How To Grow Giant Parsnips

Root out some fresh seed for good parsnips.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Tips on How to Grow Giant Parsnips

Parsnips are one of my favourite vegetables with that hint of sweetness. It has taken some effort to get good crops as I have tended to sow the seed too early. Perhaps I need to take my own tips below more to heart

Home grown Parsnips

  • Sowing can be done in spring from February to May.
  • Parsnip seedlings are very hardy but seeds need some help to germinate. If sown early, cover with a cloche or wait until the soil is a bit warmer.
  • The seed may benefit from a week in the fridge to break dormancy.
  • Parsnip seed needs to be fresh and I have had failures from seed kept for another year.
  • To get unforked well shaped parsnips sow in situ, don’t transplant and avoid stony ground
  • Sow radishes near the parsnip rows so you know where they are but when picking them dust with insecticide powder to discourage celery root fly.
  • I have to tolerate a bit of canker (brown on the top and skin) but there are some resistant varieties

For the allotment or competition grower there are some different tips and tricks or the trade. In his book ‘How to Grow Giant Vegetables’ (ISBN 00-412771-4) Bernard Lavery offers two types of ‘giant’ – Parsnips for Weight and Parsnips for Length. If you want a world record you will be looking for a 15 foot parsnip but you can have fun for your local show using these tips.

Giant Tips or big tips for Giants

  • Sort and grade any new seed into three different sizes. The biggest for growing giants, the smallest for the kitchen garden and intermediate sizes as backup for the giants.
  • Use an old fashioned variety that is known for growing large parsnips not an F1 type.
  • Giant plants take around 38 weeks from sowing to harvesting and are started in mid winter.
  • Sow intended giants in a bottomless 45 gallon drum on a raised bed –from 6 seeds select the strongest and discard the rest.
  • For weight the plants can be transplanted (say from pot sown) as root disturbance encourages side roots which help put on weight.
  • For length sow in a plastic gutter pipe mounted on a fence at a 45 degree angle with a fabric sock on the end.
  • Fill both methods with well drained but poor soil
  • Daily watering will probably be needed and a balance feed every 3 weeks
  • A weak balanced foliar feed in early summer evenings will also help
  • Take care not to cause damage when harvesting

Parsnip wine can be brewed if you get tired of eating them boiled roast or fried like chips. With a large enough crop you could be drinking parsnip wine with a Sunday roast and boasting of the near world champion that you had at the local show

What is Parsnip Canker

  • Parsnip canker is the most common disease of Parsnips.
  • It is a fungal disease caused by ‘Itersonillia’ which causes Black Canker or Brown Canker
  • The crowns crack allowing rot to enter the whole root.
  • The crowns go orange-brown or black and crusty.

Causes and Treatment Canker

  • Canker is created in conditions of drought or over-rich soil.
  • Acid soil is a problem, so add lime.
  • Poor drainage can harbor canker, so try double digging.
  • Carrot root fly may damage crowns allowing in the fungus, so cover root tops with fleece.

Tips to Avoid Canker

  • Use a cultivar that has resistance such as Gladiator F1, Alba, White Gem, Javelin or Avonresister.
  • Do not grow susceptible varieties like Offenham, Lancer and Yatesnip.
  • Sow later in the year say April or early May
  • Once canker has started there is no way to reverse the effect. You can still eat the good parts of the parsnip.
  • Maintain good hygiene clearing old crops and leaves.

Photo credit
Roasted Root Vegetables by the uff da! chronicles Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)


4 Responses to How To Grow Giant Parsnips

  1. Paul BROWN September 21, 2010 at 16.03 #

    Hi, Have just dug a parsnip from my garden. 670mm. in length. Apart from thinning and weeding they have had little attention.

  2. admin September 24, 2010 at 16.03 #

    I guess your seasons are different from the UK. My parsnips are still match stick length.

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