By Sonya Welter
If you think of parsley as flavorless green flakes that come in a little shaker, you’re in for a big surprise when you try fresh parsley.
Fresh parsley has a bright zing that perks up soups, salads and other savory dishes.
A friend of mine makes pesto with parsley instead of basil; I was hesitant at first, but it is divine over warm or cold cooked pasta with fresh diced tomatoes.
Parsley has the added benefits of being really, really easy to grow, and it adapts well to container culture. Parsley doesn’t seem to mind being crowded, and in the past I’ve crammed an entire packet of seeds in a 12 inch diameter pot, because that was all I had room for. But for better yields and stronger plants, you would ideally want to spread out a 1/32 oz. seed packet over four our five 12 inch pots, or a ten foot row in the garden.
There are two basic varieties of parsley: flat leaf and curly leaf. The curly leaf is prettier as a garnish, and since it loses its mild flavor quickly when cooked it is better to use fresh in salads. Flat leaf parsley has a more intense flavor, and tends to be more vibrant and less bitter than curly leaf parsley; it also holds up well to cooking.
Although parsley seeds take two or three weeks to germinate, in my experience they do not require heat mats or grow lights, just a sunny window at room temperature. You can transplant parsley into the garden after the danger of frost has passed, but I would recommend keeping at least one or two pots to bring in for the winter. Parsley is a biennial, which means that it lives for two years, and the parsley you bring inside at the end of the growing season will last you through the winter, the next summer, and possibly through the winter after that.
The only pest (if you can call it that) that I’ve experienced on my parsley is black swallowtail butterfly larvae, which some gardeners might know as the “parsley worm.” I suppose if you had a major butterfly infestation, they could do some damage, but I’d be inclined to leave them be. You could also bring the caterpillars inside to raise, just feed them fresh organic parsley, dill or fennel leaves every day. Three or four weeks after hatching from their eggs, the caterpillars will spin a chrysalid, and about a week after that the adult butterfly emerges. Butterflies are important pollinators, and raising black swallowtail butterflies on your parsley gives you the opportunity to release a little more beauty into the world.