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cab

[in progress]Growing Parsnips - not as hard as you think

(it occurs to me that while I'm chitting seed for this year, and while I have pics of a really humorous parsnip from last year, and some of the plants growing too, now is the time to do this article. I'll be coming back to pick at this and write it over the next couple of weeks, please add comments and thoughts to be included as I go along)

Why are you telling us how to grow parsnips?
One of the most common crops for our members to have a problem with is the humble parsnip. Thats a shame, because few vegetables are as trouble free, tasty, nutritious and productive. And with a little care and just a tiny bit of extra effort you can go from the parsnip being a dubious, difficult crop to one of your star performers.

So, briefly, what do I need to do to produce excellent parsnips

Sow them, mark the row carefully, weed, water, harvest. Thats it. In a good year. It isn't always that simple though, and here lies the problem with parsnips.

With most other veg, you can open a seeds packet, sow a few, come back a week or a fortnight later and you'll see plenty of growth. Parsnips, however, are slow to grow. They take weeks, it seems, before you see anything. Which means you'll come back later and if your plot is like mine you've got a sea of gree weeds that might or might not have parsnips, and it'll take ages of hands and knees weeding to see whether you have anything worth keeping.

But you can improve your chances through careful preparation of the ground, clear marking where you've sown, and juducious use of a method called 'pre-chitting' to make the appearance of young plants in the ground more rapid. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, we should address a couple of other points first.

Selecting parsnips to sow, where to grow them, how to prepare the soil

Which variety you choose isn't as important with parsnips as with many other vegetables. There are differences of course, but it isn't as drastic as it is with carrots, beetroot or potatoes; of all of the common root vegetables, you'll find less to choose between parsnip varieties than many other plants.

I favour 'the student', 'tender and true', and 'countess f1'. If you want to grow smaller parsnips then try 'lancer' or 'arrow'.

It is very important for your parsnips seeds to be fresh; buy a new packet every year, its worth it, because both the rate of germination and the proportion that germinate decline rapidly with age.

Now you've got an idea which ones to get, you can also think about getting the soil ready. This is pretty much as for any root crop; somewhere you manured a previous year is good, I follow my brassica rotation with roots, although I sometimes stick parsnips in where I had my potatoes. Either way, you want a well prepared site, give a feed with bone meal or growmore a week or two before you sow, make sure its as free of weeds as you can tolerate doing. And, like any root, you want the soil to be as stone free as you can get it, and at least reasonably deep.

I like to get mine in some time around the start of March; don't hurry it though, and be prepared to base sowing time on the season. If you're half way through February and the weather forecast says it'll be glorious for the next week or two then get out there and get sowing, but if its wet and claggy, leave off for a while. If the soil is cold and wet the seed will rot before it germinates.

When you're ready to sow, mark out your row carefully with string tied between two sticks. Sow the seeds thinly (I like to sow them in threes, about six inches apart, but I'm often a bit more generous), cover lightly with soil, and water in. If you have something like a beach wind break then that might help you; the seeds are light and can easily blow out of your hands.

Once you've sowed your seed leave the string where it is. It'll help you find the seedlings later if you know where they'll be. Some old timers sow radish or lettuce seeds to fill in the row, the idea being that it marks where the parsnips are, and while that idea has merit I don't find that those crops germinate very well that early in the season and the technique doesn't work well; a better approach for later sowings. This is also a good idea if you've only got a small plot; you can take advantage of the slow germination of parsnips to get a quick crop of one of these faster growing plants.

Now while the method above will work most years, if you're a parsnip fan like me then you might like to try this other, more certain technique. I would reccomend that you should do some the way I've just described, and some more by the pre-chitting technique that I'm about to describe. The worst that is likely to happen is that only one lot works, the best is that you'll have loads of parsnips...

Pre-chitting parsnip seeds
By far the most common problem with parsnips is that they don't germinate very well or, more often, they germinate fine but the weeds germinate better. One way to get aroudn this is to sow a little later, which can sometimes help, but to be sure I pre-chit some seeds now.

What you do is simple enough; start out with a plastic sandwich box, put some wet kitchen towel in the bottom, scatter the seeds on, put another sheet of moist kitchen towel on top. Put the lid on, and leave it for a few days. After anything up to a week, the seeds should have germinated. You can carefully sow the pre-germnated seeds as you would un-germinated seeds, taking care not to damage the young roots.

It may sound unlikely, but this simple method can reduce germination time in the soil by as much as a fortnight.

