Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
A cool weather, slow growing, white root crop which resemble carrots, to which they are related. Very winter hardy, and their rich, nutty, flavor improves after a hard frost. They are used in soups, stews, and casseroles to sweeten the taste. Delicious mashed with potatoes or oven roasted as parsnip fries. In fact, before potatoes were introduced to Europe, many dishes now made with potatoes were made with parsnips. Parsnip seed can lose viability relatively quickly and should be bought and saved accordingly. Roots can be stored in the ground into the winter and harvested as needed.
Nutrients: vitamins C, E, and K; folate, potassium, manganese, magnesium.
How to Grow Parsnips from Seed
Parsnip is a winter hardy biennial that prefers full sun and loose, fertile soil. Do not overapply nitrogen as this can lead to furry, forked roots.
Parsnip can be direct seeded in mid-spring for a fall harvest. Seeds are naturally lower in germination and tend to be weak, having difficulty breaking through crusty soil. Some growers approach this by planting fast growing radishes directly beside the parsnips to mark the row and break the soil for the slower germinating parsnips.
Sow seeds 1/2-3/4" deep with 1/2" between seeds and 12-18" between rows.. Seeds take 15-28 days to germinate. Thin seedlings so that mature plants are 3” apart.
Parsnips will be ready to harvest in 100-130 days. Delay harvest until after a hard frost which makes roots taste sweeter.
How to Save Parsnip Seeds
Parsnips are insect pollinated biennials that will only flower and set seed in the second season. Isolation distance 1 mile.
Select strong looking plants to save for seed. In cold climates, over-winter in the ground. In cold climates, cover crowns with mulch or dig out, trim, and store in sand or sawdust in a cool place. As with carrots, you can choose to replant only the crowns. The largest, most central umbel is likely to produce the best seed. The mature seed is dry and light brown by the second summer and shatters, or galls of the plant readily, so harvest should not be delayed. Parsnip seed has a notoriously short shelf life, and plans should be made to save seed every year.