Gardening secrets: Spicy plants in the vegetable garden
Variety is the spice of life, but spice is the basis for variety in our daily meals. You can only grow so many different vegetables and raise so many different kinds of animals on your homestead. So, if you want to keep your meals interesting even when your ingredient list is limited by what you can grow or raise, mastering the art of ‘spicing things up’ is essential.
Why just grow herbs when you can also grow spices? Of the cooking duo, it seems that only herbs are frequently homegrown when really, it is easy to grow spices too. Have the best of both these culinary delights by growing garden spices ready for your secret recipes.
Imagine your meals without your favorite spices, I sure can’t. Aside from adding flavor to our meals, spices have been proven to give health benefits too. Although there seems to be a thin line between herbs and spices and often considered as being one and the same, herbs and spices are different. For one, most spices are grown in warm and temperate climate in the world. That is where the worries of growing them are coming from. So we have listed the garden spices you can easily grow at home.
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Easy to Grow Spices
There are quite a few easy to grow spices you can add to your garden. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Coriander is the seed from the cilantro plant. If you live in warm areas where cilantro bolts easily, you can likely grow great coriander. All you need to do is let your plants bolt, and keep them growing until the seed heads form, and dry.
The seeds are easy to shake from the seed head into a bowl or paper bag to use in cooking later. Plus, if you grow those plants around your cabbage, they are reputed to help deter cabbage moths.
Garlic is a great storage vegetable and can be used in bulb form for most of the year. However, when dehydrated and powdered or minced, it becomes a powerful spice for hearty dishes.
Hardneck garlic, often grown for the scapes, doesn’t store as long as softneck varieties. They also tend to be more spicy and savory than hardneck kinds. These traits make softneck garlic a perfect candidate for dehydrating and making into spice. Also, any garlic heads with the damaged skins can store longer when dried.
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Paprika is a magical spice. It doesn’t have a significant amount of flavor on its own. But, when paired with tomatoes or meat, it makes them explode with flavor. It also adds beautiful color to sauces.
Paprika also seems to hold smoky flavor better than just about any other spice. Whenever I want to add a touch of smoke-flavor to a dish, I reach for my smoked paprika.
Paprika is grown from mildly flavored peppers that are dried and powdered. These peppers can also be eaten fresh, though they don’t have as much flavor as other fresh-eating peppers. Paprika style peppers also have particularly papery skins that make them excellent for drying.
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Cumin is an earthy, pungent spice that brings out the flavor of pork and other meats and beans. It only grows well in locations with long, hot summers. However, you can start seeds indoors four weeks early to get a jump on the season.
This plant is in the parsley family and makes beautiful umbel flowers that attract all sorts of beneficial insects.
Ginger is a rhizome that grows well in warm, humid climates. Below USDA planting zone 8, you’ll need to grow it indoors or in a greenhouse.
Even for those who don’t have gardens, since it only requires shallow soil for planting and constant moisture, it’s easy to cultivate on any size homestead. Fresh ginger is a must for kombucha makers. For anyone who makes curries or desserts, though, dried and powdered ginger is an essential spice.
Turmeric is also a rhizome grown in similar conditions to ginger. No curry would be complete without it. But I also use it in many of my meat stocks for added flavor, body, and health benefits. The rhizomes you harvest are small and dry well. They also grind up a bit easier than ginger.
Like paprika, cayenne peppers are grown, harvested, and dried for use as ground cayenne pepper. A half teaspoon is usually enough to make knock-out chili!
Be careful when processing though. Wear gloves and grind in well-ventilated areas. Do not – I repeat – do not touch any part of your body when handling dried cayenne (particularly not your eyes). Trust me, I had a friend in the hospital with eye damage for making this mistake!
Your Asian cuisine would not be complete without this grass spice. This plant has a bulb-like base like that of the spring onion’s which grow and spreads the same way. The bulb or base is what’s usually used for cooking. This is one grass your garden must have–and it’s known to have mosquito-repellent properties.
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You may think just because this flowering bulb holds the most expensive spice in the world , that growing this must be hard. You only have to plant this in a well-draining soil, in an area that is warm and sunny. Plant them deep and do not prune those grass-like leaves as it encourages flower growth. Be a proud grower of this one a-list spice.
Fresh dill is amazing in sauces and salads. For pickling though, I prefer dill seeds. The vinegar breaks down the seed shells and draws out the potent inner flavor. Ground dill seeds are essential to any homemade Ranch dressing recipe too (in my opinion).
Thankfully, dill is super easy to grow. Just let your dill flower and seed out in hot weather. The seeds shake right off the flower heads when dried and ready for harvest.
Note: To avoid off tastes, don’t grow near wild dog fennel or cultivated seed fennel. It cross-pollinates and spoils the seeds.
Fennel seeds are a key ingredient in Italian sausage, many Indian-style dishes, and many baking recipes. The seeds also make a great post-dinner digestive and breath freshener.
Seed fennel is perennial and extremely easy to grow. Bulb fennel is used more like a root vegetable, but can also be grown for seeds. Generally, fennel doesn’t work well as a companion for most herbs and vegetables, so give it a dedicated space on the outskirts of your garden.
Caraway seeds, can be easily grown in cool weather areas. They also taste great in pickles and used sparingly in meat dishes. They are similar in appearance to cumin, but with a completely different flavor.
Caraway umbel flowers also make great beneficial insect attractors in your herb garden.