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Gardening with Gael: Planting the polarising parsnip



thumbnail Philippas parsnip-885Parsnips are a vegetable that elicit strong responses. I am in the ‘love them’ team and so, obviously from the photo, is my sister. She’s not absolutely sure when she planted her parsnips, sometime around when we were ‘locked down’ I think, but this one, of the ‘ self seeded’ variety, is magnificent.


Every year she collects her seeds and plants the parsnips directly in to the soil. Clearly some escape. The parsnip in the photo was an escapee. Found growing in the path near beans and other vegetables (random companion plants), this amazing parsnip stunned the grower and we all had the opportunity to witness it. One of these beauties feeds an entire family. She made chips with that one. The rest of her crop are not far behind. We ate one last night and it was delicious. Chips, mashed, added to mashed potato, in a roasted vegetable medley, parsnips add their own special flavour to a meal. I suspected parsnips that size could be woody but no, not at all.

Parsnip seeds need to be fresh every year. It is easiest to sow directly into the ground. For a clean straight parsnip the ground needs to be well dug and clear of any debris that may encourage the root, as it ventures in to the soil, to perhaps split or fork. Use a fork to break up any clods of dirt that may impede the parsnip’s progress. I think get in there with your hands and crumble the soil. Forks can also happen if the manure that has been added is too fresh. Dig the ground to the depth of the mature parsnip. They are not entirely trouble free, preferring moist but not waterlogged soil. This is during the germination period and all the way through. Not enough moisture can result in a tough woody centre. Letting them dry out a little encourages the root to go deeper in search of water. One piece of advice suggests letting the top two inches dry out a little before watering. The idea, I think, would be to mulch them.


Full sun is preferred but, as I find with most vegetables a little partial shade, particularly in the afternoon is tolerated. Beans and tomatoes are companion plants for them and they can tolerate the shade from them. They prefer a slightly acid soil and I’m beginning to think, if I prepared my sand-based soil well enough, I’d be tempted to grow them next season. The sand is the right acidity, there are no hidden rocks. Mixed with well-matured manure and mulched to conserve moisture I think it may work well.


Parsnips grow over the winter months. The cold weather turns the starches into sugars which improves the flavour. They take roughly four months to mature. This too depends on your climate. Planting them in stages the first time will help discover the best time for your garden.


Growers hoping for a long straight parsnip to exhibit have all sorts of special conditions. It is worth googling ‘growing parsnips for show’ for tips on achieving this. Special mixtures, barrels for encouraging the growth and other considerations, it is worth a look because the resulting parsnips are spectacular. Philippa’s parsnip looks rather wild compared to these perfect exhibition specimens but I declare it tastes just as good.


For an acid mulch to increase acidity for plants such as camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons, gather up some pine needles. If you have inadvertently used pine needles to plants requiring a more alkaline soil and need them to be neutralised, add some lime. Soils with a pH below 7 are acid, soils with a pH above 7 are alkaline.



Philippa’s stunning parsnip was an escapee, found growing in a random place. It was turned into chips. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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