Volunteers in the Herb Garden… Parsley, caraway, and dill
Every gardener could use herb garden volunteers to help out once in a while. Especially when the volunteer tastes as good as some that are commonly found in the herb garden. Parsley, caraway, and dill are three commonly used herbs that will return on their own, year after year, once you get them started in the garden.
Dill is the easiest of this trio to start. Scatter a few seeds in a bare spot in the garden and you will soon be rewarded by the light green, lacy foliage, known as dillweed, followed by seed heads for use in pickling.
Plant in early spring and late summer for the best foliage growth; if started in summer the plants tend to flower quickly. Harvest dillweed for kitchen use by shearing the foliage. Wait until the seed heads begin to brown to gather them, and let a few heads remain to provide seed for volunteer plants next spring.
Many times the plants sown by nature will outperform the plants carefully sown by the gardener. If they start in spots where they are not welcome, you can let them grow for a few weeks before harvesting the entire plant
Because of its biennial nature, parsley doesn’t have quite the reputation of dill for voluntary seeding. Most gardeners remove the plants in the last garden cleanup of the season, before they have had a chance to bloom.
Leave the plants to over winter, and in the spring you can harvest the new growth for fresh use. The plants will soon flower and set seed which will sprout in the general vicinity and provide parsley for the summer and fall.
Establish parsley in the garden by transplanting seedlings into the garden two to three weeks before the last frost of the spring. In order to have nice sized seedlings at that time, sow the seed indoors ten to twelve weeks beforehand. The seed is slow to germinate, but will eventually sprout if kept moist.
Some gardeners use tricks such as soaking the seed in water, freezing the seed, or pouring boiling water over the soil after planting the seed. These may speed up germination somewhat, but it is just as easy to start early and be patient.
Parsley may be slow to start, but caraway can be slow and difficult. The seed is viable for only a short time and may not survive winter storage so germination is relatively poor from packaged seed.
Freezing the seed for a few days before sowing can improve germination. This hardy plant can be seeded directly outside where it is to grow. One plant will produce a prodigious amount of seed, so unless you really like rye bread, raise just a few plants. Like parsley, caraway is a biennial and will only produce a rosette of leaves the first year of growth.
The next season will bring the umbels of flowers with their abundant seed, and if you leave just one seed head you will have plenty of volunteer plants to choose from. The seed that falls to the ground is as fresh as can be and will not suffer the viability problems of purchased seed.