and salads. My favorite ways to use dill are with cucumbers (mixed with yogurt or vinegar and oil), thrown in a salad to add an additional layer of flavor, and in pickles. One of the best things in the summertime is to make homemade pickles with freshly grown cucumbers and dill. Skip the canning process if you want a quick, crunchy pickle that can stay in the refrigerator for a couple of months. You can get creative with refrigerator pickles. Add more or less spices, add additional spices, or even add some sugar to give the pickles a sweeter taste.
Refrigerator Pickle Tips
- Make sure you trim off the blossom end of the cucumber, as there is an enzyme that will cause the pickles to be soft. If you don’t know which end is the blossom end, trim off both ends to be safe.
- Pickling cucumbers work best for making pickles, but if you have other types of cucumbers, they will also work. I have found that using younger cucumbers is always better. As the cucumber grows larger, the seeds become big and tough and the skin becomes bitter and tough. These qualities do not make good pickles. Always stick with young, small cucumbers when possible.
- If you want to use a water bath to can pickles, make sure that you follow the directions very closely, using exact measurements of ingredients and allowing as much time as is recommended for processing. This is important to prevent illness or spoilage from occurring.
- If you have leftover brine, save it to use with your next batch of pickles or use it for marinating chicken to make it super tender.
- If you eat the pickles within a couple of days, add more cucumbers straight to the jar for another quick batch. It will take longer for them to cure and they may not have as strong of a flavor, but it’s nice to save a little work!
Happy dill growing! Here’s to wishing you a bountiful harvest! What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy dill?
Want to learn how to grow other great herbs in your garden? Check out these posts: