The Parsnip is a pale cream-colored nutritional root vegetable similar in size and shape to a carrot. Sowing and growing parsnips is not difficult and easily manageable for most kitchen gardeners. If you can supply a little maintenance and a lot of patience you should expect to have a timely supply of sweet tapered root vegetables ready for picking around the autumn.
Nevertheless, the best recipe for successful annual harvests requires some seasonal outdoors pre-planning. Follow our nurturing tips and learn how to sow, grow, and pick perfect parsnips.
One of the big attractions of growing parsnips, is the fact that they can be left in the ground until you are ready to cook them. They are quite happy in the cold of winter - their normal harvesting time - and have the reputation of not being worth cooking until they endured a frost or two! If you cannot wait that long, then crop them younger - maybe mid-autumn - and enjoy them as a buttered mash!
Growing giant succulent parsnips is all about caring for them from seed. Even though most vegetable seeds keep good in the packet for a couple of years, avoid sowing old parsnip seeds or setting them too early.
Using fresh seeds is more likely to reduce germination failures and produce good results of uniform seedlings. The best time to grow your own parsnips in the UK from seed is by sowing the seed in late March or April. Sowings made in the winter months of February or even early March often results in failure.
Parsnips sown in temperatures less than 8c are unlikely to germinate. In essence, you should buy your parsnip seeds in the spring and plant them in springtime. It is best that you are a little patient, and wait for warmer soil that typically arrives during April and May.
If you want to sow earlier - use cloches – avoid exposing the seedlings to the winter weather until the sprouting parsnip tops display two full green leaves.
Follow these tips to reduce the risk of rootstock problems for your parsnips seedlings.
1. Sow 3 seeds at 6 inch intervals (15cm)
2. Bed the seedlings 0.5 inches deep (13mm)
3. Separate the rows 12 inches apart (30cm)
Parsnip seeds germinate typically between 2 to 4 weeks. Other vegetables and plants may already be shooting high, but you need to wait patiently for your parsnip tops to show. Irrespective of where you planted the seeds – in an allotment, in containers, or raised beds – when they reach one inch in height it is important to thin out the seedling stations and leave the strongest to grow. Periodically weed the rows by hand, particularly around the delicate rootlets, and keep the soil patch moist throughout the growing season to reduce splitting of the roots.
Impatient gardeners can stimulate seedling growth by depressing them into saucer-like container of moist tissue pads or cotton wool. The seeds should be kept warm and tiny white rootlets begin to shoot. You can plant the pre-germinated seeds in your favourite spot in the garden or use this method to replace any previous cultivation failures.
Thinning out the rows and stations encourages the roots to grow vigorously, bigger and fill out. Continue bi-monthly thinning until the plants are spaced approximately 10 inches (25cm) apart. From this stage do not over-water the parsnips. Searching for moisture deep down in the earth promotes bigger roots.
Patience is the secret formula to adopt because parsnip’s sweetness and depth of flavor is relative to the time they spend in the ground. Uniquely among most root vegetables, parsnips benefit from an extended stint of cold frosty weather before picking. A few extra winter months underground gradually sweetens the starch - improving the flavor quality, and overall root size.
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