Every spring, I buy a rosemary plant. And every winter, despite my best intentions, I manage to kill it. My friend Pete grows all kinds of varieties of rosemary, and he says it's not my fault. They're fussy. Still, he has some tips.
Here's the Pete Krumplebeck guide to keeping rosemary alive on Cape Cod:
1. Buy the right variety. Arp is apparently the only rosemary that has half a chance of surviving winter outside, in the ground, around here. It's hardy to zone 6, while most other varieties only make it to zone 8. We're in zone 7a, so Arp is a good pick.
He also grows Tuscan, BBQ, and a prostrate rosemary, but he keeps those in pots and brings them inside for the winter.
2. Keep them outside as long as possible. I usually bring my rosemary in around October, but Pete says this is too early. They like cold roots, prefer them even, and until there's a hard freeze, they're happier outside. He says he usually brings his in sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day.
3. Keep an eye on their water. Rosemary roots are very fussy, Pete says. They don't like to be dry but they also like to be well-drained, so you need to pot them correctly. He fills the bottom of third of his pots with perlite, then uses a regular potting soil mixture without too much organic matter on top to fill them. He says you should give the plants a good dunking every 7 to 10 days, and that when you do, the water should drain out in 2-4 seconds. And whatever you do, don't water with hot water—he says that's the easiest way to kill them.
4. Put them in a sunny spot with moving air and not too much heat. Inside, rosemary will get powdery mildew if it's left still for too long. Put it near a window or a fan, or dust it off every once in a while.
5. Outside, if you're having trouble with aphids or little white flies, give it a baking soda bath. Pete calls baking soda a multi-purpose "bugicide," and says it'll work wonders.
WATERMELON SALAD WITH ROSEMARY & FETA
I have long been a fan of the watermelon salad. We've been eating one version or another since the melons came into season a few weeks ago. But this riff is something new to me—I never would have thought of adding rosemary! Now I'm not sure I can imagine watermelon salad without it. It's sweet, juicy, and robust, and the feta adds salt and tang.
4 cups chilled watermelon cubes
2 ounces feta cheese, drained and crumbled
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 slices rustic bread
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
Arrange the watermelon and feta in a shallow pie plate or bowl. Sprinkle the rosemary over top. Heat up a cast iron skillet or griddle, drizzle the bread with olive oil, and grill until golden on both sides. Cut into croutons.
Drizzle the salad with olive oil, arrange the croutons on top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at once.