Monday, 24 March 2008

perfect parsnips?

Parsnips are one of the great English vegetables. And notoriously temperamental to grow. The terrible growing conditions of 2007 meant that we haven't had any of our own in over a year.

Why the difficulty?

First, they take an age to germinate: six weeks!
Because of this lengthy germination, there are many variables that can affect their viability - particularly drought or waterlogging.
And they are pretty specific about their temperature needs too and so the wide fluctuations we can have in spring from below zero to double figures Celsius compound the difficulties. Then , of course, there are pests!

So, having had some very poor results with parsnips, they were not included in our planting plan this year.

Until I spoke to Ken.

Ken is a fellow allotment holder and he uses a different method than any I have read about for germinating parsnips. The common method is to sow into a drill in well prepared soil in the spring. The parsnips are then 'thinned' and allowed to grow on throughout the summer and autumn until they have been frosted. This frosting improves their flavour and they are lifted and eaten from November to May.

I was asking Ken how he did with parsnips. He explained that he sows his parsnips into newspaper cylinders made by wrapping newspaper around a brush stave. The cylinders are secured with tape and then filled with compost. Four or so seeds are then sown into the top of each cylinder. The seeds are covered with a little compost and the cylinders are kept watered in plastic boxes in the unheated greenhouse until germination. Only the strongest plant in each cylinder is allowed to grow on. Once the little plants have established themselves, the cardboard cylinders are dibbered into the bed that will be their home until harvesting.

This method avoids the difficulty of disturbing the long root of the parsnip and allows us to more closely monitor temperature and moisture levels during germination.

Last year Ken planted fifty cylinders and forty eight went onto maturity. Forty eight!!!!!

I'm trying it this year.

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