Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Parsnip experiment

A couple years ago I mentioned a different approach to growing parsnips that I was trying out. The challenge with parsnips is that they can be very slow to germinate. With the usual direct sowing method, in the time they deign to make an appearance competing weed seedlings proliferate and a painstaking process of weeding the line has to be done without inadvertently weeding out the precious parsnip seedlings. Even more of an for me issue is uneven germination resulting in a rather gappy row. 

With parsnips, as is generally the case with root vegetables, sowing in pots or modules for planting out later is not an option as they do not like root disturbance and are likely to fork. Also, in my view, the books and seed packets tend to suggest sowing parsnips too early in the year – February onwards. But parsnip seeds don’t appreciate cold wet soil. Much better to sow later in the spring when the soiled has warmed up.

The method I have used for the last three seasons has produced my best parsnip years. This time I also did a little experiment. This is what I do in mid-April. I layer a shallow plastic container with damp kitchen towel and on this sprinkle on the (fresh - don't used seed saved from last year-) parsnip seeds in such a way that they are evenly spread and not touching. Gently tamp them down so that the flat surface is in contact with the damp paper towel. Cover this with clingfilm or a clear plastic lid. Leave on a window sill indoors. After about a week or ten days the seeds will nearly all have germinated. A small tail of root will have emerged, 2-3mm long. They need to be planted out fairly soon after this because if the brittle root grows too long there is a risk of it breaking off.

In ground you have already prepared plant out the seeds individually 4 inches apart and 1⁄2 an inch deep. This is admittedly the fiddly part and if you are long-sighted, wear your reading glasses. However, there is the advantage of knowing that you are only sowing germinated seeds, and that they will emerge much sooner, and, being at the requisite planting distance, no thinning out will be necessary. You are much more likely to end up with a full row.

The first couple of years this seemed to work well for me. This year I sowed a 20 foot row in the way just described and another 20 foot row alongside using the traditional direct sowing method. Seed from the same packet was used for both methods. For a 20 foot row at 4 inch spacings there is room for 58 plants. Having recently checked progress the results are that in the ‘traditional row’ 19 seeds germinated and produced seedlings. Some of these will have to be thinned out to the appropriate spacing though. In the pre-germinated row 54 seedlings have survived and as they are all at their final planting distance no thinning out will be necessary.

This year has convinced me that the approach is worth the effort and I will continue to use it in the future. In practice it is not as laborious at it might seem. This way one or two rows of parsnips is viable and more than enough to see us through.

Parsnips - worth the effort.   (Google-sourced image)