Plants scream in terror when I walk past them. I’m pretty sure of it. They’ve told one another—word traveling far and wide—that I kill plants. They know I mean well; I just don’t have that coveted green thumb, but darn it—I’ve got a hankering for cilantro and according to Washington State University’s “Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington” report, I’ve missed the planting season by at least a week or two. That means I have to plant some cilantro seeds in pots and grow them indoors. That also means more work and cleaning because plants, in my experience, make messes. Nate disagrees with me:
Nate: Plants do not make messes.
Me: Yes they do. I once put beautiful ferns in pots in my apartment in college. I watered the soil, misted the leaves with water, and made sure they had plenty of sunlight. Still, they died within a month and made a mess all over. I was vacuuming for days!
Nate: Watch—I’ll plant some roses and I’ll put some potted plants around the house. You’ll see that they won’t make any messes.
Of course they don’t make messes for him—he has that coveted green thumb! Thanks to Nate, I’ve had flowers out the wazoo—for nearly all of our 18 years of marriage. We even have a fledgling lime tree. (Though that one actually does make a mess, but that’s SeaTac the cat’s fault. He can’t resist a romp in the soil with a lime tree.) In fact, we’ve enjoyed tomatoes, flowers, peppers, lettuce, and various herbs almost every spring and summer. This summer though, the garden is much smaller and cilantro is not “on the menu.” With Nate’s help, I’m about to change all of that.
Why cilantro? I cook with it all the time. It’s versatile and contains many health benefits. My mother grew up in Tucson, Arizona where salsa, in her day, practically grew on trees. She was also a Spanish teacher who loved to make salsa for her students. So, when she moved to Ohio in the 70s/80s, she was able to introduce all of her new friends to salsa. It was almost unheard of in Ohio in those days. Some people found it too spicy, but most couldn’t get enough of it. In my opinion, the real reason why salsa tastes so good is because of the versatile cilantro plant. Not only do cilantro leaves lend a fresh, bright note to a batch of tomato salsa, the plant from which they grow also forms the basis for coriander seeds, which can be ground into cumin—another favorite ingredient of mine in salsa. According to a 2015 article by Amber Kanuckle in The Farmer’s Almanac, cilantro plants can be planted further apart from one another so that there is plenty of room to grow the flowers needed for coriander seeds. One plant then, provides a couple of different flavor notes! In addition to its versatility, cilantro can combat high blood pressure, cleanse the mouth, serve as a source of iron, and aid in the fight against smallpox, according to an article on the health benefits of cilantro, provided by DoveMed, an independent medical website founded by Dr. Krish Tangella.
How hard is it then, to get this plant potted? Not very! Here are the steps I followed:
1) I bought a packet of cilantro seeds. It cost practically nothing, I promise! The packet was also chock-full of seeds, so I’m imagining I’ll grow massive amounts of cilantro. (Nate says that’s not true. Some seeds won’t actually sprout after being planted, so that’s why there are lots of seeds. He’s probably right.)
2) I bought two small, plastic pots that were six inches wide by 5.26 inches high and 6 inches deep. My plan is to grow seeds in one pot. Then, I can start seeds in the second pot and just keep them going year round like that. (I really hope that happens!)
3) At home, I used potting soil to fill the pots about ¾ of the way full. Apparently it’s important to use the correct potting soil for the best results. Dr. Douglas Cox and Tina Smith’s article, “Bagged Potting Mixes and Garden Soils for Home Gardeners,” which appears on the University of Massachusetts’s Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment website, describes the components of bagged potting soil and their importance. Cox and Smith remind us that potting soil is recommended over gardening soil for potted plants or container gardens because potting soil does a better job of “retain[ing] moisture, provide[ing] air space for roots, and are free from weed seeds, insects and diseases.”
4) Next, Nate instructed me to water the soil so that it would compact a little more.
5) Then, I could just follow the packet instructions by placing seeds an inch or so apart a quarter of an inch below the soil. I probably planted 10-20 seeds in case a few won’t take root.
6) We then carefully drained the pot and cleaned it up so that I could stick it on my windowsill in my office. Nate also suggested wrapping the top of the plant in plastic wrap to give the seeds a head start in a “greenhouse like” environment.
7) I suppose I’ll be checking the soil to make sure it’s not dry. The Washington State University Chelan County Extension Master Gardener Program suggests frequent watering because the top part of the soil is directly exposed to air and may dry out quickly.
The whole process took about five minutes or less and the back of the seed packet says I should expect cilantro leaves in about 14 days. I can’t wait! In the meantime, I’ll be extra vigilant. I’d like my reputation among the plants to improve. I’ll be showering the little seeds with good thoughts and singing a lullaby I’m making up right now:
Grow, grow cilantro seeds.
Grow, grow tall.
One day you’ll be salsa.
Salsa for all!
Your Turn: Do you have a green thumb? Post your tips or growing experiences below.