Parsnips, popular with ancient Greeks and Romans, were brought over to the Americas with the first colonists. Although parsnips are biennials, they are usually grown as an annual vegetable. Parsnips are a hardy, cool-season crop that is best harvested after a hard frost. Parsnips are not only tasty in soups and stews, but can also be enjoyed by themselves.
It's even easier to grow parsnips than to grow their close cousin, carrots, Parsnips look like colorless carrots, but with their own complex, sweetly spicy earthiness. However they grow well in most areas, although they require a long growing season. A bit of frost will sweeten their flavor and the roots can be stored and used throughout the winter.
What are they? Parsnips are grown predominately for their long tap roots, which look like pale carrots. Leaves: The first year's foliage resembles celery, with toothed, pinnate leaves.
How do they grow? The plants grow 18 - 24" (h) x 3 - 6" (w). The roots should be harvested before they get too large and fibrous, at 1 ½ - 2 i. in diameter and 8 - 12 inches long.
When to Harvest? Parsnips require the entire growing season to mature, about 3 ½ - 4 months. They are usually harvested in late fall, when the tops are about 1 ½ - 2 inches around. Most varieties will reach 8 - 12 inches long. To ensure you get the whole root, loosen the soil with a fork before harvesting. Parsnips store for a long time. You can leave your parsnips in the ground to harvest throughout winter (if the soil is not frozen) and in the early spring. They sweeten toward spring, as the plants get ready to begin growing again. However once the tops re-sprout, the flavor starts to go downhill and the roots get touch and fibrous. Note: If you have sensitive skin, the sap from parsnip leaves can cause a sunburn-like rash.
How to Use Parsnips? Tender, young parsnips can be grated and eaten without cooking. Parsnips can be used as a carrot substitute in just about any cooked dish. They are popular steamed and mashed, often mixed in with potatoes. When adding to soups and stews, wait until the final 20-30 minutes of cooking, because they soften quickly. Parsnips really shine as a roasted vegetable, sprinkled with fresh herbs. If your parsnips become overgrown, removing the center core will make them less bitter. And you can cook them first, cut into strips and fry in butter.
How do I Plant them? Parsnips grow best in cool weather and are direct seeded in the garden in mid-spring. Parsnip seed does not remain viable for more than one season, so always start with fresh seed. Even fresh seed can have a low germination rate, so seed thickly. Plant ½ to 3/4 inches deep. That is probably the most important new seed. I will order fresh seed here for our bulk seeds so I will give you the best chance to have a crop of parsnips. Since parsnip seed has a tough time breaking through crusted soil, many gardeners cover the seed with only perlite. Another trick is to plant radish seeds with your parsnips. As the radishes are pulled, they loosen the soil for the later emerging parsnips. You will need to thin the plants when they are a few inches tall, to give the roots space to develop. It is difficult to transplant parsnips, because disturbing their roots causes them to fork. Parsnips can be grown in containers, but they'll need a pot that contains a depth of at least 12 inches of soil.
What do I do for maintenance? At least an inch of water per week is vital for good root development. A regular deep watering, rather than a sprinkling now and then, will encourage deep root growth and keep the plants from stressing. Fresh manure should not be used on root crops because it causes the roots to fork and distort. Weeds will compete with the young seedlings. Keep them out of the area, so they don't compete with the parsnips for water and nutrients. Hoeing is a better technique than cultivating, since you don't want to harm the parsnip roots. So think about adding parsnips to your garden this season. It is getting closer for our weather is warm again today. Only March 11th, so will it stay? I will be telling you about that in this blog that is for sure. This is Becky Litterer from Becky's Greenhouse, Dougherty