I have always found parsley difficult to grow, but I sure love using fresh parsley for cooking. Alas, the store-bought product can be tired, tasteless and expensive.
Now, I do like finding easy substitutes in the kitchen, and recently -- right at New Year's -- discovered that my autumn-sown patch of mustard greens and the Asian green called mizuna provided just the right combination of texture and flavor to throw into an Italian recipe that called for chopped parsley.
In the middle of last fall, around October 1, I sowed a garden bed with two packets of the mustard seeds and one packet of mizuna all mixed together. In this case I was using Sow True Seed's red-streaked mizuna and their Cherokee blue mustard. Both are beautiful crops: the mizuna is nearly black, quite frilly and low to the ground, while the mustard has serrated leaves of deep purple plus flashes of light green. A beautiful splash of winter interest!
Both those crops germinated quickly, and because they were sown in cooling weather rather than in the heat of summer, they did not get very big or bolt to seed. There was so much of the mustard coming up that I used the first thinnings in sandwiches and soups and salads instead of bean sprouts. There was a second thinning of the mustard before real cold temperatures set in, and meanwhile the mizuna was getting started.
We’ve had a super-wet fall and winter so far in western North Carolina, ideal for the slow, steady growth of greens. To harvest such a bounty, use kitchen scissors to remove outer leaves only, leaving the inner growing core to continue pushing out vegetation. Then, in the kitchen, use the scissors again, never chopping with a knife, to cut the leaves into parsley-size bits.
As for parsley itself, I have a friend in Virginia who grows sweet, succulent bunches of parsley the size of toasters. He gardens on a cold, wet northern slope...but his secret, I suspect, is that he actually fertilizes them all the time by packing the soil with used coffee grounds and egg shells.
Written by Sow True Seed Garden Ambassador for WNC, Nan Chase:
Nan Chase gardens in Asheville, N.C., specializing in perennial herbs, alliums of all sorts, greens, and sweet crabapples. She is the author of Eat Your Yard! and co-author of Drink the Harvest. Follow her @drinktheharvest