How to Grow Parsnips
Known for their sweetness and distinct flavor, parsnips have a long history. They were enjoyed by ancient Romans and Greeks and became popular across Europe. Thankfully, the Europeans brought parsnips to the American colonies. In fact, they seem to have had some clever uses besides just feeding them to livestock and cooking them. Did you know that parsnip beer and parsnip wine graced the table of American homesteads well into the nineteenth century. If you're interested in giving that a whirl, you can always check out the discussion on brewplus.com.
I always like to include some cool-season crops in my garden. I love having a steady stream of fresh ingredients long past summer. That's where my cool-season crops come in - this year, that meant lettuce, carrots, Swiss chard and...parsnips.
We've had unseasonably warm temperatures here in New Jersey this winter. It's the beginning of January now and we're maintaining temperatures in the 40s most days. I planted my parsnips from seed in early May and just started pulling them out of the ground starting in December. I could have left them in there longer if I wanted to. In fact the cooler temperatures and frost help vegetables like parsnips turn their starch into sugar for amazingly sweet flavor. It's an ideal cool-weather crop.
Parsnip seeds are a little particular and they're best when sown in the year they were purchased. While most seeds can be kept and sown within a few years, parsnip seeds do not fit into that category. Rule of thumb - with parsnip seeds, the fresher the better.
I purchased my 2015 seeds from Territorial Seed Company. I plan to order seeds from them again this year - they have a nice variety and quality. But....I made a foolish mistake of not paying close enough attention to the description of the White Spear Parsnip when I purchased the seeds....I didn't read how deep these roots can grow - up to 36 inches! This is a really important thing to pay attention to for container gardeners. Although what I grew came out OK, containers don't have that much depth. I also ended up with more long thin parsnips and not very many that had good diameter. When I choose my parsnip seeds for this year, I'll choose a variety that grows within the confines of a container and will be sure to leave enough space for them to grow horizontally as well (no overcrowding).
Even of your crops are small, you can enjoy this recipe for Roasted Parsnips with Garlic & Rosemary
Tips for Growing Parsnips
- Use fresh seeds (they become less effective/viable after about a year).
- There's no need to start parsnip seeds indoors - best to direct sow them early in the growing season after the last frost.
- Loosen the soil about a 1-1 1/2 feet before planting and add a couple of inches of compost.
- Plant seeds about 1 inch apart and 1/2 inch deep. Put a couple of seeds per space.
- These seedlings are a little slow to start. It can take 2-3 weeks to see anything happening.
- Thin the seedlings once they've established themselves - thin to about 4-6 inches apart. (if you don't you'll end up with those super-skinny ones I grew this year...give them room to grow!)
- Although parsnips typically mature in about 120 days, you can leave them in longer, even in colder temps. I left mine in the ground for about twice that amount of time.
- Keep the area weed-free and well-watered.