It was a toss up for the Christmas Eve post. Brussel sprouts? Potatoes? Carrots? Brussel sprouts divide the nation, I’m not great at growing carrots yet and growing a decent non salad potato that isn’t eaten by slugs still evades me. So today it will be parsnips. As tomorrow will be celebrating the birth of the King of Kings this parsnip also one with a vaguely royal theme. Happy Christmas everyone and lets pray for a better 2021!
It is always fun to grow a bit of history in the garden and with the Parsnip Hollow crown you can do just that. Hollow crown is probably the oldest parsnip in cultivation dating from at least the 1820’s, just pipping The Student by 30 years.
The name itself is also a part of history, referring to a quote from Shakespeare’s Richard II ‘For within the hollow crown , that rounds the mortal temples of a king keeps Death his court’….In this instance, not referring to the bleak thought that Kings are made and ended by death and therefore to wear the crown is in the end a hollow and worthless prize (thought I would cheer you up in the depths of winter and a global pandemic). Instead Hollow Crown is referring to the unusual shape of the top of the parsnip (crown) which is slightly sunken compared to other parsnips and many growers would say that a hollow crown parsnip is a prize worth dying for.
I’ve really enjoyed the hollow crown parsnips that I have harvested. They have a good flavour, on par with The Student which is my grow every year variety. My only grumble was that germination was very poor. Going forward I will pre-chit the seeds in damp newspaper until they sprout and then sow. Like all older parsnips, harvest after the first frosts for sweetest flavour.
In the Kitchen
Treat Hollow Crown just like you would any other parsnip. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and like my parsnips roasted, maybe with a bit of a honey or maple syrup glaze. You can also steam, mash or puree them. I have done a parsnip rostie which was lovely.
Yield and Plant Health
Unlike some modern varieties, hollow crown it can get very long, up to 30cm in length and maximum 6cm wide. Therefore it is better for those with good friable soil. I did suffer from poor germination which can be a problem with parsnip varieties. Fresh seed is a must for all parsnips but next year I will try pre-chitting these to improve germination. Like most parsnip varieties from sow to harvest is roughly 100 days so they will need to be in the ground for a long time compared to say carrots.
How to Grow
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.