Monday, 16 March 2009

On sowing Parsnips

Posted by Compostwoman from The Compostbin

Parsnips are an excellent, versitile winter root vegetable which are popular in the UK. We are just lifting the last of the 2008 parsnip crop from the ground here at Compost Mansions, to freeze and to eat now. We have been eating them since November!

Parsnips are easy to grow once they "get going" but it can be hard to get the seed started as it is slow to germinate, dislikes cold, wet weather and the emerging plants can get swamped by weeds....

A good indication that it is time, is to look at your lawn:- if the grass has started to grow the soil temperature will be above 5-6 degrees centigrade and you can sow/plant hardier seeds direct in the ground, or plant out tubers such as potatoes. BUT If you have a heavy clay soil wait!. Seeds sown in wet or cold soil tend to rot and die. Waiting for a few more weeks won’t hurt, ( honest!)

A black or clear plastic covering over soil will warm it up, so you can sow some seeds outside a little earlier than usual. Spread plastic sheeting over the areas where you plan to sow the seeds. Weigh down the sides so it can't blow away in winter winds. After 3 - 4 weeks, the soil should be warm enough for seed sowing. I use big sheets of Geotextile ( weed sheet) which we have a huge roll of, so we have 4 sheets which cover the 4 plots in the veg garden all winter. We turn them back to let the weed seeds germinate in Jan, then cover the weeds up to kill them off ready for digging and planting in March :-)

Although parsnips seed can withstand cold weather, it is notoriously slow to germinate and in practice I have found it better to wait and sow in March when it is warmer here in the UK. Parsnips are sown in spring, for harvest in winter/early spring the following year.

Parsnips like rich, slightly heavy soil, well dug but NOT recently manured (as, like carrots, they will fork if the soil is TOO rich)

As soon as you can dig the bed over and produce a fine tilth, the conditions are fine for planting parsnip seed in the ground ( if the weather allows you to get a fine tilth, its warm and dry enough!)

Parsnips take a long time to grow BUT you can get a worthwhile crop even if they are sown in late spring. MAKE SURE you use fresh this year seed, because parsnip seeds do not keep well. If you HAVE to use last years seed, pre sprout it to check for viability ( put on damp kitchen paper and watch it sprout, then snip the paper up so a bit has a sprouted seed on it and then plant the paper)

Follow the instruction on the seed packet about how/where to sow, and you may as well be generous as the seed doesn't keep well....usually for sowing in situ in the ground, it is suggested to sow several seeds per "station" spaced out along the row. Also it is a good idea to mark the row with fast germinating seed such as radish, so you can see where you have been! (and have a tasty, quick cropping food)

I plant some seed outside but at least half of my parsnips are now planted in kitchen/toilet roll tube inners (we usually grow about 60 or so...) I sprinkle the seed on the surface of the growing medium and sprinkle just a little bit more on top, as a general rule a seed should be covered about the same depth as the size of seed...

These tubes MUST be transplanted COMPLETE into the ground AS SOON as the seed has germinated ...

If you leave it too long the tap root emerges from the bottom of the tube and, when transplanted, may be damaged. This won't hurt the plant BUT you will get a smaller, forked root!

So, make sure you have the parsnip bed ready for planting, if you decide to follow the "tube" idea!

The good thing about the cardboard tube trick is it is easy to plant a tube where a few parsnip seeds DIDN'T come up, which were planted directly in the ground. AND with the tube you can see where they are, so it is easier weeding!

Also you plant the roll as well, so there is a little collar to stop you hoeing the baby parsnip plant, along with the weeds.

I have found this works really well for me. I would be very interested to know what other people think...oh, and it works for other seeds, such as beans, peas, brassicas etc ( but not carrots!)

Next time, digging out and using your compost....