The year of the parsnip

Parsnips are a delight. Sweet, nutritious and the perfect accompaniment to roast lamb or butter chicken.

Parsnips also have a reputation as being tricky to grow. 

The seed must be fresh.  Germination can be unreliable, which means you need to sow parsnip seed thickly.

The soil must be deep and light, rich but not freshly manured.

Talk about picky!

And that was certainly my experience.  I don’t know how many times I’ve sown masses of seed and been lucky to have one or two plants.  So much for sustainably growing one of my favourite foods!

Until this past year.

The summer before last I let one of my rare parsnip plants go to seed.  I figured that I would let nature be the best judge of how fresh the seed needed to be, how much seed was needed, when was the right time to sow and under what conditions…

Well…up they sprang.  Quite a few.  Fantastic, I thought.

Now I’ll be really smart, I thought, and interplant them with lots of onions.  (Onions are supposed to keep carrot fly away from the parsnips – not that I’ve ever seen a carrot fly or any evidence of them, but I wanted to be prudent.)

So I did.

The bed looked very healthy and balanced. J

Then I got distracted and neglected my vegies for several weeks…

Until I found I had a forest of parsnips.  Yes, a forest!

That’ll  be good, I thought…I love parsnips, and we’ll have plenty to eat this winter.

Now, because I had so many, I thought I would try some out in early autumn, before the first frost, to see if what they say about parsnips being sweeter after frost is true. So, late one afternoon I went to pull out a few for dinner.

But… my soil is clay, isn’t it?

And parsnips have a long root, don’t they?  Sometimes very long…especially if you have let them grow rather big.

Even though I knew these two facts, I wasn’t conscious of what it means for harvesting parsnips.

Long parsnips mean they are longer than a garden fork’s tines.

And clay soil means that they parsnips are held firmly in the soil.

So…I discovered that pulling well-grown parsnips out of clay soil is nigh-on impossible.

Not to worry, I thought – I have a trusty fork.

But digging parsnips out of my soil can be rather tricky, as I discovered.  Actually, more like a good work-out…and still no parsnips in my hand (although I had quite a few parsnip leaves for my work ;)).

I guess that’s the reason they say to grow them in light soil!

I did discover that it’s much, much easier to harvest parsnips if the soil is very wet – which it was after we had a couple of weeks of rain.  So well-moistened soil, down to about 50cm, is now my main strategy for harvesting parsnips.

And how is my parsnip forest going?  A large part of the forest is still there.  The leaves died off in the very cold weather but they have now re-sprouted in the warm spring weather.  I’m still harvesting parsnips, with real fervour at the moment because I want to eat as many as possible before they turn woody and bolt to seed.

And the onions?  I haven’t seen any since the forest grew.  Out-competed, I guess.  But there may be a few survivors in there…

That’s what gardening is all about – always learning and trying new things.

And I am pleased that I have discovered success in having a sustainable means of growing at least one vegetable from seed without lots of work from me.  I now have new parsnip seedlings popping up from a few plants that went to seed earlier in the year…but I will be very strict about thinning them and harvesting them from finger-size onward!

Have you ever had vegetables (other than tomatoes or zucchinis ;)) go berserk on you?  Tell me about it in the Reply box below.

Till next time…be gentle to yourself and our world!