Parsnips are a vegetable that will sit quietly in a bed through the summer almost until you’ve forgotten they are there and then suddenly you have a crop of purest white, tender roots to invigorate a roast meal and spice up a soup or stew. This is an ideal vegetable for those in cooler parts of the country as parsnips taste all the sweeter for spending some time in frosted ground before harvest. Hollow crown is an old variety of Heirloom parsnip that is so sweet you could try making marmalade from it.
Companions Peas, lettuce,
Quantity 10 plants per person.
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Parsnip varieties: Thanks to their general hardiness, parsnips are grown all year round. The type and depth of soil you have is most likely to affect the varieties you choose to grow.
Guernsey an heirloom variety dating back to the 14th century. Needs room for its bushy green tops to spread – at least two hands’ lengths in all directions. Store well in the ground through winter but pull them before the start re-sprouting when warm spring weather arrives.
Hollow Crown heritage variety with large tapering roots that have mild-flavoured white flesh.
Sow them as early as possible in spring when weather and soil conditions permit. August to November.
Preferably a sunny and sheltered part of your garden although parsnips can also grow quite happily in light shade .
Like carrots and beetroot parsnips produce a root that grows best in a deeply dug sandy soil with a good amount of organic material mixed into it. Ideally you’d be planting them in a part of the garden that was composted for a previous crop – say cabbages, broccoli or silverbeet as these hungry plants take up a lot of nitrogen that parsnips don’t really need. Potassium is a nutrient that helps parsnips grow well and a ready source of this is in untreated wood ash from a wood burning stove if you have one. Simply sprinkle on the surface as if you were icing a cake then dig the ash into your bed and mix well with the soil before sowing seed. A light dressing of lime added to soil a few weeks before sowing seed will also help towards a good crop of parsnips 4 to 5 months down the line.
If soil has too much nitrogen in it due to over-manuring or soil does not drain sufficiently well roots can be affected by canker and rust. To avoid these spoilers it is worth getting your soil mix right from the start.
You can sow seed in rows or scatter them across an area. To guarantee as good a crop as possible group three or four seeds together about a finger’s length apart. You want to plant them about a finger-tip deep. After about 4 weeks when they have sprouted you can then thin out the weaker seedlings and leave the strongest to grow on.
Keep your seedlings moist and weed free. Once they get to about a hand’s length in height you can mulch them with pea straw or untreated wood chips or shavings to maintain constant moisture and suppress weeds. Because they take upwards of 5 months to reach maturity you may want to plan some inter-planting with lettuces, bok choi, radishes and other shallow-rooted fast growers that can productively utilize the otherwise occupied space.
Can be affected by canker and rust – this is caused by too much nitrogen in the soil (too heavily composted) or if parsnips are sown too early. Roots will also rot is soil has poor drainage.
Tender, young parsnips can be pulled in summer. Otherwise, just to coincide with soup, stew and roast season mature parsnips should be ready for pulling from autumn into winter. The large leafy tops to your parsnips will start to turn yellowish when they are at their optimal best. As long as you soil does not get too water-logged, you can leave parsnips in the ground through winter and harvest when you need them. If you are in a cooler part of the country with regular winter frosts then mulch the crowns for protection until you need them for the kitchen.
Leaving a few parsnips in the ground after harvest to flower in the following year will help bring in useful predators such as hoverflies.