There isn’t much left on the allotment at this year other than some hardy brassicas, leeks and parsnips. Parsnips are sometimes shunned by allotmenteers as they have to be in the ground for a long time to form good roots and always taste best after the first frosts. Some varieties need a very deep fine sandy soil to cope with their long tapered roots and show growers will grow them in dustbins or drainpipe. If your soil is less than ideal, you want to find a slightly shorter variety. White Gem is a good one to consider growing in that case as it is more wedge shaped than long and thin. As you can see from the photograph below it isn’t necessarily a baby parsnip. I harvested this whopper in September and it hadn’t been given much in the way of TLC other than, because I had quite patchy germination, it had a lot of room to grow.
Flavourwise it has a good flavour, not quite as good as my favourite The Student or the veg that knocked my socks off this year, the Hamburg Parsley but you certainly get a much bigger yield than parsley root and The Student can be a bit temperamental so if you want a good allrounder then this could be the one for you.
In the Kitchen
Use as you would any variety of parsnips. Roasted, crisped, Pureed or rosti.
Yield and Plant Health
White Gem has some canker resistance so is a good choice if it is a problem for you . It can produce some chunky roots with the parsnip below alone being enough to feed four as a side dish. However I did have quite patchy germination , even for a parsnip. From a single packet of seeds only 5 came up. You can start to harvest from late august although the main drop will be from October to February. It will stand well during the winter and you should be able to harvest as long as the soil isn’t frozen. You can also lift some in advance if heavy frost is forecast and they will store well in a cool frost free place.
How to Grow
You must use fresh seed. Parsnip seed will not last much more than a year so buy new each year. Sow in March/April in a sunny position with light stone free soil which has not been manured recently. If growing in heavy clay soil focus on varieties good for baby parsnips.
Parsnips are notoriously slow to germinate so either sow three seeds together, 1.5 cm deep together, 15 cm apart in rows 30cm apart. You can sow raddish in the gaps which will help mark the row and enable you to remove weeds easily. Keep soil moist, especially if we have a hot dry spring. It can take at least 20 days to germinate. When seedlings have their first true leaves, thin to one per station.
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. Keep soil moist until you see the shoots coming up through the soil.
Weed carefully around the plants until they are established at which point their foliage should keep weeds down.
Once parsnips are established they should not need watering often unless conditions are very dry. A weekly soak during the summer should be sufficient but more often can be required if the ground is dry. Allowing parsnips to dry out can cause splitting. You do not need to fertilise parsnips.
Parsnips suffer from three main issues, spitting caused by irregular watering, forking i.e. growing into funny shapes caused by pockets of nutrients, usually left by manure or compose which the parsnip then seeks out and divides. More serious is canker which is a rot that sets in from the top of the parsnip and can be caused by mechanical damage, drought or excessively rich soils. If canker is a problem grow resistant varieties. Less common is damage from carrot root fly.