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Introduction on how to grow parsnips in the garden
Parsnips are easy to grow. Yet, they are a forgotten vegetable and not many gardeners grow the plant. Luckily, the old knowledge is coming back and forgotten vegetables are making a come back. Even grocery stores start to pick up on the trend.
This delicious root is really easy to grow and you can use it in stews, soups and even in salads.
what are parsnips?
The parsnip or Pastinaca sativa is a root vegetable. The plant is closely related to the carrot and parsley.
Normally parsnips are grown as annuals as most people are only interested in the root.
The only reason you should grow your parsnips for 2 years is when you want the seeds. Because a parsnip is a biennial, it will only flower in the second year.
By the time the flowers start to pop up, the root is inedible.
The root has a cream-colored skin and flesh.
The plant is native to Europe and Asia. It was already cultivated by The Romans.
One point I should mention for people who are sensitive to skin rash. After handling the stem and the foliage of the plant, it’s better not to expose yourself too much to sunlight.
where to grow parsnips?
Parsnips need a really loose soil that is fairly deep. The principle of double digging the soil is a good point here. The plants have the tendency to grow crooked and weird if there are stones in the way or hard clumps of soil.
Don’t keep the soil too damp by watering every day. As the plant needs to grow deep into to ground, try to water only when it’s really dry. This way, the plant will grow down in search of water.
Making sure there’s a good layer of mature compost on or in the soil will help the plants out a lot. As the plant takes a long time to grow, it might be necessary to amend with more fertile compost over the growing season.
growing in rows in how to grow parsnips in the garden
Parsnips need some space in the row because they grow quite thick. I use a distance of about 8 centimeters or 3 inches between the seeds. There should be a decent distance between the rows so you can walk between them to pull out weeds and clear the field.
growing in the square foot gardening method
It’s possible to grow between 9 and 16 parsnips in one square foot.
When to grow parsnips?
Don’t push the limits. Many people say to start growing parsnips as early as possible. But don’t force it.
Parsnip seeds need at least 8°C or 46.4°F to sprout.
The seeds of parsnip plants are quite difficult to germinate with one reason. The reason is simple, the seeds are only viable for about 1 year. So, If you bought seeds last year, you’ll have to buy new seeds this year.
After sowing the seeds, you must be patient. It can take up to one month before the seeds sprout. So, don’t get depressed after a week, just give it time.
The plants do take between 110 to 120 days to grow. So, starting in spring is necessary. The plants will be ready in fall or even in the beginning of the winter.
taking care of parsnips
Learning how to grow parsnips in the garden is really easy once you have sprouts coming out of the soil.
Parsnips don’t need much worry. The sprouting phase is the most stressy situation. Once the plants take off, there isn’t much left to do.
I learned something new about germination for carrots and parsnips. Urban farmer Curtis Stone talked about it in a video about carrots.
Using a thick layer of compost on top of the soil is really good if you have problems with drought. The germination will be a lot better if the mulch keeps the soil moist, even in dry periods.
Keep the weeds away from the parsnips. Weeds can give a hiding place to certain pests. Weeds will also compete for light and food.
Parsnips need a ph-value in the soil between 6 and 7.
You can use older seeds and try to germinate them indoors covered with a moist towel. You can use the germinating seeds and discard the ones that don’t germinate. This takes some work but it’s worth trying if you don’t have fresh seeds.
transplanting or planting parsnips
Parsnips cannot be transplanted except for growing seed. Transplanting parsnips to let them grow to seed is only necessary if you want to use a part of the root. When growing directly for seed, transplanting isn’t even necessary. Just let the plant grow for two years and it will go to seed.
I have to do a test with parsnip heads to see if I can regrow them to let the plant flower. I don’t know whether it will work or not but I will surely do an update once I have found the answer.
You can check whether you can harvest your parsnips. Just pull off the mulch and watch the thickness of the root.
the roots are mostly ready when the greens start to die back late in summer or early in fall. But it doesn’t really bother the plant to stay in the soil for a longer period of time once the greens have died back.
