Rosemary thriving in the homemade greenhouse despite single digit temps.
This was supposed to be a quick post about one little plant in the greenhouse and a new lamb recipe on my food and farm blog, Farmgirl Fare, but somehow it turned into a rambling rosemary learning experience. Now if only I could get my rosemary to ramble this much.
It took me a long time to get up the guts to put a rosemary plant in the ground. I used to keep it in a pot - setting it out in the garden when it was warm, and then moving it into the greenhouse in fall.
When it started getting really chilly, I would bring the pot indoors and set it a few feet from the woodstove in the living room, next to the only available window that receives any measurable sunlight. Within days it would start happily putting on cheerful new growth, and then several weeks later it would die.
Each spring I would buy a new little rosemary plant and the cycle would begin again. This went on for years.
Finally two autumns ago I decided that I should take my chances and transplant my rosemary into one of the raised beds in my homemade, not airtight, and almost always unheated greenhouse instead of bringing it into The Shack. I was nervous, but I figured I had nothing to lose except my beloved little plant that I was planning to murder in a month or two anyway. So I did it. And boy am I glad that I did.
Fresh vs. dried rosemary - there's simply no comparison.
The little plant took off, and now I'm now able enjoy freshly picked rosemary all year long, even when there's snow on the ground. On winter nights I drape it with floating row cover, and when the temperatures really plummet I add an old bedsheet or lightweight blanket, held up off the plant with short sections of bamboo stakes. During the day I uncover it.
It's been as cold as 7 degrees F in there, and yet my rugged rosemary didn't even flinch.
I'm still not sure why I kept killing my rosemary plants in the living room; the gardening books and websites I looked at while working on the post make it sound like everyone except me is able to easily grow rosemary in pots both indoors and out. I know it's warm near the woodstove, but rosemary is a Mediterranean plant that loves heat.
This expert rosemary grower, however, says that when kept indoors rosemary prefers temperatures around 60 degrees. It's possible it was too close to the sometimes icy-cold window, or it might not have been getting enough sun. Or I may have watered it too much. Who knows.
I did relearn an important thing to keep in mind when growing anything in containers, and that is that even if you move them to a warm and sheltered spot, the roots are still much more susceptible to cold that they would be if they were buried in the ground.
A friend pointed this out when I called him last month for 9-1-1 herbal advice regarding the beautiful but now rather dead looking rosemary topiary I'd bought for myself last December after surviving an all day bakery building supply mission to Lowe's.
I assured him the plant hadn't frozen because it had been in the greenhouse and covered. But it was in a flimsy plastic pot that offered no protection from what I'd thought were tolerable temperatures. We learn by mistakes, and this year one of my goals is to stop killing rosemary.
Growing up I never cared for rosemary, despite the fact that we had an enormous rosemary bush in our Northern California backyard. But when I moved to the country and planted a large kitchen garden I was determined to grow it, along with several other herbs I never used, like sage.
There's just something so alluring about growing herbs, even if half of them are simply for show. After all, most gardens and landscaping are only for show.
I am trying to be a better herb eater, though, as evidenced my past pleas for help regarding what to do with lemon thyme and purple basil. Anyway, somewhere along the line I fortunately developed a taste for rosemary, and now I love the stuff.
Fresh rosemary shines in these Herb Crusted Lamb Spareribs
I suppose this was inevitable since I raise sheep, and lamb and rosemary are a match made in culinary heaven. Unless we're quickly tossing some plain chops or leg steaks on the grill (it's so nice when your meat has enough flavor to stand on its own!), pretty much all the lamb we eat is has been seasoned with rosemary.
You'll find one of my favorite ways to combine rosemary and lamb (pictured above) in my recent post on Farmgirl Fare, How To Cook Lamb: Onion & Herb Crusted Lamb Spareribs & Grilled Lamb Leg Steaks.
According to About.com: Gardening, the three fundamentals for successfully growing rosemary are: full sun (6 to 8 hours a day), good drainage, and good air circulation.
Rosemary doesn't require much attention, but to keep your plants from becoming scraggly you should prune them back hard after they flower in summer - just don't cut them all the way back to the old wood.
You can buy rosemary seeds, but germination of the best seed available is only around 20%. Instead, look for healthy, preferably organically grown plants at nurseries or natural foods stores. Or better yet, see if you can swipe some cuttings from a friend, then follow these easy instructions from Fine Gardening to root them.
My herb growing and bread baking pal Beth (aka kitchenMage), who lives in the Pacific Northwest where rosemary thrives, says she starts 50 to 100 rosemary cuttings each year and doesn't even bother using rooting hormone. If you're feeling particularly lazy, try plunking the cuttings in a glass of water and setting them on a sunny windowsill; there's a chance they'll develop roots.
Despite the fact that I grow several different types of basil, thyme, and mint, for some reason I've always thought of rosemary as just being rosemary. But of course it isn't.
From Creeping Rosemary, a tall ground cover that can cover eight to ten feet in diameter or trail down eight to ten feet from a second story balcony, to Blue Boy, that grows out only about 12 inches wide and rarely gets over six inches tall, to Shimmering Stars, a trailing rosemary with pink flower buds that open medium-blue to lavender and is great for making topiaries, there's sure to be a variety of rosemary out there to fit your every taste and space. You can read about several other types of rosemary here and here (scroll down).
Lamb burgers with rosemary, shallots, and feta on focaccia 'buns' (lamb burger recipe here and focaccia recipe here)
At least I was aware that rosemary has a life beyond lamb. This versatile, aromatic herb can be used in everything from salad dressings to sorbets. I made some scrumptious and easy rosemary focaccia recently (my first foray into focaccia!), and I created a separate category on del.icio.us just for rosemary recipes I hope to try someday.
This Pane di Ramerino (Italian Rosemary Raisin Bread) is another favorite way to enjoy rosemary.
Rosemary's usefulness extends far beyond the tastebuds, too. According to Rosemary Gladstar in her wonderful book, Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal: A Guide To Living Life With Energy, Health, And Vitality, "We've only begun to uncover the many uses of rosemary."
She goes on to say that this evergreen member of the mint family has long been renowned as a memory aid, produces a tonic effect on the nervous system, and is good for circulation. It also strengthens the heart and reduces high blood pressure.
According to Kitchen And Herb Gardener, an enormous beauty of a book by Richard Bird and Jessica Houdret, rosemary can be taken internaly as an infusion for colds, influenza, fatigue, and headaches, and can be applied externally in massage oil for rheumatic and muscular pain.
In addition, rosemary has been used for hundreds of years as a cosmetic herb for its benefical effects on the hair and skin. Infusions are used as rinses for dry hair and dandruff and added to bath lotions and beauty preparations.
You can include rosemary as part of an invigorating bath blend to help aching joints and tiredness, or when preparing a warm herbal footbath, which can help with headaches and mental stress. Its fragrance and texture also makes it excellent for use in potpourris and insect-repellent sachets.
Hmmm. It sounds like I need to add at least a few more rosemary plants to the garden. Don't worry - I'll be sure to let them know that murder isn't on the agenda.
So do you grow rosemary? How do you like to use it? If you've written about rosemary or shared a favorite rosemary recipe on your own blog, feel free to leave a link to your post in the comments section.
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