If you’re the kind of cook who searches out fresh, seasonal ingredients, growing your own is a natural extension of your passion for good food. But when time and space are limited, the idea of tending a kitchen garden can seem unrealistic. There is one easy way to make a start on your home vegetable plot, and that’s to keep it small. One pot, one plant. It’s all you need to get going. Keeping it simple means you don’t need lots of space or time for digging, sowing and weeding. And you can soon be cooking with the best home grown ingredients.
Herbs are great for beginning your food growing adventure. Most are easy to grow and can be kept in a pot by the back door, or on a windowsill if outdoor space is limited. Parsley regularly features in lists of the most popular herbs. It’s sold as a growing herb in many supermarkets – convenient when you need some fresh leaves for cooking, but the plants aren’t grown to last once you bring them home. A few simple steps, will lengthen the useful life of a pot of supermarket parsley, allowing you to enjoy home grown flavour for weeks on end.
There are two main types of parsley – curled and flat leaved. Both are great for cooking and can pretty much be used interchangeably, choosing which to grow is largely down to personal taste.
How to grow parsley
Start by buying a healthy looking plant – one with lots of green growth and no yellowing leaves. Once you have the plant, it’s a relatively simple job to provide it with the conditions it wants to keep growing. All you need is a pot, at least 15cm (6”) deep, with a drainage hole at the bottom, and some good quality compost (your local garden centre should have bags of organic, peat free compost). If you’ll be keeping the pot on a windowsill, find a saucer for it to stand on. And while you’re at the garden centre, get some organic liquid feed. This will help keep the plant in top condition and producing plenty of leaves.
Fill the bottom of the new pot with a handful or two of compost. You’re aiming for a layer of fresh soil deep enough so that the parsley plant sits just below the rim of the new pot – test how much compost you need by putting the plant in to see if the level is right. Once that’s done, remove the parsley from the plastic pot it came in and place it into the bigger pot. Use more compost to fill the gaps between the root ball and the edge of the pot. Gently firm the compost down with your fingertips so that it holds the plant in place, then water the pot from the top. This helps to settle the compost around the roots.
Put your newly potted herb in a spot where it will get plenty of light. In winter, a sunny windowsill is best. In summer, the plant will appreciate a little shade from the hot sun. If you’re putting the pot outside, remember that the parsley will have been grown in a greenhouse before it reached the supermarket. In cold weather a sudden move to outdoor conditions will be too much, so a gradual introduction to its new growing position is best.
Remember to water the plant… lift the pot each day and you’ll soon be able to recognise by weight when it’s getting dry. It will need more frequent watering in hot and windy weather. A dilute liquid feed added to the water every week will keep it growing and healthy. And that’s pretty much it. Given a little attention, you should be able to keep your parsley plant productive for a good few months.
Once you have a pot of parsley growing on the windowsill, there are a whole range of recipes for using the fresh leaves. Here’s an easy way to give seasonal vegetables a burst of herby flavour…
Roasted root vegetables with parsley and cranberries
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled or washed, and chopped into chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 good big teaspoon of honey
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
For the dressing –
1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 generous handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, or to taste, deseeded and chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
a pinch of sea salt flakes
50g dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 180oC, gas 5.
In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with the olive oil, honey and thyme sprigs. Transfer to an ovenproof tray and roast in a preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
While the vegetables are roasting, combine the dressing ingredients in a bowl. Once the vegetables are cooked, tip them into a warmed serving dish and gently stir in the dressing to coat. Serve immediately.