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Parsnip Perfection

For superb flavour, parsnip is hard to beat. Angie Thomas, horticulturist and self-confessed crazy plant lady, shares her secrets to success with this delicious root vegetable.


A tray of caramelised roasted parsnips sprinkled with fragrant herbs is an absolute treat at Christmas. Their sweet nutty taste and creamy texture is simply divine. But to enjoy them in time for the festive season, you need to plan ahead and start sowing now.

Parsnips are root veggies that need full sun (at least six hours of sunlight a day) and well-drained, soft crumbly soil. The garden bed should be at least 15-20cm deep and be free of hard lumps or stones, otherwise parsnips can become wonky or forked.

It’s best to start parsnips from seed, sown direct in beds, as transplanting can result in crooked parsnips. Best results come from using fresh seed – don’t be tempted to use out-of- date seed as germination is usually poor. In temperate and cool climates, sow seed from late winter to late summer and in warmer zones from late summer to early spring. If it is still cold in your area, delay sowing until the weather (and soil) starts to warm up.

Sprinkle seeds along a 6mm deep furrow and cover with soft soil or fine seed-raising mix. Firm down and water regularly to keep the soil consistently moist. Lay a plank of wood over the area; this will assist in retaining moisture around the seeds. Check under the plank every day; re-water as required. When seedlings appear (they can take up to four weeks to emerge), permanently remove the plank.

If too many seedlings have grown, thin the excess to allow 7-10cm of space between seedlings. Snails and slugs can rapidly devour young seedlings, so it’s beneficial to sprinkle some eco-shield Organic Snail & Slug Killer around the plants. To avoid a parsnip glut, sow a new row of parsnips every fortnight rather than all at once.

Once seedlings are established, promote healthy growth and plump parsnip roots by feeding regularly (every 1-2 weeks is ideal) with Yates Thrive All Purpose Soluble Fertiliser. It contains phosphorus, which is an important nutrient in root (and therefore parsnip) development. Keep the soil moist as parsnip roots can split if the soil becomes dry.

Monitor for signs of spider mites, which are tiny sap sucking pests that congregate on parsnip leaves and cause leaf yellowing and distortion. Mites can be controlled with sprays of an organic insecticidal soap like Yates Nature’s Way Vegie & Herb Spray.

You need a bit of patience to grow parsnips, as it takes up to 20 weeks for parsnips to mature (look for the tops of the roots being 4-5cm wide), however younger roots can be picked earlier. Harvest parsnips by gently pulling them straight up and out of the ground, taking care not to break them. It’s said that parsnips that are harvested after the first frosts are sweeter, so summer sowings of parsnips will reap the benefits of the cool weather as they near harvest.

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