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Earthy, homely and tasty: how to grow parsnips for this winter

Michael Kelly continues his Grow It Yourself series with a plant that provides the quintessential taste of winter

Michael Kelly Grower

EARTHY AND HOMELY, parsnips really do provide the quintessential taste of winter. They’re worth growing just for the smell you get when you pluck a parsnip from the soil on a cold winter’s day.

Unlike carrots, they are relatively easy to grow once you have persuaded them to germinate, needing very little attention. They will also stay in the ground quite happily through even the worst winter weather until you’re ready to eat them.

Sowing

Dig the bed deeply in winter but do not manure as this causes forking in roots. Break down clods, rake well and add an organic fertiliser a week before sowing.

Most parsnip seed packets will tell you to sow them in February – don’t do it. It is far better to leave it until late April or early May. The seeds won’t germinate in cold, wet soil and later-sown parsnips are less likely to get canker. Germination takes up to three weeks.

Make a drill 1cm deep – if the soil is dry, dampen.Sow three seeds every 6 inches in rows 12 inches apart and cover in with soil.

When seedlings appear, pull out the two weakest ones. This spacing will produce medium sized roots. If you want larger roots go to 8 inch spacing.

How much to sow? The parsnip “season” runs from October to March – you start eating them fresh from the ground in October and you will be able to store them until March. After that any remaining roots will most likely start to rot.

So if you want to eat 3 parsnips a week for the 24 weeks between October and March you will need to grow 72 parsnips. In a standard bed (1.2m wide) you will get three rows of parsnips – if you space the parsnips at 6 inches in each row you will get 20 parsnips per metre, so you will need a bed 3.5m long to get 72 parsnips.

Source: Chris RubberGarden via Flickr/Creative Commons

Growing

Very little maintenance is needed. Weed carefully until the parsnips are well established. Watering shouldn’t be necessary except in dry spells.

Harvesting

Parsnips are ready to rock when the foliage starts to die away in autumn but the flavour improves after the first frosts. Leave in soil until they’re ready to eat but lift them by February.

Lift carefully with a fork. If you have water-logged soil in winter you should lift the crop and store it in a box of sand in a frost-free shed.

Recommended Varieties

Gladiator F1

Problems

Canker (a fungus that produces brown/black growths on roots) is the main issue. Avoid sowing too early and use canker resistant varieties. Rotate parsnips as part of your root rotation. Earth up parsnips in summer – this will prevent spores reaching the roots.

Occasionally carrot root fly can be a problem.  You can prevent this as you would with carrots, by creating a barrier over or around the plants.

GIY Tips Always use fresh (this year’s) seeds – parsnip seeds don’t store well. Try sowing seed indoors in toilet roll inserts filled with compost. Once the seedling is established, pop the whole insert into a hole in the ground. Works a treat!

Recipe of the Week – Puy Lentil, Parsnip & Walnut Salad

Source: annieinchicago via Flickr/Creative Commons

I’m a huge fan of parsnips but often times I struggle to come up with creative ways to cook them other than cutting them into chunks and baking them. Here’s a Pippa Kendrick recipe that I came across in Jamie Oliver’s magazine that pairs parsnips with the nuttiness of Puy lentils and a delicious dressing – I like it a lot.

Ingredients

  • 6 parnsips
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 250g puy lentils
  • bay leaf
  • 50g walnuts
  • 2tbsp olive oil

For the Dressing:

  • 3 tbsp walnut oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp runny honey
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • shallot
  • ½ clove of garlic
  • a large bunch of watercress, or rocket leaves
  • A few shavings of vegetarian hard cheese, to serve

Directions

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Peel and trim the parsnips, cutting them into batons approximately 5cm long and 1cm thick.

Finely chop the shallot and crush the garlic.

Bring the stock to the boil, add the puy lentils and bay leaf and simmer gently for 25–30 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender but still retain some bite.

Drain the lentils, discard the bay leaf and set aside.

Place the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven until lightly browned and fragrant.

Remove the tray from the oven, scoop out the walnuts, and add the parsnips in their place.

Drizzle with the olive oil and roast for 35 minutes until golden.

Make the dressing by whisking together the walnut oil, vinegar, honey, mustard and garlic. Season and stir in the garlic and shallots.

In a bowl, toss together the lentils, walnuts, parsnips and dressing. Place the watercress or rocket onto plates, pile on the lentil salad and top with shavings of vegetarian cheese.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Read: Thanks shallot – these little members of the onion family are finicky but worth it

Read: Give your a garden a running start: here’s how to tame runner beans

 

About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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