Parsnips – and how to grow them

Not my parsnips – Christina’s parsnips – aren’t they fantastic? Christina is a neighbour of ours on 235 and she was kind enough to donate these to the needy co-workers! If you can see the toothmarks on the largest root, it’s not giant rats, it’s Rebus the Cairn Terrier, (pictured up to his oxters in mud, below) who has a bit of a fetish for parsnips and managed to nip a bite off the end of that one as I was carrying it back to be photographed. He’s a good allotment dog, apart from this one foible.

So, why are parsnips considered difficult? Partly because the germination is so erratic. You must make sure your seed is less than 12 months old and even then it’s a bit hit and miss as to how many seedlings you’ll get.

To prepare the soil, dig in some well rotted organic matter in winter, and turn the topsoil over before planting seed. Sow in mid to late spring when the soil is warming and if you can, tread the soil gently (not sixteen stones of hobnailed boots) after planting. I have a scaffold plank that I lay over the row and walk along, but you can obviously only do this on a dry day or you’ll find the soil (plus seeds) is stuck to the underside of the plank when you lift it!

Seedlings should appear between 15 and 20 days and will need thinning when the first true leaves appear, to about four inches apart. If you have module plants or grew them in trays, transplant to the same distance and space the rows about 18 inches apart. I make the rows 2 feet apart and sow quick crops in between them because parsnips are in the ground for sooooo long.

If the weather becomes dry, water weekly and hoe carefully to remove weeds. Now, the best time to harvest is after a week of frosts or near frosts – so in my area that’s sowing in April and harvesting in late November, see what I mean about a long time in the ground (not that we have any in the ground this year, but next year we will!) and that’s why planting catch crops in between stops me losing the will to live while the parsnips mature. Extreme cold allows the starch in the parsnip to become a sugar compound, massively increasing the sweet and nutty flavour of the roots.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, December 6, 2008


Blogger Mark Hubbard said...

We've just had the first meal of the new seasons broad beans, tender little tasty things in melted butter, eaten only with tempura prawns cooked on the BBQ, and Wobbly Boot Beer.

It was heaven. :)

My broccoli, lettuces and capsicums are all coming on well.

December 6, 2008 at 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

I love parsnips! I had terrible germination rates this year but after sowing about 1000 seeds I managed to get a decent enough row. Looking forward to lots of spicy parsnip soup this year...yum.

December 7, 2008 at 6:23 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Started digging mine up this weekend and they're tiny - but I did put them in late.

December 8, 2008 at 7:59 AM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Mark, I'm envious - it's so unfair that you get summer while we're deep in winter! Good on you for the beans though.

Amy, you are not alone! It can help to sow parsnips around mid to late spring so that the soil is warm and to ensure your seed is not more than a year old. You want to sow about three seeds and inch and germination can take anything from 14 to 35 days. It's said that lightly rolling the soil really helps germination, but I can't find any research that explains why.

Claire - we love parsnip soup, especially with cheese bread or scones!

December 10, 2008 at 3:01 AM  

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