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How to grow tasty parsnips
5 Apr

How to grow tasty parsnips

Posted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips

Tradition has it that parsnips are among the first vegetable seeds to sow in spring, and if you check the helpful instructions on the back of seed packets you will see that some varieties of parsnip, such as ‘Tender and True’, can be sowed as early as February. Parsnip is one of the slowest vegetable seeds to germinate, taking up to four weeks, so starting it off early in the year ensures a long growing period and plenty of time for the plants to push their long, white roots deep into the soil. The problem with sowing so early is that the ground will be cold and the chances are that the seed will just sit there and rot. If you ask fellow veg growers about parsnip germination you are more than likely to hear tales of woe.

Help is to hand. Modern varieties of parsnip (eg ‘Gladiator’ F1) have been produced for sowing later when the ground and air temperatures are warmer and germination more likely to be successful. I waited this year and sowed my parsnip seed (‘The Student’) in the last week of March, so if you are planning on growing this delicious vegetable, here are a few helpful suggestions before you make a start:

  • The first golden rule with parsnip is that the seed doesn’t keep – so discard that old packet and buy fresh seed each year.

  • Prepare the ground well before sowing, ideally removing as many stones as possible so that the roots can reach straight down and are less likely to fork.

  • Create a shallow drill, 5cm deep, and sow small groups (‘stations’) of seeds every 15cm or so. Once the seedlings appear, thin out to one strong plant per station so they have room to develop.

  • Because parsnip takes so long to germinate, sow radish seed along the same row. Radish is one of the fastest seeds to germinate and will act as a marker until the small, green parsnip leaves finally appear. You can enjoy the radishes while you wait!

  • Don’t be tempted to transplant parsnip seedlings. If the fragile roots of even the tiniest plants are disturbed, they won’t develop properly and the resulting crop will be disappointing.

  • If you want to grow champion parsnips, drive deep holes in the soil using a crow bar, fill with fine, sandy compost and sow parsnip seeds at the top.

Once they get going, parsnips are a surprisingly easy vegetable to grow. They manage well without being watered in dry weather and should produce longer roots which search for moisture deep in the ground.

When it comes to lifting you first wonderful parsnips, wait – if you can – until after the first frost which will greatly increase the sweetness and flavour by encouraging the starch in the plants to convert to sugar. Parsnips are best roasted, perhaps par-boiled for a minute or two first and then coated with flour and finely grated parmesan cheese. Or try making curried parsnip soup – just the job for a cold winter’s day!

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