Parsnips are a member of the cow parsley family that include carrots, dill, parsley and fennel and they are one of my favourite root vegetables of all. They come a very close second, in my opinion to carrots. Roasted parsnips with a little honey drizzled over are truly delicious. They have a sweet taste that improves in flavour if left to experience a few frosts. The can be boiled, roasted, mashed or even made into cakes. See my recipe here for Parsnip and Nut cake.
Parsnips require a really long growing season and are in the ground for a very long length of time. They are sown very early on in the year, sometimes as early as February and may not be harvested until well after December, so it is worthwhile bearing this in mind when planting them; especially if space if of a premium. You can always grow a catch crop of vegetables in between the rows before the parsnips have time to develop fully. They prefer a rich, stone free soil but don’t plant in soil that has been recently manured as this will cause the roots to fork.
Parsnip seeds are notoriously bad for germination so it is advisable to buy fresh parsnip seeds each year. Failing that, if you do have some left over seeds, you can always pre-chit them to test for the seeds validity prior to planting them out.
To prechit your seeds simply place some kitchen towel in a plastic container and apply enough water so that the paper is moist but not dripping wet. Scatter your parsnips seeds thinly over the paper and apply a second layer of moist kitchen paper over the top. Either place a plastic lid or cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about a week until the seeds develop the first tap root. Do not allow the tissue paper to dry out. Spray with a little warm water to dampen the paper if it appears dry.
The tiny root that will appear from the bottom of the seed is called the radicle. At the first sign of this root developing, that is the best time to remove the seed, very gently with a pair of tweezers, into its final growing position. If the seed is left too long on the paper, you may find it difficult to remove without damaging the newly formed root. If that does happen, don’t despair. Simply remove the section of paper that the seed is attached to and plant the whole thing. The paper will biodegrade and the seed will have suffered no ill effects.
Dan at allotment diary did a fantastic video about chitting parsnips and it can be found by clicking the link below.
The beauty of prechitting your seed is that you can see which seed is viable and will hopefully grow on into a fine specimen, you can space them out at the required intervals to reduce the need for thinning later and on and you haven’t wasted money by throwing away perfectly good seeds and having to spend more money on replacing them.
Parsnips are also one of the vegetables that can be grown for exhibitions. There have been some staggering lengths of parsnips. Peter Glazebrook, a world record breaker when it comes to growing prize vegetables, managed to grow one that was 18.5 feet in length!
Parsnips need to be spaced 6″ (15cm) apart and sited no deeper than 0.5″ (1cm) deep in rows 12″ (30cm) apart. Some gardeners prefer to sow 3 seeds per station due to poor germination rates, and thin to one plant at a later date but I tend to prefer to skip this step as I prechit my seeds. Cover the seeds lightly with soil and water in gently. Parsnips prefer soil that is stone free. If the emerging root hits a stone it will cause the parsnip to fork and produce distorted roots. Growing parsnips in pipes or tubes and filling with stone free compost or soil alleviates this problem.
See my post here on how I use the plastic pipe for growing parsnips.
Parsnips do well in soil that has been slightly warmed so a covering of plastic or cloche before planting is beneficial. You can also grow them under protection for a few months after the seed has grown. It won’t do it any harm. Regular hoeing between the rows will help to keep them weed free but be careful not to damage the top of the plant.
Parsnips can be left in the ground over winter especially after they taste a little better after they have experienced a few frosts. They can left in the ground over winter but they may be difficult to get out of the ground if it frozen. They can be harvested in the autumn after the foliage starts to turn brown. After you have removed them from the ground, store in a cool, dry place until needed. Don’t leave them in the ground any longer than January or they may start to regrow!
Pests, problems and diseases
Parsnips can suffer from a disease called canker. This is a disease that cause the tops of the roots to turn a horrible brown/orange colour and rots the root from the top. It can be eradicated by either growing canker resistant varieties or by ensuring that the plants are not grown in overly rich soil or suffer from lack of water.
Parsnips can also succumb to carrot root fly so a fine netted protection can help combat this.
- Tender and True
- White Spear