You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that backyard vegetable gardening is going to be a lot easier if you live in central Missouri than in Durango. Durango has a short growing season and cold nights, and our soil is notideal because it has low acidity and a rocky texture. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that most herbs will grow in small spaces and less-than-ideal soil.
I do not think you have to grow every herb on the planet, but it is a mistake not to plant what you know you are going to use. There’s no single culinary enhancement that has a greater impact on flavor than fresh herbs.Well, maybe salt and pepper have a bigger bang for the buck, but food without the blessing of herbs is, well, flat, ordinary.
Last week a friend stopped me on the street and asked if I were to grow only five herbs this spring, which would they be.
I could answer rather quickly, because these are the herbs that are my “go-to-with-scissors” every afternoon about the time I’m fixing dinner – parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage and basil.
No point in heading out the door with scissors for the garlic. If you didn’t plant it last fall – on Columbus Day if you are an Italian-American – then you’re out of luck.
Today I want to talk about parsley. It’s early enough that if you haven’t picked up a packet of seeds, you still have time. You do not need much space, but this one is worth putting in the soil near the kitchen back door because it will reseed and provide you with years of value.
Petroselineum crispum – read all about it. That’s the name for the type of parsley you want to grow.
Select curly, compactly growing varieties for garnishes and tabouli, but choose Italian flat varieties for the greatest amount of aromatic flavor. Plant both if you have the space. Weenies can pick up parsley plants at the garden store, but you’ll never pick up a plant once you grow herbs from seed.
Some people think parsley is difficult to direct sow for sprouting, but I disagree. It can take three weeks or more to germinate, so be patient. Parsley is a heavy feeder, meaning you have to fertilize with nitrogen, but if you have a two-foot-square patch of soil that got a dose of manure in the fall, you have a perfect bed in which to freely sprinkle the seed. Don’t waste your time growing rows.
Or you can buy an indoor seed sprouting tray and keep your soil temperature warm – above 60 degrees. I sprout seeds in my boiler room, and I keep them wet until bursts of green signal for me to get them in indirect sunlight. After a couple of weeks, I move them outdoors.
Parsley is cold-hardy and resistant to pests, so it’s a no-brainer once it sprouts. Use a water soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle Grow, to boost and feed the first few weeks. Cut sprigs as needed, but keep some to “go to seed” in the fall, so you never run out.
Parsley buttered potatoes – even if these are store bought reds – are a sign of spring. Chopped, minced parsley is a marriage partner for red sauces. High in iodine and an excellent diuretic, few herbs rid the body of toxins better than parsley. There isn’t a chicken salad or tuna or anything with mayonnaise that doesn’t taste better with minced parsley.
Some people quick-dry parsley in a food dehydrator, but I prefer to clip off a few sprigs at a time and toss these in a zip lock bag to hold down a corner of the freezer. Add frozen parsley to soups all winter and you’ll have a taste of summer to keep you grounded.
Parsley – don’t walk into your kitchen without it.