Maintaining our roots

Wisley has a long history of trialling vegetables and this year is no exception, with an abundance of exciting new edible trials

Using the drill marking toolWe sowed the parsnips on the trials field a couple of weeks ago. Although often considered a February task, there is really no need to sow parsnips that early, as they stay in the ground long enough anyway.

Some of the trial’s 28 entries are old varieties. Incredibly, some of these were first trialled at Wisley over a hundred years ago, in our 1915 trial, including ‘Student’, ‘Hollow Crown’ and ‘Tender and True’. Others are important commercial varieties, ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Javelin’, which already have the Award of Garden Merit (AGM). These will be assessed again alongside new varieties, some of them at the cutting edge of parsnip breeding and do not even have names yet, only numbers.

It is exciting to speculate about whether these new varieties, which can take up to 18 years to develop, will gain AGMs. The Assessment Forum’s judging criteria for the parsnips include uniformity of crop, size, shape, colour, depth of crown, core size and lack of canker, which can be a major problem in parsnips.

Tools of the trade

Sowing parsnip seedFor each parsnip variety in the trial, we made three 3.6m long seed drills. Seeds were spaced 2.5cm apart in the drills, using a measuring rod (see photo) to aid precision. Each row was spaced 40cm apart. We will thin the parsnips in each row to 7.5cm spacing at seedling stage. We used a handy line-marking tool to create three seed drills at once (see photo, top), making this a quick part of the process, as long as you keep a steady hand!

After sowing, we covered the plot with insect-proof Enviromesh, for protection against the dreaded root fly, which affects parsnips as well as carrots. The parsnips will be lifted, washed and assessed in November. After this, they will go in to delicious seasonal dishes in our restaurants. Parsnip soup anyone?

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.