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.

I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).

I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)

This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.

In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself. 

With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix  DMC-ZS15 compact camera.) 

I hope this blog inspires you to grow, create, explore, and try something new. The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow me using the social buttons above, or click Subscribe and sign up for my email newsletters.    

Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!

- Catherine