Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) are slow maturing, winter hardy vegetables. They are so slow growing they are in the ground for almost a year, although they need very little attention once under way. Any roast dinner would be lacking without a serving of tasty roasted parsnips so they are well worth the time and effort.
Soil Type: Deeply dug, non-acid, light soil with good drainage.
Conditions: Full sun.
Ease of Cultivation: Moderate.
Type: Root Vegetable.
Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.
When to Sow: February to April.
Harvest Season: October to February.
Grows best in deeply cultivated, light friable soil, which is stone-free and rich in humus and organic matter. Do not grow in freshly manured ground but in ground that was manured for a previous crop.
If your soil is heavy it is best to grow shorter rooted varieties or grow in raised beds, filled with lighter soil and compost.
Apply a general purpose fertilizer a few weeks before sowing.
Seeds can be sown direct from February to April. Sow thinly in drills 1/2 inch (12mm) deep with 12-15 inches (30-38cm) between rows.
Gradually thin young plants to around 6 inches (15cm) apart once true leaves appear.
Note: February sowings can be problematic if the soil is very cold and wet, giving poor germination rates. March and April sowings are better and will still produce a perfectly good crop in time. The soil needs to be about 7°C for the seeds to germinate well. The seeds can take up to four weeks to germinate.
Parsnip seed does not store well so always use fresh seed and discard any left over seeds, after your final sowing for the season.
Apart from weeding and watering in a dry weather, there is nothing else to do until harvest time.
Susceptible to carrot root fly and slugs.
Canker can be a serious problem in some areas, causing a brown or blackened area towards the crown, which leads to rotting. Grow canker resistant varieties if it becomes a problem in your area.
Start lifting when the foliage begins to die back, around October time. The roots are best left in the ground over winter and lifted when required. If winter frosts are very severe, protect crowns with a layer bracken or straw. The flavour is often improved by a few good frosts and the crop will stand well, so long as the ground is not waterlogged. Lift the remainder by late February, before growth restarts. Store in sand, in a cool dark place.
However, if you can't wait till autumn you can lift them early as mini vegetables and steam them whole.
Trim off the tops and root end, and peel. Slice into quarters length wise and remove the hard core.
They taste best when oven roasted in a roasting tin with cooking oil or placed around a joint of meat. Roast at 210°C (425°F, Gas mark 7) for 40 minutes, turning once.
Parsnips can also be boiled in lightly salted water for 10-20 minutes. Once cooked they can be creamed with other vegetables such as swede and potato.
They can also be chipped, deep fried or steamed.
Parsnips are a good source of calcium.
There are sort and long varieties available, some fat and stocky and others thin and tapering. Select a variety that suits your soil and growing conditions.
Parsnip 'Archer' produces long smooth, tapering, white roots. A vigorous grower that is easy to germinate. Best harvested before mid-winter.
Parsnip 'Albion' produces long tapering, smooth, white-skinned roots of uniform size with a delicious sweet flavour and good texture. Good canker resistance. Lifted roots store well for winter use. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Parsnip 'Excaliber' a shallow crowned root with smooth white skin and a good sweet flavour. Harvest from early autumn.
Parsnip 'Gladiator' (F1 Hybrid) a fast maturing sweet, crisp parsnip with smooth white skin. True sweet parsnip taste. Good canker resistance. Keeps well in the ground for a long time without turning woody. Ideal for growing in either the greenhouse or the vegetable patch. Height: 45cm (18). Spread: 30cm (12). Available at Marshalls. Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Gardening Direct.
Parsnip 'Lancer' is a short, slender, wedge shaped parsnip. Ideal for the small garden. Canker resistant.
Parsnip 'Panorama' (F1 Hybrid) large uniform roots with good performance and flavour. Canker resistant. Harvest from October to March. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Parsnip 'Pearl' (F1 Hybrid) is a good quality late cropping variety with uniform, slender roots and smooth white skin. Disease resistant. Available at Marshalls.
Parsnip 'Javelin' (F1 Hybrid) a long, slender, tapering parsnip with smooth skin.
Parsnip 'Tender and True' an old variety with long, tapering roots, a smooth skin and a tasty flavour. Good canker resistance. Height: 45cm (18). Spread: 30cm (12). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Parsnip 'White Gem' produces long, sweet tasting, white roots. Long cropping period and good canker resistance. Grows in virtually any soil type. Ideal for baking and roasting. Height: 45cm (18). Spread: 30cm (12). Available at Marshalls. Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Parsnip 'Warrior' (F1 Hybrid) a British-bred variety producing flavoursome, chunky, gradually tapering roots up to 11in (28cm) in length. Available at Thompson & Morgan.