Anyone who has ever tried to grow parsnip has figured out that their seeds are only viable for a short time and must be used or replaced quickly and frequently.
Parsnip is a proud member of the cow parsley family, which includes carrots, dill, fennel, parsley, and many others.
They’re a bit of a trickier vegetable to grow and not highly recommended for brand new growers. But as a health food, they come with a chock-full of good things.
So if you’re into a challenge and maybe even improving your overall health, then growing parsnips could be on your radar.
But as we said, they’re a bit harder to grow, so where do you start? Well, you start at the beginning of course.
How to Grow
The first thing you’ll need to know is that they are persnickety.
There are a lot of steps involved when growing them and while they’re not the most difficult vegetable in the world to grow, they’re not a walk in the park.
But we’re going to teach you all the ways you’ll need to know to grow parsnips in your own backyard. You’ll be enjoying them in a salad before you know it.
It always begins with this. The first thing you need is to check what time of the year it is.
Parsnips grow best in warm air before they’ll even germinate, which means you’ll need temperature at about 12C (52F) before you can expect to start seeing anything.
The seed packet might tell you that February is a good month to sew in, but we recommend actually waiting until April, in the middle of spring.
Planting them too early, when temperatures are cool, can cause the seeds to die. The seeds also have a short shelf-life, so it’s best to purchase a new packet each time.
Seedlings will start popping out in 2-3 weeks, and the plant matures within 16-24 weeks.
Next, you’ll need to learn how to take care of your cultivating parsnip-lings.
Soil and Site
If you’ve planted them in the correct place, they’ll start to grow in no time at all.
Parsnips are going to enjoy an open environment with deep, sandy soil or else well-dug, heavy clay-based soils.
You’ll also want to place their spot in bright, sunny goodness for maximum effect.
Before planting, water the area liberally to help fix the seeds where they’re planted for stability.
It’s recommended that you sow in a couple of rows about a foot apart.
Make sure the area is dug very deeply with the rows marked out with a rake beforehand.
Protecting Seeds in the Ground
The seeds are highly coveted by wild animals like birds, so it’s best to stretch some chicken wire around them for added protection.
If your weather has a tendency to get dry, make sure to water frequently and keep an eye out for any choking weeds.
You’ll need to wait about 2-3 weeks before you can begin thinning them out.
After all, they won’t all germinate, so thinning them out gives the strong, healthy ones a better chance at growing properly.
Once you’ve done all this, plant them about a half of an inch deep and lightly cover.
Determine the spacing by the size of the roots, with 10cm for small ones and up to 20cm for large ones.
In thinning, you remove excess seeds that didn’t germinate, giving the healthy seeds more room to spread out.
You’ll also want to hoe frequently to create a tilth, which allows air and moisture to circulate through the soil.
3. Pests and Diseases
This is always a major concern for farmers and gardeners. What sort of plant disease or pest may get in and how do we deal with them?
You’ll especially want to watch out for aphids and leaf miners.
The carrot root flies are also a major problem. As the name implies, they seem to favor tuber vegetables such as carrots or even parsnips.
As a parsnip grower, you won’t have a ton to deal with regarding this pest, but keep an eye out regardless. Just cover the crops with a micromesh mini tunnel to keep them at bay.
Parsnip canker is another common problem that you’re very likely to face. Drought or damage to the crown are the two biggest causes.
However, it can be treated by making sure you have good drainage, practicing good crop rotation, flat out delay sowing until May, or earthing them up in summer.
4. Harvesting and Storage
This is everyone’s favorite part — the part that all farmers drool over from the very beginning of planting season.
After all, this is where all of your hard, earnest work pays off in spades, assuming you did the work correctly. And assuming that you did, you’re probably wondering how to harvest parsnips.
As mentioned earlier, it takes about 120 to 180 days for a parsnip to go from a seed to a mature root that is ready for harvest.
They are usually ready from October on through the end of the year. It’s actually recommended that they are left in the ground and harvested as needed so they stay fresher.
In fact, and this is going to sound bonkers, you’ll be advised to leave them in the ground until after the frost. The starch in the vegetables is changed into sugar from the freezing temperatures, which makes them even sweeter.
This is the true epitome of a winter vegetable since once grown, it appears to survive and positively thrive in cold weather. That’s not to say you can’t harvest them preemptively.
If you decide to do this, be sure to bag them and refrigerate them for two weeks to help the roots sweeten up. Honestly, it’s best to let nature handle this one to sweeten them for you.
Of course, you may have a wetter garden, which will force you to dig them up early. They can be easily stored in sand-filled boxes in a weather-proof shed for easy access.
What do Parsnips Taste Like?
They have a similar taste to carrots, but sweeter, with a nutty flavor. They also contain more starch.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Parsnip benefits the body in many ways. It is a great source of fiber, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin K, and Magnesium, as well as other important micronutrients.
In addition to the nutrients listed above, it also contains the following:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin E
Parsnip promotes a healthy heart, improves digestion, promotes weight loss, and even boosts the immune system.
There is even a possible reduction of birth defects in pregnant women. They can also help improve vision health and growth and skin development.
Some say that they’re also excellent defenders against diabetes and a herald to a healthier brain.
These are a classic cooking ingredient, often found in many European dishes like the UK in the form of “neeps and tatties”, a popular parsnip and potato dish in Scotland.
While they can be eaten raw, it’s best that they’re cooked. You can sub them out for carrots in some recipes due to their sweet, nutty flavor.
You can also have roasted parsnip sprinkled with sea salt.
Definitely a vegetable that deserves your respect, particularly if you should find one in nature. Look up those parsnip recipes!
Be careful which part you’re intending to cook.
The leaves, stems, and flowers of wild parsnips contain a toxin in their sap which can result in a painful condition called phytophotodermatitis.
This can cause severe burns, rashes, and blisters on the skin.
A truly wonderful natural health wonder of a vegetable, and to top it off, it’s utterly delicious.
Whether you choose to eat them raw or cook them in a dish, you’re bound to feel amazing once your body processes it and takes in every good thing it has to offer.
So happy farming, and happy munching to all our green-thumbed friends.