Growing delicious, wholesome parsnips is all about preparation, precision and patience. Follow these tips and soon you will find a wonderful growth of these tasty veggies ready for picking.
You need to prepare your row. When the soil has dried enough and doesn’t stick to the spade, you can then begin work on your parsnip bed. A spade’s depth of crumbly, loose soil without hard clods or stones is perfect. The soil must be well drained, but can contain reasonable amounts of clay as the particles hold moisture.
Don’t add compost or fertisilier at this stage as forked roots are caused by high nitrogen levels. You want to sow your parsnips in soil that held a well-fed crop (such as a salad greens or beans) the year prior.
The soil should be warmed to at least 10 degrees. In colder climates with shorter summers it’s ideal to sow parsnip seed at least a week or two after the lost frost of winter has passed. This allows plenty of growing time before autumn frosts. In warmer climates, it is good to wait until spring or early summer to produce the best result. Rake a shallow trench of about 1-2cm in depth and smoothen the surface with a plank of wood.
Sow fresh seed. You might want to sow yours thickly to compensate for erratic germination. Cover seeds with a thin layer of soil. Place the board on top of the soil and walk across to ensure the seeds are comfortably sitting in the soil. The seeds can dry out if there is too much air.
Watch the soil and weed where necessary. It is important to free up the row of weeds until the parsnip leaves great enough to shade out any weeds.
Begin the thinning process when the seedlings have two proper leaves. The tap roots grow powerfully during the early stages and you have to allow them the space to grow. To begin, thin them about 3cm apart. Thin again once the leaves begin to touch.
Continue thinning until parsnips are about 10-15cm away from one another. Later, thinnings may be large enough to roast.
Water regularly to ensure the soil remains moist. Mulch with straw or lawn clippings mixes with chopped up leaves to cut down on watering (and weeding).
After a couple of frosts your mature parsnips will be flavoursome and ready for harvesting. But you don’t have to dig them all at once. They’ll be comfortable in the cool winter soil, and will convert their starches into sweetness. They will continue to do so until you are ready to eat them. You don’t have to let them turn dry and inedible in the fridge.
If your parsnips are grown in a very light soil they may be small, and you might be able to pull them out like carrots. But there is a good chance you will have to dig to avoid damaging the crop. Whilst growing the perfect parsnip is an achievement, even if they don’t look amazing and are hard to peel they will still taste delicious.
The worst thing that can happen is if they fall victim to carrot rust fly larvae. These hatch from eggs laid in the soil which feeds on root crops. Crop rotation as well as insect mesh cover provides good protection from these nasty invaders. Companion planting with sage, onions and rosemary also goes a long way as these aromatic plants disguise the scent of parsnips and carrots, something the adult rust fly is attracted to. Mulching with new grass clippings also helps distract the fly.
Tip: Sow parsnips or carrots between rows fro spring onions to mask their scent.