Get­ting to the root of the prob­lem

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cundall

ACOU­PLE of weeks ago a bloke fairly new to grow­ing veg­eta­bles asked me to ex­plain why he was un­able to grow de­cent parsnips.

He in­sisted he’d “done all the right things” be­fore sow­ing the seed, but his ef­forts were a con­stant fail­ure.

His plants pro­duced plenty of huge leaves, he told me, but when they were pulled from the ground there was vir­tu­ally noth­ing down be­low.

In short, his parsnips were all top and no bot­tom.

When I asked him what he meant by “do­ing the right thing” he went into some de­tail to ex­plain how thor­oughly the soil had been dug and heav­ily ma­nured.

He was gen­uinely mys­tifi ed by this con­tin­u­ing fail­ure to grow de­cent parsnips.

This in­abil­ity of many veg­eta­bles to form de­cent, ed­i­ble roots is a com­mon prob­lem.

The same prob­lem can oc­cur with car­rots and beet­root.

This ex­ces­sive, top- heavy leafi ness is caused by over- rich soil con­di­tions.

Parsnips are par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to over- ma­nur­ing.

It is why the seed should al­ways be sown into soil that has not been re­cently ma­nured, es­pe­cially with high- ni­tro­gen fer­tilis­ers.

I al­ways sow car­rot, parsnip and beet­root seed into soil which has been fer­tilised at least a year ear­lier to pro­duce crops of leafy veg­eta­bles such as bras­si­cas, let­tuces or sil­ver­beet.

This slightly im­pov­er­ished soil al­lows most root- crops to send down deep roots that swell rapidly. That’s the part we love to eat. I should add that it is al­ready too late in most parts of Tas­ma­nia to sow parsnip seed.

If sown this week­end it will be early April be­fore the seedlings ap­pear and vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for them to fully ma­ture.

It is pos­si­ble in warm dis­tricts to suc­ceed car­rot and beet­root seed, although the roots may be slightly small.

Or­ganic grow­ers never feed their plants any­way – they feed the soil.

This al­lows plants to take up pre­cisely the right amount of nu­tri­ents they need as they grow and in­crease in size.

The greed­i­est of all veg­eta­bles can be planted out now as strong seedlings.

They in­clude cab­bages, caulifl ow­ers, broc­coli, sil­ver­beet and let­tuces.

All grow strongly in soils en­riched with high- ni­tro­gen fer­tilis­ers.

Among the best nat­u­ral fer­tilis­ers with high­ni­tro­gen con­tent are poul­try and other bird ma­nures with the strong­est of all be­ing pi­geon drop­pings.

How­ever, all bird drop­pings must be used cau­tiously.

If too fresh they can pro­duce se­ri­ous prob­lems and ei­ther kill or dam­age plants.

This is of­ten mis­tak­enly de­scribed as “fer­tiliser burn”, the im­pli­ca­tion be­ing that ex­trastrong ma­nures ac­tu­ally burn the roots of plants.

This mis­con­cep­tion arises be­cause the leaves of dam­aged plants usu­ally be­gin to shrivel and take on a burned ap­pear­ance.

How­ever, the real cause is mois­ture loss be­cause over- fresh ma­nures ac­tu­ally draw mois­ture away from plant roots.

Fresh horse ma­nure sal­vaged from sta­bles can also be de­struc­tive, es­pe­cially if mixed with straw bed­ding.

This is be­cause it is soaked with urine and it is this con­cen­tra­tion that causes most dam­age.

I once saw a rose garden vir­tu­ally de­stroyed be­cause some­one mis­tak­enly spread a thick layer of fresh sta­ble ma­nure be­tween and around the rose plants.

All the leaves started to wither and turn black.

The only way the rose plants were saved was by ap­ply­ing heavy ir­ri­ga­tion to com­pletely sat­u­rate the soil.

The ex­tra water di­luted the urine and also helped fl ush it away from the rose roots.

The best way to utilise fresh ma­nure of any kind is to mix it with any kind of soft or­ganic mat­ter such as straw, leaves, wilted weeds or grass clip­pings.

The stack can be given a good wa­ter­ing; cov­ered with a sheet of black plas­tic to keep out the rain and left to de­com­pose.

In a cou­ple of months it will have rot­ted down and be­come com­post.

This is a per­fect fer­tiliser, ready to be worked into the soil.

How­ever, just make sure you don’t make the blun­der of sow­ing parsnips, car­rots or beet­root there.


Parsnips are un­likely to grow if the soil they are planted in has too much ma­nure.

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