a vegetable that stores best in the soil and improves in flavour with cold and frosts
Parsnips are easy to grow, need little maintenance and can be left in the garden until you’re ready to use them.
The key is getting fresh seed and sowing them at the right time of year. Parsnip seeds will only germinate from material harvested the previous summer. This means fresh seeds have to be bought every spring to sow immediately.
Parsnips need loose, fertile soil that is free of hard clods of compacted soil, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
Sow directly into soil – you can’t transplant parsnips. Make a shallow trench and sow seeds evenly and not too thickly. Cover over with a sprinkling of soil and pat down firmly.
Parsnip seeds need a minimum of 8°C to germinate, but 10-12°C is ideal, and they take a long time germinate. You can expect to wait up to a month.
When the seedlings are about 2.5cm high, thin them out to about 15cm apart.
Parsnips need constant weeding for several weeks, but then the plants produce long, celery-like leaves that shade surrounding soil and inhibit weed growth.
Carrot fly can affect parsnips. It’s a small black-bodied fly whose larvae feed on the roots. The larvae tunnel into the vegetable causing them to rot.
If you have an attack of carrot fly, there’s nothing you can do. Prevention is the best cure. You should sow thinly and avoid crushing the foliage as you thin out seedlings and hand weed.
Parsnip canker can also occur. This orange, brown or purple-coloured rot usually starts at the top of the root. It is mostly caused by drought, over-rich soil or damage to the crown.
Just as they take a long time to germinate, so do parsnips take a long time to mature.
Sown in spring, you’ll have parsnips in the autumn. But they last in the soil over winter.
The roots are ready to lift when the foliage starts to die down in autumn. And like carrots, parsnips push up out of the ground when they reach their mature size. Use a digging fork to loosen the soil around parsnips before pulling them.