Secrets of Planting, Growing and Harvesting Parsnips
I give you the humble Parsnip – also know as Forked parsley and Devils carrot. Parsnips are native to the Mediterranean region and have been a popular European food since at least the ancient Romans. They also tend to be a ‘Marmite’ Vegetable – you either love em or hate them and despite many claims are NOT the easiest vegetable to grow.
Parsnips usually have a long creamy white root with top feathery leaves that resemble those of celery, which is not surprising seeing as it is a member of the Umbelliferae family also comprising of parsley, dill, fennel and carrots. Parsnips can be baked, mashed or made into chips and fritters.
How to Grow Parsnips
The secret to being successful with Parsnips really is to have suitable soil. As you are dealing with a root vegetable, deep, fertile, and sandy soil is best. If your soil is clay, stony, or shallow, I suggest you instead grow short-rooted parsnip varieties as normal Parsnips have an effective rooting depth of 35 to 45cm so need to grow in deep, sandy soils. A soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is adequate for growth. Acid soils should be limed before planting and heavy soils and stony soils are really not suitable. If you want to be successful with growing parsnips you really should test the pH of your soil prior to planting, testing kits are cheap and can save you a lot of wasted effort.
Parsnips have a very long growing season, occupying the ground for nearly a year, so think carefully about where to plant them. Choose a sunny site well away from trees, although parsnips can tolerate partial shade they will do much better in a sunny spot. Sow seed early in March, in deeply cultivated ground. Best planted at soil temperatures between 6°C and 21°C.
Make the rows 2 ft. apart and utilize the space in between for radishes or lettuces. Sow 1/2 in. deep. The seed may take a month to germinate, so do not be alarmed at slow progress. As soon as the plants have four leaves, thin out to a little over 1 ft. apart. When they have done growing, at the end of October, take the plants up with a fork and expose them to the frost at night. They are then a sweeter flavour. If you leave them in the ground, they will be attacked by wireworms and so spoilt for use. Parsnips will help your winter kitchen full of vegetables. During a long period without rain (week or more) you should water gently but deeply once a week. The Student is a popular variety, it’s medium-sized, wide tops, and one of the best tasting.
Time from planting to harvest is from 12 to 16 weeks. When the soil is moist you can grasp the leaves and carefully lever out the root from beneath with a hand fork, then shake off the soil. Lift the parsnips as required, leaving the rest in the soil until you require them.
Parsnip Growing Tips
- The day before sowing soak your parsnip seeds overnight, it “softens” and makes for faster germination
- Always sow fresh seed, Parsnip seeds older than a year are unlikely to germinate
- Dig in some sand – it helps drainage as well as allowing the soil to warm up in spring
- Avoid fresh manure or compost as it can cause the roots to fork
- Plant directly where you want to grow, transplanting causes the roots to fork instead of growing straight
- Avoid planting in pots and containers are too small for the long tap root to adequately form
- Growing parsnips from cuttings results only in foliage and flowers (seeds!), it wont give you another tap root to harvest