Here's how to grow parsley - indoors and out.
Here we are talking about Petroselinum crispum, the curly leaf kind so much in evidence at buffet lunches. The other common kind, flat leafed parsley is also quite easy to grow.
Parsley is a great addition to anyone's diet for a variety of reasons - not least the taste. Here is some information on why parsley is such a great thing to grow, both for its nutritional value and also its versatility as a culinary herb.
Parsley has some serious claims to super-food status. It has a host of health benefits and is a great source of vitamins and minerals.
Parsley is a great source of vitamin C. It contains as much as blackcurrants and three times as much as oranges, weight for weight. It is also very good for supplying plant-based calcium. Calcium is often lacking in people's diets and can be hard to absorb from dairy foods.
It is unusually rich in potassium and can act as a natural diuretic (i.e. it promotes urine). It also has a reputation for helping kidney stones, for promoting menstruation and for keeping our arteries in good shape. It also has anti-cancer properties.
Last but not least, it helps freshen the breath after eating pungent foods such as garlic or curry. If you are fond of pungent foods, chewing a sprig of parsley after dinner could do wonders for your social life!
And of course, it is a very tasty addition to many, many dishes.
People often think that growing parsley is difficult; what is difficult is that germination can be fitful and exceptionally slow. But this really is just an exercise in patience. Don't make the mistake of chucking out the contents of the seed tray and starting again before you have waited at least 6 weeks!
Most parsley will start to germinate in about three weeks but new seedlings may still keep appearing weeks later.
This slow and fitful germination makes it a good idea to start parsley off indoors in a seed tray, or in a greenhouse or cold frame.
It's also a good idea to plant lots - partly because it is slow to germinate and it's easy to miss the tiny seedlings in outdoor beds if there are competing weeds. Also, it's good to sow plenty because it's such a valuable herb and can be used in so many ways. In the middle of winter, when growth stops or slows drastically, it is easy to find that what you thought was a plentiful supply is dwindling to just a few droopy leaves on each plant. This is less likely to happen if you sow plenty to begin with.
You can sow parsley directly in the soil.
Parsley has quite deep roots so it is not so easy to transplant successfully. However, I always like to keep a close eye on seedlings. Starting them off in a seed tray makes it easy not to lose them and to check that they are germinating.
For sowing parsley in a seed tray follow the guidelines given below for planting parsley in a pot.
If your garden area is nice and tidy and you like things in straight rows, parsley seedlings can do well sown straight into the place they are going to grow.
Parsley likes a warm, sunny space which is not too dry. The soil should be rich and free-draining, ideally.
You can sow parsley in mid spring or late summer.
Parsley needs to be sown every year for best results. The plant is a biennial (lives for two years) but in in its second year it is mainly interested in producing seeds, so the leaves are fewer and the plant becomes more stringy and tall.
You can keep a few plants for seeds for next year. Parsley also self-seeds quite easily, so you can find a new crop growing around a previous year's plant. However, this is not a very reliable way of making sure that you have enough growing parsley for your current needs.
I tend to rely on self-sown parsley quite a bit: I just move it around as needed when the seedlings are quite small. I find that I grow more each year because it is so useful.
Prepare the soil as for most crops until you have a fine tilth and there are no weeds or big stones. Rake the surface to break up clumps of soil.
Draw a row with the edge of a hoe or the tip of a trowel. It should be about 1/2 inch deep (approx 1 cm). Water the soil to make it good and damp - but not flooded!
Pinch up the seeds between thumb and forefinger and thinly sow them. Pull fine soil over them so that they are well covered and firm down the soil with your hand or foot. If you are using your feet be careful not to compact the soil too much.
If you want more than one row, put it about 1 foot away (30cm) so that the adult plants have plenty of space.
When the seedlings are well established thin the crop so that each plant is about 8 inches (15 cm approx) from its neighbour. You can do this in stages if you prefer. Always water after thinning to help minimise stress and root disturbance.
Add a little mulch of well-rotted compost when convenient to keep your parsley crop growing well. Unlike many herbs, parsley is quite a heavy feeder and likes a rich soil, so anything you can do to top up the soil with a nutritious mulch will be beneficial. It also suppresses competing weeds, of course.
You can easily grow parsley in a pot for keeping indoors or on a balcony. For a plant with fairly deep roots it does surprisingly well in shallow pots. A deep pot is better, of course.
Pre-soak the seed for a day before planting.
Choose a reasonably deep and wide pot, say 10 inches across, 6 inches deep. Add some broken crocks or small pebbles to aid drainage. Add good quality organic potting compost to about 1 inch from the top of the pot. Scatter the damp seeds thinly across the surface of the compost. Cover them with another 1/2 inch or so of compost and gently firm everything down.
Gently water the pot until the compost is moist.
Keep the pot covered to reduce moisture loss for a couple of weeks. Keep the compost nice and moist at all times but don't overdo it as your seeds can rot.
Once the seedling start to appear keep the pot somewhere light. If you are growing the seedlings on a windowsill you will need to turn the pot every couple of days to prevent seedlings leaning towards the sun.
Make sure that the compost never completely dries out.
Once the plants are established you can harvest leaves using a sharp pair of scissors - or just nip off selected leaves with your fingers. Be careful not to dislodge the plant from its soil if you do use fingers.
While you can grow parsley indoors if necessary, plants are usually far happier outside. For the best of both worlds, grow parsley outside and bring in potted up plants for a brief turn inside so that you can use them. Exchange the pot for another within a week or so. Plants grown too long inside tend to become light starved and leggy and are more susceptible to disease.
Once you have grown parsley for a season or two you will probably want to keeps some seeds, so that you can grow plenty for yourself and friends and neighbours. This is easy to do. Just let two or three strong plants run to seed at the end of summer.
Harvest the seed heads on a dry day, once they are starting to look pale and dry. Cut off the whole seed heads and shake or pull the seeds off onto clean paper. Pick out any insects or other bits of plant material. Make sure that the seeds are perfectly dry - put them somewhere shady but warm for a few days if in doubt.
Store them in a paper bag away from light and damp until you are ready to use them.
Don't forget to label them accurately with variety and date harvested.
You can not only learn how to grow parsley but also dozens of other valuable herbs at home. Amazon do an easy starter kit which can be a way to get going quickly.
The Indoor Culinary Herb Garden Starter Kit has received rave reviews - even from the Wall Street Journal!
In my book, herb growing is an under-rated skill which needs (and is getting) a bit of a renaissance. If there is a community garden near you, see if they have a herb garden or a herb spiral. A herb spiral is an integrated herb feature which allows different herbs to co-exist and get their ideal growing conditions.
There are courses in growing herbs on offer, too as people work to make more food stuffs local. Re-localisation of our food is an important task in fighting climate change because it enables us to cut down on carbon used in food production and transport.
How to Grow Parsley Copyright Greenfootsteps.com 2010
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