How to sow carrots and parsnips

Sowing carrots and parsnips
  • Carrots and parsnips are best sown directly into the ground.
  • Early spring is the best time to plant carrots and parsnips. They need an even amount of moisture to germinate well.
  • Root crops need free-draining soil that’s quite friable. If the soil gets compacted over winter, it’s best to loosen it up with fork. You don’t want big clumps in your soil as that will cause roots to fork.
  • Root crops thrive on phosphorus added to your soil. It sizes up the vegetables and allows them to grow quickly.
  • Applying fireplace ash adds phosphorus to the soil. Wood ash does alkalise soil though, so if you’ve already put lime on your bed, it would be best not to add wood ash.
  • Rob also applies handfuls of volcanic rock dust which is high in phosphorus and other minerals and low in nitrogen.
  • Rob uses his rototiller to work the wood ash and rock dust into the soil, but a fork will do just as well. We then rake over the bed so that it’s at an even height for seed sowing.
  • We’ve decided to divide our bed into 3 – one third carrots, one third beetroot, and one third parsnips. This is because all three vegetables take varying lengths to mature, so it’s best to leave them in an undisturbed area. Parsnips will grow all over summer and not be harvested until winter. On the other hand, we’ll eat our carrots all summer long.
  • The key to good germination of carrot and parsnip seeds is using fresh seed. You can’t use carrot or parsnip seeds that are more than a year old. Make sure you buy seed from a busy garden centre where the turnover is high, and always take a packet that’s at the back of the shelf or rack.
  • Pop your seed packets into the fridge for at least two weeks before using. This tricks the seeds into dormancy, so that when you bring them out they germinate quickly in the relative warmth.
  • When it comes to sowing carrot and parsnip seed, you can either broadcast it over the whole patch or sow it in lines. Rob prefers lines (which he makes with the end of the rake) because it’s easier to thin out. Also, he sows a row of onions or spring onions (in this case, baby purple onions) in between the rows of carrots to deter carrot fly.
  • If you’re going to hoop and net your bed, don’t make rows too close to the edge.
  • Rob has chosen to sow the carrot Scarlet Nantes – an old variety that has blunt, cylindrical roots, is very delicate and fine-grained, and contains almost no core.
  • Rob sows the seeds reasonably thickly because if the germination is not great, he’ll still get a good strike.
  • In between the rows of carrots, we recommend sowing spring onions or a small onion, because the smell of the onions keeps carrot fly away. In this case, Rob sows Purplette onions.
  • After sowing, use your rake to gently push a small amount of soil over the row, then using the back of the rake, stamp the ground down firmly to keep the moisture in the soil.
  • Plant your parsnips as for carrots, except give them a bit more space. They grow to about 50cms high. Rob likes the variety Hollow Crown.
  • Parsnip seed is bigger than carrot seed, so you can sow it slightly deeper than the carrots.
  • Finally we sow our beetroot seed. Rob likes Detroit Red, because they make good baby beets. Beetroot seeds don’t like being stamped down, so just cover the seed over with your hands.
  • The beetroot seeds will be up in 1-2 weeks, but the carrots and parsnips might take up to a month. Because of this, it’s worth netting your bed, as birds and animals can come in and disturb the seeds.
  • Rob uses Mikroclima to give the seeds a burst of warmth, but ordinary bird netting is also fine.


Camera: Jarod Murray
Editor: Thomas Asche
Production equipment and post-production services provided by The Black Forest Breathes