Growing Parsnips

ParsnipsBy Willi Evans Galloway, Organic Gardening Magazine

Root vegetables are all the rage! The chefs at all the hippest restaurants are cooking with roots, because they embody the flavors of the earth, sun, and rain. Gardeners know that carrots, beets, and other roots are easy to grow in well-worked, organic soil. Try growing parsnips in your garden this spring, and you’ll enjoy the homegrown taste throughout next winter. Parsnips taste sweeter after frost and don’t suffer if you leave them in the ground until you’re ready to eat them. Now, that’s my idea of cool.

Tip: Eat parsnips to keep those pesky winter pounds off and the sniffles at bay. One 9-inch root has an abundance of fiber (6 grams!), 2 grams of protein, and more than one-third the daily allowance of vitamin C. And they store easily, so you can enjoy homegrown all winter.

How To Plant

Sowing: Loosen the soil to a depth of 2 feet and remove rocks and clods. As soon as your soil can be worked, sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows that are 6 inches apart. Keep the seedbed evenly moist. Be patient. Parsnips can take more than two weeks to germinate.

Growing: When your parsnips are 6 inches tall, thin them to 3 inches apart. Put a layer of compost around the plants; then sit back and watch your crop grow until fall.

Harvesting: Parsnips mature in about 120 days. But the roots taste sweeter if they’re left in the ground until after the first hard frost. You can overwinter parsnips by covering them with a 2-inch later of mulch. Harvest the roots as needed throughout winter and spring. Finish harvesting before new growth begins.

Problem Solving

Parsnips rarely experience disease or pest problems. Rotating your crop on a three-year cycle prevents scab (Streptomyces scabies), a disease that causes corky scabs to form on roots; and soft rot, which causes water-soaked spots on the leaves and roots. Carrot rust flies (Psila rosae) lay eggs near the crown of plants, and their larvae burrow into parsnip and carrot roots, causing rotting and reduced yields. Cover your seedbed with a row cover to keep these pests away from your crop.

Market Guide

Fresh parsnips make an appearance at farmer’s markets in early spring and fall. Choose firm, bright white, medium-size roots. Shriveled roots tend to turn rubbery when cooked, and huge roots often have a woody core. Can’t find parsnips at your local supermarket? Ask your greengrocer – she’s probably stashed them in a dark corner with rutabagas

Beginners tip: Get two crops in the space of one! Simply use radishes to mark where you planted parsnips. Fast-growing radishes mature before parsnips need to be thinned.

Expert tip: Guarantee better germination by using a fresh packet of seeds (parsnip-seed viability drops off dramatically after 1 year) and soaking them overnight in compost tea before planting.

Best Varieties:

Andover – Sweet, slender roots with rounded crowns.

Cobham Improved Marrow – Beginning growers take note: These super sweet roots have notably better germination rates than other varieties.

Harris Model – Very white roots with smooth flesh and a subtle flavor. These babies have turned more than one skeptic into a connoisseur.