Growing Parsley, Thyme, & Oregano: The Early Herbs
by Rob Sproule
Being able to add fresh herbs to your dishes is a wonderful way to get back to the healthy basics of cooking. It’s more affordable, healthier, and downright more fulfilling way to eat.
Although the most common way to get fresh herbs is to buy them started, you can grow them from scratch if you know when to plant them. Many herbs need a lot of time to grow large enough to either be transplanted outside and/or be big enough for you to graze on.
From Seed to Seedling
It’s not practical to grow all herbs from seed. Some herbs, like Sage, Rosemary and Bay, take so long to grow from seed that they are best grown from cuttings taken from mature plants. On the other hand, herbs like Dill and Cilantro can be sown directly into outside soil at the end of May.
Oregano, Parsley, and Thyme can all be started from seed in early to mid-March. Oregano and thyme seeds are very small and often hard to handle, so you may end up sowing more than you intend to. Cover them with a very fine layer of soil.
Oregano and Thyme and thrive on neglect. Once the seeds are up, remove the plastic dome, keep on the dry side and don’t fertilize. They are slow growers and won’t be able to compete with weeds or other aggressive plants early in life.
Parsley is easy to grow from seed provided you remember that patience is a virtue. It usually takes about a month to germinate. To speed it up a little, soak the seeds overnight and blast with very hot water just before planting.
Try to keep your seed trays on the warm side, around 25 degrees for germination if possible. Keep your plastic domes on until the first leaves appear. Because these varieties germinate at very different times, plant them under separate domes so that the others don’t stretch while the parsley geminates.
From Seedling to Eating
Parsley is a relative of the carrot, so choose a deep pot when you transplant it to accommodate its taproot. Make sure to give it at least 5 hours of sunlight or it may stretch and lose it shape. It prefers more moisture than Oregano and Thyme and needs ample fertilizer.
Make sure all herbs have good drainage and as bright a spot as possible. Don’t be afraid to give them a light pinch come dinnertime once they are a few inches tall. The new growth is always the tastiest.
Oregano and Thyme hate wet feet and prefer pots that are on the small side. When you plant them into your outdoor containers at the end of May, try to pair them with other drought tolerant plants.
If you keep these 3 herbs healthy they will rarely be troubled by pests, but keep an eye out for hitch-hikers at the end of the season if you bring them indoors.
Harvesting and Uses
The best way to keep herbs healthy and vital is also the best way to enjoy them. Pinching back small amount of leaves regularly encourages new growth and promotes a bushy plant.
Parsley is an essential herb both for garnishes and for Italian cooking. For a garnish to use in salads and soups, plant the Triple-curled variety. Pinch it often and it will develop into a lush, dark green plant that is as decorative as any annual.
If you want to add a stronger flavour to your Italian dishes, opt for the flat leaved variety which has become trendy in modern cooking. The flat leafed is also slightly easier to grow than the curled.
Oregano has a strong peppery taste and blends perfectly with almost any Italian or Greek dish. Sprinkle some over meat or poultry before roasting it. It’s also delicious added fresh to soups.
Thyme is another Mediterranean classic that’s exceptional in lamb and tomato dishes. It’s flavour is strongest when it’s fresh but if you use whole branches of it, make sure to fish out the woody stems before cooking.