Although disliked by some people, anyone who enjoys the flavour of roast parsnips around the Sunday roast will really value having a winter long supply of thee tasty roots coming in from the garden. They occupy relatively little space in the garden. They have no fussy storage needs – you just leave them in the ground where the grew to overwinter.
Parsnips form best when direct seeded into fertile, well worked soil. Garden beds are full of rocks, clumps and other debris. The soil needs to be broken up, soft and loose to prevent parsnip deformities. When you use compost as a fertiliser, ensure that is it completely finished and free of organic clumps. These will cause the parsnips to misshape as they try to push through the thick clots of compost. Keep the seedbed weed free, water well and fertilise lightly to promote a healthy plant that is more resistant to pests.
How to Plant
Early sowings in the ground that is too cold and damp can be disappointing. Parsnips need a seedbed of fine tilth, free from stones, which has not been manured for 8-12 months. Delay sowing parsnips until April. Chose a still day for sowing parsnip seed as its light and papery and renowned for blowing out of the sowers hand! Sow seeds in groups of 4-5 seeds, set 6 inches apart in the row, with 12 inches between rows. Cover with ½ inch of fine soil.
They are sweeter and better flavoured once they get a touch of frost so they are better left to grow on until December. You can lift them and use them as needed right up to March/April. If there is a prolonged dry spell water the parsnips well. Keep your parsnips bed free of weeds and there is really no bother with them after that. The foliage of the plant dies back in the winter so you may need to mark the rows with sticks before this happens. Once they start to grow leaves again it is time to use them us as they will get woody if left much longer.
- Intercropping helps with growing parsnips – sow a quick maturing crop such as radishes in the rows between the much slower growing parsnips – it helps mark out the rows and makes weeding easier (they do not compete as they have different harvesting times)
- Some people lift a supply of parsnips regularly and leave them loosely covered by soil in a bed near the kitchen (called heeling in)