Front porch hippie

I planted my spring time herbs this weekend. Dallas’ last frost was March 3, according to the Farmers’ Almanac, and it’s been in the 60s and 70s all month with pleasant nights. Last week, the weather got warm, and we turned on our air conditioning. So, on Sunday, I went out to buy my usual herbs.

Since we live in a condo in the middle of Plano, we don’t exactly have space for a proper garden. My family had an enormous vegetable garden when I was a kid. Took up half the backyard. I think we kept that garden for two years, and we had a grand time harvesting our own tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers and more black eyed peas than we could shake a stick at. My dad loves black eyed peas. My life’s dream is to have a huge garden plot in the backyard that prevents my allergy-prone husband from mowing and allows us to harvest our own organic vegetables. Because we live in Texas, I have dreams of being able to grow much of our own produce year round. So far, though, it’s been just an herb thing. At least if I grow them, I don’t have to buy $3-$5 plastic packs of fresh herbs just to make a little pasta.

I typically buy herb starters from Whole Foods. The plants are usually locally grown here in Collin County, and their prices are almost always better than Home Depot or Calloway’s. Plus, it’s nice to know where the plants came from. Whole Foods doesn’t have a huge selection, but they typically have the herbs I most often cook with: sweet basil, thyme, rosemary, mint and oregano. I may have gone a bit earlier than I did last year, because the store did not have much rosemary or oregano, just the trailing, slow-growing rosemary and Greek oregano. I want a bushy rosemary topiary this year because last year’s trailing variety hardly budged all season. And I prefer Italian oregano. SO, it appears I’m not done with planting yet. However, because the cashier had some difficulty getting the starters to ring up at the right price, she did a little magic, and I got four plants for $5: thyme, cilantro, mint and cherry tomato.

I bought cilantro this year because I always buy a huge bunch only to have it go to waste anytime I make tortilla soup or pico de gallo. And while standing outside deciding on which variety of thyme to buy, inspiration struck. Why not try to shake things up on the front porch this year? So, into the basket went a cherry tomato plant. Central Market had a few more herbs, so I snagged sweet basil. Then a bell pepper plant. One of last year’s mint plants came back…it’s a weed, so it does that. And I haven’t bought rosemary yet. If you’re keeping track, that means a whopping seven plants now live on the front porch. I might have to buy another variety of tomato plant and maybe a jalapeno or Serrano pepper plant just to see how they do. Oh, to make pico de gallo entirely from one’s own produce! Also, last year’s basil was overtaken by caterpillars early in the season. It never quite recovered, so it’s exciting to have a beautiful new sweet basil plant.

I went out on the front porch wearing my weird outdoor girl Teva sandals and pulled up the dried remains of last year’s garden, resolving to be better about covering my plants in the early fall with the first cold snap and to not neglect them during the 100-degree July and August dog days. I crammed handfuls of organic vegetable potting mix into various containers, dark soil caking under my fingernails. There’s still plenty of room for more plants and lots more potting mix in the bag. It’s gonna be a good summer.