Care for your parsnips

You've sown the seeds, pre-chitted or not... Now you wait. And wait. You see, they're slow to germinate, they take a few weeks to become visible. What will probably happen is that you'll have to go looking for the seedlings amid weeds. Don't let the patch become too bad while you wait; if there are weeds there away from your marker string then hoe them down without mercy. But be patient.

Don't let the 'sniplings dry out entirely. They're tough, but a dry spell could do for them.

When they appear, think the to one per position, and water them as soon as you have done so. Keep them weeded reasonably well (don't be too desperate, it doesn't matter THAT much if the plot is pristine), water if they look like they're really suffering, and wait. They need a good long season, you want to wait till the weather turns cold (although they may be better after a frost, you can pick them earlier and they'll still be scrummy).

To harvest, get a spade, work around the 'snip carefully, looseing as you go. Once it is loose it should pull out. Careful if you use a fork, you can easily end up damaging the root as you work it loose with a fork.

I find it easiest to keep them in the ground till I need them; I usually hope to have them coming out of the soil until March, by which time they're starting to sprout again. Thats a bad thing, it means they'll go woody. To prevent that, go along the row when they start to show a green leaf again and work them a little loose with a spade. You're aiming to break the tap root (you can often feel it and hear it go), to stop the plant growing for long enough such that you can finish eating them.

Problems with parsnips

Generally, the 'snip is a trouble free plant. But there are some pests and diseases to look out for...

(more to follow)
Blue Peter

Re: [in progress]Growing Parsnips - not as hard as you think

cab wrote:
Sow them, mark the row carefully, weed, water, harvest. Thats it. In a good year. It isn't always that simple though, and here lies the problem with parsnips.

Mostly, you can open a packet of seeds, sow a few, come back a week or a fortnight later and you'll see plenty of growth. Parsnips, however, are slow to grow. They take weeks, it seems, before you see anything. Which means you'll come back later and if your plot is like mine you've got a sea of gree weeds that might or might not have parsnips, and it'll take ages of hands and knees weeding to see whether you have anything worth keeping.


FWIW, it took me a while to process the second paragraph. You end the first talking about parsnips, you then talk about opening a packet of seeds, which I took as parsnips, and then I wandered off down the path of thinking you were saying that sometimes you come back and get a lot of growth, but because parsnips are slow, sometimes you don't.

So, "packet of seeds of most vegetables" or something?


Peter.
BahamaMama

If you station sow it can be useful to interplant with a quick crop (lettuce or radish) to mark where the parsnips will pop up later.
cab

Re: [in progress]Growing Parsnips - not as hard as you think

Blue Peter wrote:
cab wrote:
Sow them, mark the row carefully, weed, water, harvest. Thats it. In a good year. It isn't always that simple though, and here lies the problem with parsnips.

Mostly, you can open a packet of seeds, sow a few, come back a week or a fortnight later and you'll see plenty of growth. Parsnips, however, are slow to grow. They take weeks, it seems, before you see anything. Which means you'll come back later and if your plot is like mine you've got a sea of gree weeds that might or might not have parsnips, and it'll take ages of hands and knees weeding to see whether you have anything worth keeping.


FWIW, it took me a while to process the second paragraph. You end the first talking about parsnips, you then talk about opening a packet of seeds, which I took as parsnips, and then I wandered off down the path of thinking you were saying that sometimes you come back and get a lot of growth, but because parsnips are slow, sometimes you don't.

So, "packet of seeds of most vegetables" or something?


Peter.


Good point, does that look better now?
cab

BahamaMama wrote:
If you station sow it can be useful to interplant with a quick crop (lettuce or radish) to mark where the parsnips will pop up later.


Do you find that helps? I ask 'cos I know people do it, but I've rarely found it useful.
BahamaMama

cab wrote:
BahamaMama wrote:
If you station sow it can be useful to interplant with a quick crop (lettuce or radish) to mark where the parsnips will pop up later.


Do you find that helps? I ask 'cos I know people do it, but I've rarely found it useful.


Sometimes - I only mentioned it as an option and a way of making the most of your growing area if you only have a very small patch.
cab

BahamaMama wrote:
cab wrote:
BahamaMama wrote:
If you station sow it can be useful to interplant with a quick crop (lettuce or radish) to mark where the parsnips will pop up later.


Do you find that helps? I ask 'cos I know people do it, but I've rarely found it useful.


Sometimes - I only mentioned it as an option and a way of making the most of your growing area if you only have a very small patch.


Thats a good point, that I haven't yet put in. Shall do Smile
Blue Peter

Re: [in progress]Growing Parsnips - not as hard as you think

cab wrote:

Good point, does that look better now?


Yes, thanks,


Peter.
BahamaMama

Very Happy
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