A roast dinner isn’t complete without roast parsnips – and they add a whole new dimension to stews and casseroles too. The good news is that parsnips are easy to grow, need little maintenance and can be left in the ground until you’re ready to use them. Sow in spring and you’ll have parsnips in the autumn.
Jobs to do now
- Sow seeds outdoors
- Thin out seedlings
Month by month
Parsnips prefer an open, sunny site with deep, light soil.
Sow seeds thinly, or sow three at 15cm (6in) intervals, 13mm (½in) deep, in rows 30cm (1ft) apart.
Although it’s sometimes recommended to start sowing in February, this can lead to failure. Sowings made in March and April, and even early May, will often do much better. Warm the soil before sowing with cloches or similar, and leave in place until the seedlings have developed two true leaves.
When seedlings are about 2.5cm (1in) high, thin out to leave one every 15cm (6in).
Keep the soil weed free, hand weeding rather than hoeing close to the plants, to avoid damaging the top of the root.
Keep the soil evenly moist to prevent roots splitting.
The roots are ready to lift when the foliage starts to die down in late summer or autumn. Use a garden fork to carefully ease them out of the ground.
Roots can be left in the ground and harvested as required, although lifting a few extra in November will ensure you still have parsnips to eat even if the soil is frozen. Lightly frosted roots tend to have the best flavour.
Parsnip canker: This orange, brown or purple-coloured rot usually starts at the top of the root. It is mostly caused by drought, over-rich soil or damage to the crown.
Remedy: Sow resistant cultivars such as ‘Avonresister’ and ‘Archer’, improve drainage and avoid damaging the roots. Avoid sowing seeds too early in the year. Protect from carrot fly.
Carrot fly is a small black-bodied fly whose larvae feed on the roots of carrots. The larvae tunnel into the developing carrots causing them to rot.
Once you have an attack of carrot fly, there is nothing you can do to get rid of this pest. Prevention is the best cure, and you should sow thinly and avoid crushing the foliage as you thin out seedlings or hand weed. You can surround your carrots with 60cm (2ft) high barriers made of clear polythene which will exclude the low-flying female flies, or cover the plants with horticultural fleece, such as Enviromesh.
Masterchef’s Gregg Wallace transforms parsnips into nibbles to enjoy in front of the TV with his crispy cheese parsnips
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