Step-by-step guide to growing Parsnips
Pastitiaca saliva (fam. Umbelliferae)
Hardy biennial grown as an annual
Sowing to harvesting time: 6-11 months
Size: roots up to 45 cm (1-½) long
Yield: about 14, each weighing on average 360-450g (¾-1lb), per 3m (10’) row
Before the potato was introduced to Europe in the late sixteenth century, its place in European cooking was taken largely by the parsnip. Few vegetables are as easy to grow, as nutritious or as versatile. Parsnips are available as a fresh vegetable throughout the winter, actually improving as the winter progresses and frost gets to the roots. They can be baked, boiled or fried, while some people eat the leaves as a green vegetable, getting double value from their crop.
The problem with growing parsnips is that they have such a long growing season. They are among the first crops to be sown—as soon as theis workable in late winter or early spring—and then occupy the land for the rest of the year and are perhaps the last crop to be harvested. They can thus take up land which could be put to more profitable use growing a series of crops.
If you have ayou may decide against them for this reason— although you can raise a catch crop, such as radish or , before the parsnips are established in the spring. But if you have a fair piece of land, and especially if you do not have a lot of time, parsnips are an obvious choice.
Suitable site and soil
Soil is the all-important factor in growing parsnips. Do not bother with them if you have a thin gravelly soil, as you will only get small, misshapen roots. The best soil is friable, rich and slightly on the heavy side, although it should not be recently manured as this tends to cause forking, as do stones.
Do not worry if your soil is not the best, however. Almost all well-drained soils will produce a good crop of the shorter varieties although it is worthwhile to try and follow on to land manured for a previous crop. Simply dig the soil about 10 cm (4”) deeper than the length of your intended variety—this will be down to about 50 cm (20”) for the longer varieties—removing large stones. However, if your garden is very stony and removing all the stones is impractical, it may be worthwhile growing in boreholes as you would for exhibition.
Level the bed off, to give a fine tilth, a day or two before sowing—which will normally be as soon as conditions allow in the late winter or early spring. While you are preparing the bed, rake in a mixture of four parts by volume superphosphate, together with one part each of sulphate of ammonia and sulphate of potash, at the rate of 100 g per square metre (3-2- oz per sq yd).
Parsnips dislike very acid soil and do best in one which is slightly acid, neutral or slightly alkaline, so test the soil with a soil test kit, several weeks before preparing the seed bed. If necessary, add lime to achieve a pH of 6.5.
The site you choose for parsnips is not as important as the soil. They prefer an open, sunny site, but they will also grow quite happily in a lightly shaded plot.
The traditional time to sow parsnips is late winter but, unless the winter is mild, the soil is often frozen hard or too wet at this time. In most years you will probably have to wait until early spring before sowing. Although parsnips appreciate a long growing season, you can sow later still, up to late spring if you have to, and still get a worthwhile crop.
Sow the seed in a shallow V-shaped drill about 2 cm (¾”) deep. Take the drill out using the edge of a hoe. If you are sowing more than one row, space the rows 30-45 cm (12-18”) apart.
Parsnip seeds are fairly large—a little under a centimetre (about 1/2”) in diameter—but they are very thin and light. Sow three or four seeds at each station along the drill with about 15-23 cm (6-9”) between the stations, depending on the size of your variety. It is a good idea to sow several seeds at each station because, although most of them will germinate, you will then have a good choice when thinning and can ensure that there is a really strong seedling in each position. The seed does not store very well, so always use it fresh.
Because the seed is so light, it is inadvisable to try to sow on a windy day; wait until the weather calms down. One way of making life easier is to use pelleted seed. Several parsnip varieties are available in this form. The pelleted seed is heavier so it will not blow away.
After the seeds have been sown in the drill, cover them with soil (sifted soil is best for this) and firm down. Water if the weather is dry.
Germination takes three to four weeks, and in this time it is quite easy for the row of parsnips to be lost among newly germinated. Weed frequently and carefully. Many gardeners sow a quick-maturing catch crop, such as lettuce or radish, between the stations in the row. This not only gives you an extra crop but also helps to mark the row. If you do not wish to do this, leave your marking line in position until the seeds have germinated and the row of seedl- ings is obvious above the ground, so that there can be no unfortunate mistakes.
Care and cultivation
Once the parsnips are sown they need very little attention. When theare about 5 cm (2”) tall, thin all but the strongest at each station. Do not be tempted to use the thinnings; parsnip seedlings do not produce good roots after the check produced by transplanting. Water, particularly during the early stages of the crop, if the weather is dry, and weed frequently. Be very careful when using a hoe to remove weeds that you do not damage the shoulders of the developing roots. If you do damage them, you may open the way for attack by canker.