December 19, 2005

Parsnips are a delicious and nutritious root crop that doesn’t require much effort to grow in the backyard vegetable garden. I wasn’t acquainted with parsnips until I was an adult, but once I discovered this tasty vegetable I made sure to include it in my organic garden every year.

The keys to success when growing parsnips are to obtain fresh parsnip seed each spring, and to plant them in a deeply loosened raised bed. Always start with fresh seed as they loose viability rapidly and old seeds simply will not germinate.

Parsnips are a root crop with a similar growth habit to carrots. The long, broad shouldered roots grow best in loose soil that is relatively free of stones and rocks.

Plant your parsnips very early in the spring, scattering the feathery seeds thickly over the surface of a raised bed. Cover with a thin layer of soil or compost that is lightly tamped to ensure good contact.

Since parsnips are slow to germinate, water the bed often to prevent the soil from drying out and crusting over. After they have germinated and are established, thin to stand six to eight inches apart in all directions.

Parsnips mature over a long season, with a spring sowing being ready to harvest the following fall. In between, they don’t require much attention other than to keep weeds under control, particularly when the plants are young, and to water the parsnips as necessary.

Parsnips will be sweeter and exhibit improved flavor after growing them through a few weeks of colder fall temperatures. Harvesting is done by carefully digging the roots after they have reached the desired size.

You can even leave some of the parsnip roots in the ground over the winter. Cover with a mulch of leaves or straw and harvest during the following spring before the roots send up new growth.

Parsnips have a unique, rich flavor that is very sweet for a vegetable. They are delicious when cooked by roasting or steaming. The roots keep well and can be refrigerated or stored in a root cellar for very long periods of time.

There isn’t a very noticeable difference in the various strains that are available. Varieties include: Harris Model, All America, Cobham Marrow, Andover, and Hollow Crown.

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