This is a continuation of my last post on growing basil. Like fresh basil, fresh parsley is indispensable to me. Unlike basil, good-quality parsley is available year round, but I still like to have lots of it in my garden throughout the growing season. We use it as a garnish, as a flavoring, and even as a salad green. Along with mint (which I also grow), it’s the most important herb in Middle Eastern cooking, and we do a lot of that.
Parsley is a biennial, meaning that each plant lives for two growing seasons. The first year it produces leaves and a taproot that looks like a parsnip or white carrot (which are both closely related). The second year, it grows new leaves from the taproot and then flowers and goes to seed. During that first year, the plant makes lots of tasty leaves. In the second year, the plant concentrates its energy on the flowers, so there are fewer leaves and they don’t taste as good. So although the plant is a biennial, for kitchen garden purposes, it’s best to treat it as an annual.
As with basil, I buy a flat of plants in spring. Parsley, which is winter-hardy, is available in garden centers much earlier than basil. I buy the plants as soon as I can, plant them in my vegetable plot, and start harvesting right away. At the end of the season I pull up the plants, and then I start again with new plants the following spring. If you decide to grow parsley from seed, you would start the plants in winter, set them out in spring, and continue to do the same thing every year, discarding the second-year plants unless you wanted to save one or two to collect seed. I suspect that like most tap-rooted plants, parsley plants would not do well in permanently wet soil.
Garden centers and seed companies offer both flat- and curly-leafed parsley. The flat-leaf or Italian parsley has the stronger taste and is preferred for most cooking uses (except authentic Jewish chicken soup, which demands curly parsley). Like basil and all other herbs, parsley needs full sun.
Parsley is delectable to many critters, both large and small. Therefore it’s necessary to protect the plants by growing them in a fenced vegetable garden, on an enclosed sun porch, or in a planter placed fairly high up. If you plant them in the ground without protection, they’ll be gone the next morning.