It is better to only start harvesting after the first frost as this will help the taste tremendously. Parsnips turn sweeter once frost has passed over them.
diseases and pests in how to grow parsnips in the garden
Cutworm – The cutworm tends to cut off – hence its name – young shoots and seedlings. It’s very much possible that you’ll never see the cutworm but it’ll cut the stem from underneath the soil, while he’s eating the roots of the plant.
BT or Bacillus thuringiensis can be used to kill off cutworms although it can be difficult to use if you don’t want to kill off any butterflies around the plants.
Parsley worm, not everyone will get in trouble with this voracious but beautiful creature and some won’t even try to kill it because it becomes a beautiful black winged swallowtail butterfly. If you don’t want them to kill of your parsley, you can put them in another patch with plants of the same family like carrots and dill. BT is once again the solution if you really want to get rid of it.
Carrot root fly
The carrot root fly can be a real pest and is difficult to see. By the time you want to treat it, it’s almost too late for the plants. What is carrot root fly? The Psila rosae, that’s the Latin name, will lay its eggs near the roots of the plants and the maggots will start feeding on the roots of the plants. Parsley is a family member of carrots and is also vulnerable to this little fly.
If you have the possibility to put up a barrier of 60 centimeters or 24 inches, you can stop the carrot fly from getting to your plants because the fly flies really low over the ground. This method is used a lot in big farming places. They call these nets, carrot root fly netting.
There is a solution to get rid of the carrot fly, which consists of nematodes but I don’t think you can get it for a hobby garden.
Aphids are a pest where ever you get them and they will also populate your parsley plants. Getting rid of aphids can be done with a water hose if you have enough water pressure to give a blast and blow off the little buggers.
A couple of tablespoons of dish soap mixed with a bucket of lukewarm water can do the trick as well. Just spray the mixture on the plants covering top and bottom of the leaves to dry out the aphids. This works because dish soap will dissolve the waxy coat the aphids have around their body, making them dry out after a while.
Root and Crown Rot
Fusarium, Pythium, and Rhizoctonia can cause Root and Crown Rot.
You will see the greens of the plant slowly wilt and collapse.
When roots are cut open, you can see the roots have turned brown on the inside.
There’s not really an organic solution for this problem. It can only be avoided by not letting the soil get too soggy. In heavy clay soil, it’s best to make raised beds. This makes sure water can drain through to the lower layers of the soil.
Try to use crop rotation as much as possible to avoid the disease.
Blight is caused by a fungus named Botrytis. People also use the common name, gray mold. First symptoms are the brown to black spots on the leaves. If not treated, all the leaves will get covered with a white to gray fuzzy mold on the leaves. This disease will eventually kill off the plants.
Southern Ag Garden Friendly Biological Fungicide is said to be helpful against blight although I personally never have used it.
leaf spot disease
The Septoria fungus can cause the leaf spot disease. When you see dark spots on the leaves with a yellow, golden halo around, then the fungus is attacking your plant. The plant will die off if not treated because the disease weakens the whole plant.
The disease can be seed-borne or soil-borne with the splashing of the rain.
The treatment has to be started early and as soon as the disease has been spotted, with a copper-containing fungicide like liquid copper.
Itersonilia sp. or Sore Head is caused by a fungus. It causes damage on the leaves, roots, and crown.
The roots will show dark and sunken pits. Mostly only the topside will be affected. But sometimes the disease goes to the tip of the root.
The spores are in fact first infecting the leaves. Then they wash down from the leaves into the soil and infects the root.
Liquid copper can be used to treat the leaves and protect the foliage. The fungicide will stop the spores from spreading.
Downy mildew, caused by Plasmopara petroselini can be seen after really moist days. The tops of the leaves turn white and after a while, a white-gray fuzzy fungal growth can be seen underneath the leaves. A copper spray like liquid copper can stop this disease although you have to take some measures not to get it back after a while.
Make sure there’s enough air flowing through the plants, so get rid of any weeds growing in between the plants.
Only water in the morning and let the soil dry out through the day.
Choose resistant varieties whenever possible as this can make a big difference when living in a moist climate.
The list of diseases and pests isn’t complete but these are the most common ones around. If I come into personal contact with some kind of disease or pest I will amend this post and hopefully get some pictures.
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Thanks for reading and see you in the next post.