Keep root­ing for parsnips this win­ter

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREEN SPACES -

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.

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