Growing Parsnips (7 Things You Should Know)
Parsnips are easy vegetables to grow, and once they’re growing in the ground, there’s really not much to do except keep them watered. However, there are numerous questions that people have about growing these delicious vegetables. Here are just 7 of your most common questions and the answers.
When Should You Harvest Parsnips?
Ideally, you shouldn’t harvest parsnips until they’ve experienced at least one frost. This is because exposure to frost allows the plants to build up sugars in their taproots. This results in a sweeter and more flavorsome vegetable.
You should also wait to harvest your parsnips until the green growth above ground is starting to die down. This usually happens around late summer and early fall. After this time, you can harvest as many roots as you need each time.
In fact, you can leave some of your parsnips in the ground all through winter if you wish. Parsnips can be left in the ground for around 4 to 6 months. Top the soil with a thick layer of straw or hay mulch to stop the ground from freezing. This will make it easier to harvest the roots during the winter months.
It’s important, though, to dig out all your parsnips before the soil starts to warm up again. This is because the warmer soil will initiate new growth on the top of the plants, and once this happens, the roots will become tough and inedible.
How Do You Harvest Parsnips?
When you’re ready to harvest some of your parsnips, you should do it carefully so that you don’t disturb the plants that you want to leave in the ground. You also want to be careful not to break the roots as you’re pulling them up.
The best way to harvest your parsnips is to use a small garden fork. Carefully loosen the soil around each root you want to harvest. Once the soil has been loosened, you can gently lift the roots out of the ground.
Remember, any roots that are damaged and bruised will not store well, so it’s best to use these as soon as you harvest them. Ready to harvest roots should be around 8 to 12 inches (20 to 31 cm) long and around 1 ½ to 2 inches (4 to 5 cm) in diameter.
You can store harvested roots in the refrigerator crisper compartment in a plastic bag. The bag helps to keep the roots fresh and stops them from drying out.
If you want to store your parsnips for longer, you can put them in a bucket or wooden box filled with slightly damp sand. This should be kept in a cool place like your basement or cellar if you have one. When placing your parsnips into the sand, make sure that they’re not touching each other.
How Do You Plant Parsnips?
Parsnips should be planted straight into the soil from the seeds. This is because when the seed germinates, it immediately sends out a long taproot even before the leaves or cotyledons show above the soil surface.
This taproot then becomes the sweet vegetable that we dig up to make into soup or eat roasted from the oven. It’s virtually impossible to transplant parsnip seedlings once they’ve germinated because you won’t be able to keep the root nice and straight. This will result in damage to the root and will cause the roots to be forked or deformed.
To plant parsnips from seeds, you first have to make sure that the soil is nice and friable and that it doesn’t contain any rocks. Once you have your parsnip patch well forked over, create some shallow drills around ½ inch (12 mm) deep.
Sow your seeds around 2 inches (5 cm) apart. This will ensure that your row is full, as not all seeds will germinate. Backfill the drill or trench with soil and firm down before watering carefully so as not to dislodge the seeds.
Keep the soil nice and moist, and you should see your seeds starting to germinate in around 2 to 4 weeks. If too many seeds have germinated, you’ll have to pick out the weakest seedlings so that the remaining plants are around 8 inches (20 cm) apart.
What Do Parsnips Look Like?
Parsnips look very much like carrots, except that they’re cream in color rather than orange. As parsnips are root vegetables, they are wider at the top and then taper down to a narrow tip at the bottom.
If you’ve grown them correctly in good quality loose and friable soil, your parsnip roots should be nice and straight. Parsnips that have been grown in poor soil that has not been well prepared will often have forked or deformed roots.
This is because the parsnip root is a taproot that wants to grow straight down into the soil. If this root hits something hard like a rock, it will either fork to grow down either side of the rock or stone, or it will start to grow sideways until it can find a soft spot to grow downwards again.
The green leaves of the parsnip plant look very much like celery or parsley leaves. This is because they’re in the same family of plants. Be aware, though, that parsnip leaves do contain an irritating toxin and should not be consumed.
How Long Do Parsnips Take To Grow?
Parsnips are considered a cool-season crop, but the seeds should be sown into warm soil from spring to late summer or early fall. The seeds themselves can take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks to germinate.
These plants will continue to grow over the warmer months, and it will take around 95 to 120 days for the plants to reach maturity. Once the weather cools down, the green tops will begin to die down, and that’s when the first roots will be ready for harvest.
Although it’s possible to leave the roots in the ground until you need them, they will not continue to grow if the green tops have died down. This makes them a good crop for only harvesting as you need them because they won’t become too thick or tough like some other root vegetables.
However, be sure that you harvest all the parsnips that you’ve left in the ground before the spring days start to warm up again. Otherwise, you’ll find that the tops will start to grow again, and the remaining roots will lose their flavor and become tough and inedible.
Types of Parsnips
There are many different varieties of parsnips that can be found around the world. Here are some of the more common ones:
- All American. This is a faster maturing variety that is ready to harvest in around 95 days.
- Albion. This variety has large, chunky white roots that are ready for harvesting in around 120 days.
- Halblange. This variety has wedge-shaped, uniform roots that are around 10 inches long.
- Harris Model. This is a common variety that produces roots up to 12 inches long.
- Hollow Crown. This is an heirloom variety that produces lovely long roots. However, it can be slow to germinate.
- Javelin. This variety is similar to Albion but it can be harvested in spring.
- Lancer. This is a disease-resistant variety that produces long roots and matures in around 120 days.
- Turga. This variety has a uniform appearance but the roots are quite wide at the top. It takes around 110 days for the plants to reach maturity ready for harvest.
- White Spear. This variety has a wide top part that tapers nicely to the base.
Parsnip Growing Stages
Parsnips are biennial plants which means that they take two seasons or years to grow from seed right up to the stage when they produce new seeds and then die. Generally, most gardeners will grow parsnips as annuals in order to harvest the sweet, tender roots.
The first stage of a parsnip’s growth is when the seeds germinate. Once germination is initiated, a long taproot will emerge from the seed, and this root will grow deep down into the soil. Next, the plant will grow two small seed leaves that are called cotyledons.
After this, the first true leaf will appear, and this will be followed by many more green leaves that look very much like celery or parsley leaves. While this is happening, the magic continues under the soil, where the taproot will continue to grow and become thicker.
Once the weather starts to cool down, the top growth will start to die down. As soon as the plant is exposed to frost, the root will start to build up its sugar content. These roots are then ready to be harvested.