Parsnips are a wonderful winter vegetable, and roast meals just wouldn’t be the same without them. Find out more about the kinds that are considered our Best Buys and how to grow them.

Parsnips

Parsnips have been developed throughout the years to produce shorter, rounder roots rather than longer, tapering ones. We were aiming for cultivars that produced a large crop of smooth-skinned, unblemished roots, as this would result in less food being thrown away in the kitchen.

This is how we evaluate parsnips.

We tested 16 different kinds, the majority of which were recent F1 hybrids (the offspring of crosses between selected parent strains), including “Tender and True,” an old standby that was one of our favourites. In April, the seed was sowed directly into the ground that had been prepared at our testing location. Each variety was sown in a double row that was 4 metres long and had a spacing of 35 centimetres between rows. After the seedlings were trimmed down, there should be one plant between 7.5 and 10 centimetres apart. We had envisioned having 80 plants of each kind so that we could harvest and evaluate 20 roots in July (as baby parsnips), 20 roots in December (for Christmas dinner), and 20 roots in March. Our original plan was for 80 plants total (to check how well they survived the winter). We used fleece to cover the plots since parsnips are sensitive to infestation by the carrot root fly.

When to plant seeds

The months of March and April are ideal for planting parsnips, although the crop can be started as late as May. (which may work best in colder areas.)

You will need a soil that is deep, stone-free, and free-draining, preferably sandy, in order to cultivate healthy parsnips. If the soil in your yard isn’t conducive to plant growth, you might want to consider growing your plants on raised beds that are packed with sieved soil to a depth of at least 20 centimetres. Parsnips are similar to carrots in that they have a low nutrient requirement. They will not grow properly on soil that has recently been fertilised, so avoid growing them there. Even if the seed is fresh, there is no guarantee that it will germinate quickly. Have patience, mark the rows, and carefully pull the weeds. Spread the seed lightly, and then remove surplus seedlings until there is only one remaining per 7.5 to 10 centimetres. There is also the option of sowing a few seeds at this spacing and then removing all of the seedlings that aren’t the best ones. The timing is really difficult. Even while it’s tempting to start sowing early, there are some years when the soil just isn’t warm enough. It is important to water the seed bed in order to encourage uniform germination. After that, you shouldn’t water the top layer of soil, since this will stimulate the roots to grow deeper in the ground in quest of moisture. To prevent the infestation of carrot fly, cover the bed with a fine insect-roof mesh.

When and how to gather the harvest

When to harvest: July to April

You can begin harvesting the roots as soon as they reach a width of 2 centimetres, which is typically between July and August, but save the majority of them for the holidays and winter. After a few of frosts, the flavour of the roots ought to start to become sweeter. Lift the roots carefully with a fork to prevent any damage to them. If you leave parsnips in the ground, they will continue to be in fine condition until March or April, when they will begin to regrow. Because it is a biennial plant, a parsnip will produce a massive flowerhead in the second year after it has been planted. In the event that the winter is very harsh, you can either lift your crop and store it in paper sacks in a location that is cold but not susceptible to frost, or you can cover the row with straw or several layers of fleece.

Problems that are more prevalent

Fly on the carrot root

If you want to protect your plants from the larvae of the carrot fly, which can cause damage by burrowing into the roots of the plant, grow them behind a tiny insect-proof mesh. Find out more about the carrot fly here.

Canker of the parsnip

Parsnip canker manifests itself on the roots as spots that can be either black or orange. The patches are most frequently found in close proximity to the plant’s crown and the shoulder of the roots. When the condition is severe, the roots break and become rotten.