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Growing parsnips

A parsnip growing with carrots and spring onions

Our experience with growing parsnip has been mixed, although we're getting better. As with a couple of other vegetables, growing good parsnips comes from mistakes. So hopefully you can get quicker results by learning from our errors.

Parsnips look like white carrots with celery-like leaves. Apart from roasts and soups we're not sure what else you can do with this sweet tasting vegie.

Growing conditions

  • In our subtropical climate parsnips are usually sown in autumn, growing in cold winter soils. In cooler climates they're usually sown in spring.

  • Parsnips prefer full sun but can grow in partial shade.

  • Avoid adding manure to the soil, otherwise your parsnips will fork. They like beds manured in the previous season.

  • Parsnips delve deep so make sure your soil is friable to at least 8 inches (20 cm).

  • In a 4 bed rotation system parsnips are grown with onions, garlic, carrots, leeks and other root crops. But when planning your bed make sure you keep parsnips away from carrots. When it comes to growing, parsnips and carrots don't get along very well. They're bad companions.

Garden care

  • Directly sow seed where you intend your parsnips to grow.

  • Parsnip seed does not keep very well. Our first season in August 1996 was fantastic. We used the same seed again in March 1997. The seven months that the seed packet was open was enough to deteriorate the seeds' condition with only one seed germinating. Moral of the story: always buy new seed each season.

  • The easiest way to sow parsnips is to mix the seed with river sand, pouring the contents into seed drills. The sand makes germination easier; but because sand drains so quickly you need to make sure the parsnip seedlings don't dry out at this crucial stage.

  • Thin the parsnip seedlings out when they're about 5cms (2 inches) tall to a distance of 2cm (a little under an inch). And again when 15cms (6 inches) tall to a distance of 5cm (2 inches) apart.

  • Intersperse parsnip rows with onions. The onions' smell confuse pests, keeping them away from the parsnips. You can also achieve similar results using garlic and to a lesser extent shallots and spring onions.

Harvest time

  • Parsnips take around 4 to 5 months to reach maturity.

  • Parsnips sweeten after a few frosts (which we don't get here).

  • If you encounter problems harvesting deeply rooted parsnips try watering them. Then slowly rotate them around to loosen the parsnip from the soil.

  • Don't forget to twist off the leaves. If you don't the leaves will draw water out of the root which will dry it out.


Last Updated 17 November, 2008

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