The veg that came in from the cold


This is the third root vegetable this month and one that actually likes a cold climate. 

They are an extremely hardy biennial, completing their life cycle of flowering and setting seed over a two-year period. Commercially they are treated as annuals. 

They are only successful if grown from seed, sown directly into the ground. They just do not transplant successfully and are notoriously slow to germinate. 

Seeds can be sown in late winter, but in our cold and unpredictable spring climate later sowings often produce similar and sometimes better results. 

As with carrots, parsnips require a well-fertilised, loose and stone-free soil to avoid forked roots. 

Make a drill about 1cm deep and sow the seeds 15cm apart and lightly cover with soil. Rows should be about 30cm apart. 

As germination is a little unpredictable some gardeners advise sowing the seed in clumps of three and once the seedlings have appeared, reducing this number to the single-strongest seedling. 

Parsnips are wonderfully drought resistant and should only need watering occasionally. The foliage will start to wilt if they are thirsty. 

Unfortunately, they can suffer from Carrot Root Fly, so as with carrots, try companion planting. 

Parsnips can be carefully lifted in late summer as baby vegetables but for the best taste, wait until the foliage has died back and we have had the first frosts. A hard frost will turn the starch content of the parsnip root into natural sugars, giving it its sweet taste and making it a popular winter vegetable. The colder the winter, the sweeter the parsnip. 

Like carrots, they can be lifted for storage in late autumn. Clean the roots and store in sand, in wooden boxes.
Parsnips are winter hardy and can be left in the ground all winter as long as you can get the fork through the frost to dig them out.