Growing Your Own Vegetables and Herbs - Parsley, Lettuce and Onions
12th Feb 2005
There must be more myths associated with the growing of parsley than any other vegetable and it's often difficult to reason why they were ever thought of in the first place. One states that the seed of parsley goes to the devil first before it germinates, I can only assume this one came about because parsley can often be haphazard in germinating and can often take well over three weeks to pop their heads through the soil. Parsley is part of the Umbelliferae family which encompasses celery, parsnip and carrots and it can therefore succumb to the same problems as those plants. For instance the carrot fly can often attack the roots of parsley and the first sign of attack for the grower will be when the foliage starts to take on a yellowy hue, a sure sign that the resulting maggots from the laid eggs have started on their devastating tunnelling expedition.
Due to the risk of poor germination I much prefer to sow my parsley in trays in the greenhouse rather than directly outside in the soil. There"s nothing worse than a sparse row of any vegetable, particularly when brought about through uneven germination. Broadcast sow the seed on some fine seed compost, and very lightly cover over with Fine grade Vermiculite and leave to germinate in a propagator or on some heating cables on a bench. Once the seedlings have surfaced, transplant when still in the seedling leaf stage into Jiffy 7 pellets and plant out from these during early April. These little pellets are ideal for this type of transplanting, they are a compacted pellet of fine peat and nutrients packed inside a fine nylon mesh. The quantity of pellets that your require are then placed in a bucket of water to swell out, warm water will make them swell out faster. They measure about 2 inches across and 2 inches in height and when swollen out, can be spaced out on a layer of compost in a tray so that the developing roots emerging through the net can continue to draw on nutrients until planting out time. Plant out the whole pellet complete with the net intact.
We should be far more adventurous in our quest to grow a wider variety of lettuce as the breeders have done marvellous development work over the past decade or so. We now have such a wide range of colours, textures and form that makes the humble lettuce much more appealing and even worth growing on the edge of a flower border. In order to try some of these newer types the seedsmen have put together a mixed packet of lettuce seed so that you have the opportunity to savour the taste of the different types.
There is a tendency amongst many growers to sow a complete row of lettuce in one go which will ultimately produce far more lettuce than you can possibly cope with. The best way is to sow little and often, open a short furrow an inch or so deep and a yard long and sow the seed sparingly before covering over by using a rake. When they have germinated, and the seedlings are an inch or so tall, they can be transplanted into another patch leaving some still in the original row. This very act in itself will stagger the harvest period and prevent a glut of lettuce.
There's no doubt that onions sets are certainly a boon to growers, none of the hassle of sowing seed, waiting for the germination and then titivating them through their seedling stage until you are able to plant them out. Onion sets are nothing more than onions grown from seed last year, harvested when an inch or so across and then kept in a temperature controlled environment to prevent bolting. For a really early start and to get bulbs to mature during early August, plant the sets now in small cells such as 24 cells per tray using a multipurpose compost. Before planting each bulb, trim off any of the dry and withered old foliage from the top of the bulb. This will allow the fresh young green shoots to push through without any hindrance. There is also a practical reason for this, when the bulbs are planted directly outside, the wisp of dry foliage moving around in the wind can attract the birds. The birds will then become curious and start tugging at the foliage resulting in the bulbs being pulled out of their rows. Keep your eye out for any bulbs that you may see sitting on the soil and re plant them immediately before the emerging roots wither away.
Parsley varieties - Unwins have Bravour at 99p per pkt - Suttons have Favorit at £1.25 a pkt.
Lettuce varieties - Unwins do an exclusive mixed packet called All Sorts at £1.79 a pkt
Suttons have a mixed lettuce packet at £1.25 a pkt
Cenaturion available from most seedsmen and at Garden Centres – try Marimba, a new variety.