Parsnips are a staple crop in traditional kitchen gardens for good reason - they require very little work, are easy to grow and the resulting harvest is delicious and rewarding to dig straight from the garden even in the depths of winter. Parsnips taste great in a winter warming soup, mashed with potato or as an accompaniment to a traditional roast.
Where To Grow
Parsnips will not thrive in freshly manured ground - very rich soil will give you lots of leaf growth but a poor root and therefore disappointing harvest.
An area which has been manured in the previous season for an earlier crop would be ideal - remove stones and dig over with home made compost prior to sowing to improve the soil without it becoming over rich.
As with most vegetables Parsnips prefer an open sunny site, but they will also tolerate some light shade.
Parsnip seeds should be direct sown outdoors from April to June, once the the ground is workable. They need temperatures of around 12c so if you are sowing early use a Cloche or Easy Fleece Tunnel to warm the soil first - if the soil is cold or wet the seed is liable to rot.
Sow 1 cm deep in rows 30 cm apart and thin out at the seedling stage- protection with Easy Seedling Tunnels will aid germination, which can take up to three weeks.
A catch crop between the rows will help suppress weeds and deter pests - Rocket or Radish would work well.
Growing in Containers
If you short of space or don’t have open ground to plant in you can still raise a crop of parsnips - try a Vegetable Planter and enjoy a few small, sweet parsnips for your Christmas lunch - take extra care to keep them watered as pots can dry out more quickly.
Once your parsnips seedlings are a few centimetres tall, thin out to 15 cm apart.
Parsnips don’t like to dry out and will need regular weeding between rows - be careful to avoid damaging the crowns of the developing plants - a Speedhoe will make the job quick and easy.
Harvesting & Storage
You can begin harvesting when the foliage begins to die down in mid Autumn but the best tasting parsnips are lifted after the first frosts - you can leave them in the ground and harvest what you need until late Winter.
If you have sensitive skin then consider wearing gloves when harvesting or weeding around the plants as they can cause skin irritation in some people.
Pests & Diseases
Parsnip Canker can be an issue especially in acid or over rich soils so avoid heavy manuring.
A Micromesh Pest & Wind Barrier is a sensible precaution if your area is prone to Carrot Fly which can also attack Parsnips, Celeriac, Parsley and Celery - rotate your crop to avoid this becoming a persistent problem.