Parsley is a biennial herb grown for its nutritional value. It is rich in Vitamin A and C as well as iron. It is also an excellent source of beta karotene and potassium. Parsley can be used in salads, soups, sauces and stews. Additionally, it is also a perfect garnish for any plate of food. This herb is relatively easy to grow and harvest.
How to Begin
Parsley can be grown from seeds indoors in garden containers. The seeds should be soaked overnight for faster germination. Because this herb is a slow starter, it may take 2-4 weeks to sprout its first leaves. It is recommended that the seeds are planted in rich, moist soil 6-8 inches apart. Fluorescent light can be used if a sunny window is not available. Once the spring frost is gone, the seedlings can be transplanted into the outdoor garden. Parsley grows best in the company of corn, asparagus or tomatoes. The seedlings and grown plants must be watered regularly throughout the season.
Parsley is heat and cold tolerant, and it can be planted with flowering plants as an border to add volume to the flower bed. The best conditions for planting are during the spring when the soil still remains moist after the winter. Parsley grows abundantly in full sun or partial shade with at least 6 hours of exposure to sunlight daily. Periodic mulching around the plant will encourage vigorous growth. New foliage can be promoted by cutting back the plant set out in the spring and by using organic fertilizers to boost the plant’s vitality.
Varieties of Parsley
Flat Leaf – This variety is used for cooking as it has pungent taste and lessens the need for salt.
Curly Leaf – It is used mostly for garnish due to its deep green color and flower-like appearance.
Parsley is susceptible to the pest attacks, but most of them can be managed easily to ensure healthy growth. Most common pests include the following:
• Caterpillars – They are voracious eaters and can quickly consume most of your parsley crop. However, as the caterpillar goes through different stages and becomes a butterfly, the problem stops. Parsley typically recovers very quickly from this temporary attack and no chemicals are needed to treat the invasion.
• Whitefly – Whiteflies thrive in warm and dry conditions. If they appear on the parsley leaves, it typically means the plants have to be irrigated more often. Regular watering usually removes the colonies of whiteflies allowing the herb to grow into a healthy and edible plant.
• Powdery Mildew – It is an invasive type of fungus affecting leaves and stalks. The disease is spread by air and appears mostly in humid and shaded areas of the garden. Perhaps one of the most difficult infestations to stop, powdery mildew can be eradicated by applications of sulfur if the disease is determined early in the season.
• Rust – When yellow-orange lesions appear on the underside of leaves, it is a typically a sign of rust. The disease usually affects seedlings and young plants. More mature foliage becomes resistant over time and is not afflicted as easily. Rust is prompted by high humidity and can be successfully treated with fungicides.
• Armyworm – Heavy feeding by young larvae leaves holes in the foliage and stunts the growth of the herb. Armyworms cluster their eggs and leave fuzzy looking appearance pale green or yellow in color. Armyworms can be biologically controlled by introducing natural enemies such as wasps, but more effectively, the infection can be curbed by using recommended insecticides.
• Aphids – They secrete sugary, sticky film which encourages the growth of mold. They reside on the stems and underneath the leaves of the plant. If infestation is mild, it can be halted by pruning back the affected areas. Moderate infestation can be controlled by using strong stream of water to wash the aphids away. If the attack is of more serious nature, the plant can be treated with appropriate insecticides that are canola oil based. In extreme cases, the herb may have to be discarded to prevent the spreading onto the surrounding plants.
Parsley is ready for harvest about 75 days after initial planting and when the plant reaches the height of eight inches. If the entire plant is cut, it will promote rapid re-growth and the herb can be harvested again during the same season. If the plant is protected by a layer of straw, it can be harvested during the winter months as well.
Storing the Parsley
Because of its versatility, the parsley is often used in many dishes. To keep it fresh, parsley can be stored in a container of water kept in the refrigerator. It will remain fresh for several days. The water should be changed daily to avoid any fungal invasion in the container. This method will preserve the green color and the fresh taste.
Large amounts of parsley can be dried for later use. It should be placed in well-ventilated, warm area to dry and crushed when completely dried. It then can be placed in an airtight container and stored for many months. Dried parsley loses some of its potency in this form, but it is a great substitute for store-bought varieties.
If you want a continuous supply of fresh parsley, the plants can be transplanted into small pots and placed on a sunny window sill during the winter. The herb will grow continuously. Minimal care is needed during the winter months, but the growth is slower and the plant has to be kept warm to thrive year round. Drafty areas of the house are not recommended as parsley needs constant warmth around 70 degrees.
Freezing the leaves is another beneficial way to store parsley. The foliage can be pressed into cubes or logs tightly packed into plastic bags and frozen to be used during the winter months. This technique is preferred by many avid gardeners and food lovers as freezing fresh herbs preserves the taste and prevents spoiling for several months. Some other freezing techniques specify adding other ingredients, such as garlic or rosemary, before pressure-rolling the mixture into cubes or logs.
Growing Parsley Indoors
On many occasions, people do not have the outdoor resources to plant their herbs in the ground. This is especially true for urban dwellers living in apartment buildings that can only practice container gardening in their homes. However, with some slight modifications, parsley can be successfully grown year round indoors.
The pots with planted seeds can be placed on a sunny window sill. The container will have to be rotated every few days to ensure that all seedlings are germinating simultaneously. There should be several drainage holes at the bottom of the pot and a saucer to collect any excess water that may drain through.
Humidity levels aren’t usually an issue if the container is placed in the kitchen where constant use of water and steam from cooking keeps the air moist. If the plant is any other areas of the house, the herb may have to be misted daily to avoid the foliage becoming dry and brittle. It is also beneficial to place the pot on top of the tray of pebbles emerged in water. As the water evaporates, the humidity around the plant will increase.