Parsnips are a much-loved root vegetable that can be left in the ground until you are ready to use them. They are a low maintenance vegetable once they get going!
Parsnips are slow to germinate and are best sown directly in their permanent position. Some growers like to soak their seeds before sowing them to speed up the germination process. Also known as chitting.
To do this, use a lidded tub like a Tupperware box or old ice cream tub and lay some kitchen roll/absorbent tissue and soak in lukewarm water. Lay your seeds on top and close the lid. Place the box in a dark and warm place for 4-6 days and then check the seeds for sprouting.
Once they are sprouting, they should be sown quite promptly in their growing position.
You can start your parsnip seeds off during February and if you are based in a cooler location, wait until March or April once the soil has warmed up before sowing.
Parsnips like light, deep soil and can be sown thinly in rows approximately 6 inches apart and an inch deep. Sow a few seeds together due to the poor germination rates; these can be thinned out later to prevent overcrowding and smaller, mis-shaped parsnips.
They will require watering evenly to help prevent the roots splitting and for the bed to be weed-free, taking care not to damage the top roots. Any weeding should be done by hand. Be mindful of carrot-fly and canker. You can buy canker-resistant varieties.
As the parsnips grow, thin them out if required. They will have luscious green, bushy foliage and when this starts to die off during late summer and early autumn, the parsnips are ready for pulling up.
You can leave them in the ground until you want to use them; smaller, younger parsnips tend to be sweeter and for a fuller flavour you may want to wait until after a couple of frosts. Parsnips can be difficult to lift, especially when the ground is harder during winter so do plan and watch the weather forecast for Christmas dinner!
You should not leave the parsnips in the ground beyond February of the following year, they can become woody and, also start to re-grow using all the roots' energy.
Parsnips are delicious roasted and make a perfect accompaniment in a roast dinner. Parsnips can be blanched and frozen.