Keep rooting for parsnips this winter
starch but despite the fact they are considered nutritionally superior to potatoes, they are no longer so popular.
Some say they were cultivated by the Romans who considered them a luxury but they were certainly used in the middle ages as a sweetener and in sweet dishes when sugar and honey were not widely available.
Parsnips are members of the carrot family and grow freely in the wild across Europe. However, the wild variety has a narrow woody root which was used only for flavouring along with the leaves.
Parsnips are pretty easy to grow although flint-ridden soil in the Chilterns is a bit of a stumbling block as it hinders their appearance somewhat.
And just to prove this, the first one I dug for the picture turned out to be a comedy three-pronged parsnip.
There are two things in particular to note about growing parsnips from seed. Firstly, the seed does not keep well so fresh seed is a must. Secondly, the seeds like to be wet to germinate. I have read that some gardeners soak them overnight before sowing although I have never tried this. Provided there is rain after sowing you should be OK or water them at least weekly. (At least the wet spring was good for something!)
Ideally, sow in mid-March but they appreciate a warmer soil so later is better than too early (and depends a bit locally if you are in a frost pocket). Sow seed in groups of 2-3 at 10cm intervals and then thin to one strong plant per 10cm to get the best sized parsnips. They are in the ground a long time but it’s worth the wait and provides you with a great all winter vegetable when other things are thin on the ground.
And don’t forget, wait for that all important first frost before you start harvesting.