Parsnips are the royalty of the root vegetables, having a real depth of taste. They are a root crop similar to carrots, and they offer a unique flavor that’s rich and slightly sweet. They are one of the few vegetables that improve in flavor and sweetness with frost and cold weather.
Plant Family: Parsnips are a member of the Umbelliferae (carrot) family. In crop rotation, they are grouped with other root vegetables as well as celery and would follow ‘fruit’ crops, i.e., tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, eggplant.
How to Grow: Parsnip seeds lose their viability quickly, usually after a year or two, so it is generally recommended to purchase new seeds from a reputable source every year. Parsnips seeds can be difficult to germinate. Although many seed packets suggest sowing seeds as soon as the soil is workable, it’s actually best to wait a bit longer until soil temperatures warm up to around 60°F, usually sometime in late April/early May. They can be planted up until mid-June. Parsnips need loose, fertile soil. Choose a sunny spot and sow seeds ½ inch deep, about 1 inch apart in rows 16 -24 inches apart. Parsnips don’t germinate very well, so sow at least 2-3 seeds per hole. Parsnips seeds are slow to germinate – it can take between 2 to 4 weeks. When they germinate and start to put on new growth, thin them to at least 6 inches apart. It’s a good idea to cut off thinned seedlings at soil level to avoid disturbing remaining seedlings.
Once the parsnip plants are established (6-10 inches tall), if an inch of rainfall occurs per week, no additional watering is needed. If watering is required, water deeply to encourage strong root growth. This will encourage the roots to grow deeper in search of moisture.
Parsnips require a full season of growth (110-120 days) and will be sweeter if harvested after frosts have occurred. If you leave them in the ground for the winter, cover them with a thick layer of mulch and harvest them as needed. Just remember that the voles may find them during the quiet winter season!
Container Friendly?: Yes, but in a very deep container! Parsnip roots can grow from 8-12 inches in length and 1 ½ -2 inches across. So, the container for growing parsnip should be about 2-3 times the length of the harvested parsnips, at least 2 feet deep (3 feet would be better), and have good drainage holes.
1) To speed up the germination process, press the seeds onto saucers containing wet cotton balls or between two wet paper towels. Keep the seeds somewhere warm and little white roots will soon appear. You can then carefully sow the pre-germinated seeds as above, discarding any that have failed.
2) Plant some quick-growing radishes (or try finger-sized salad carrots) sparingly in-between the parsnip seeds. They’ll be up within a few days, clearly marking the positions of the rows. They can make it easier to weeds between the rows. The radishes are harvested just as the parsnips are poking through the soil.
How to Harvest: The parsnip can be harvested as needed as soon as the leaves have died back, but leave your parsnips in the ground for a few frosts to improve their flavor. Plan to harvest them before the ground freezes. To harvest, use a digging fork or similar tool to loosen soil along outside of the planting before pulling root.
Common Varieties: A few common parsnip varieties: White Spear (120 days), Javelin (110 days, recommended for overwintering), and Lancer (120 days).
Recipes: An easy and nutritious side dish is to peel and chunk parsnips with potatoes, carrots, and turnips. Tossed in garlic, your favorite herbs and olive oil - roast in a 400° oven for 40-45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Yum! Other recipes can be found here: