The parsnip [ Pastinaca sativa ] is related to the carrot and was brought to Britain by the Romans. It is a very hardy root vegetable and is wonderful when roasted. It also makes a great addition to casserole, soups and stews and is a must for the Christmas dinner table. Parnips are quite easy to grow and require little maintenence. They can be left in the garden, even in the coldest weather. Parsnips are usually sown in early spring, and if successive sowings are made, parsnips can be harvested from autumn right through the winter.
Dont add fresh manure to the area you are going to sow your parsnips as this can cause to growing roots to fork or split. Parsnips can grow quite long and large, so a good deep, stone free soil is best. Like carrots, they prefer a well drained moisture retentive soil. The addition of horticultural sand or garden compost will help to lighten a heavy soil. Work your soil to a fine tilth ready for sowing.
Depending on the weather, the first sowings can be made in March. If the soil is cold or too wet then delay your sowing till April. Make a shallow drill in the soil and sow 3 seeds every 6 inches, 1/2 inch deep. Cover with fine soil and firm lightly. If sowing more than one row, space additional rows 12 inches apart. Sowings can be made up to early May.
Keep the parsnip seedlings moist, and when they are about 1 – 2 inches high, they can be thinned to one seedling every 6 inches. Keep the bed well weeded, and hand weed carefully around the roots to prevent damage. Water the growing roots in dry weather.
The parsnip roots are ready to lift when the foliage starts to die down in the autumn. Alternatively you can gently scrape away the soil around the top of the parsnip roots to check their size. Be careful when lifting, use a garden fork to get beneath the roots. Parsnips can be left in the ground till needed and will stand the frost and cold. It is said that parsnips are even sweeter when lightly frosted. If hard frost are forcast, the parsnips can be covered with straw or fleece to prevent the soil freezing hard, this means they can be lifted easily.
Varieties. Check out seeds at: www.seedparade.co.uk
Albion: Good wedge shaped roots with a smooth white skin. Good disease resistance.
Gladiator: Heavy cropping with good favour.
Palace: Good quality roots. Good disease resistance.
Tender and True: A reliable old favorite variety with good flavour.
Others to try: Archer or Avonresister.
Pests and Diseases.
Carrot Fly. Parsnips can be attacted by carrots fly, but the damage is not usually too bad. If you have a problem, grow under insect-mesh.
Parsnip Canker. Orange or brown coloured rot that starts at the top of the root. It can be caused by lack of water, the roots being damaged or the soil being over rich. Grown canker resistant varieties and dont sow too early in the year.