The Student is a heritage parsnip developed around 1850 by James Buckman originally as an experiment to prove that existing strains could be improved by crossing with a wild parsnip. The results were so good that you can still buy the seed today.
The Student is the parsnip that you are supposed to grow for flavour. It’s quite hard to get hold of seed however in 2017 you can still find it at Mr Fothergill’s and The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
Sow in Feb/March. Parsnips are notoriously slow to germinate so either sow three seeds together, 1.5 cm deep together. Space each station 23 cm apart. You can sow raddish in the gaps which will help mark the row and enable you to remove weeds easily. Alternatively try pre chitting which involves laying the seeds on damp kitchen roll, cover with more damp kitchen roll and store in a warm place, in a sealed plastic bag or box. After a week start checking daily to see if you can see a tiny shoot starting to emerge. When you do get ready to transplant in to their final positions ASAP before the root gets too big. Tweezers are the best way to pick the seeds up to stop you damaging the shoot.
In the kitchen:
I nearly gave up on growing it in 2017, so much so that I didn’t buy new seeds this year because, having tried a few in September, I didn’t find the taste that special. However, as we moved in to the colder weather these became the best parsnips I had ever tasted. The core remained tender even on the largest and oldest parsnips harvested in March.
Health & Yield
Like many parsnips germination time was lengthy (about 25 days) and a bit erratic. Like all parsnips you must buy fresh seed each year.
Once under way they grew well on my clay. Sizes ranged from a couple of centimetre across to nearly 15cm! Length was also variable. I had very little forking, except on the biggest roots. There was some minor slug damage and the very slightest touch of canker on some roots.
I left the parsnips in the ground over winter and harvested the last in March.
Would I grow it again?
Absolutely. It’s not a prize winning parsnip looks wise but worth it for the taste alone.