Parsnips were already cultivated in the Mediterranean area when the Romans introduced them into Northern Europe.
Apparently, Parsnips were a staple of the Scottish diet in the 1720’s, before the potato was generally introduced, when it was reported that Highland women used to wash parsnips in tubs of water by treading them with their bare feet.
Apparently some people are allergic to Parsnips and the sap from the leaves may irritate the skin. They can cause blisters and rashes and the skin can become sensitive to sunlight. Best to wear long-sleeved shirts and plastic gloves to prevent this happening.
A delicious vegetable for digging up in late Autumn and Winter as the frost seems to improve the flavour and sweetness of the mature roots still in the soil. Parsnips are related to the carrot but have a stronger and sweeter flavour.
Only use fresh seed, as the seed looses its vitality very quickly. The ground should be well dug and fertile but no recent manuring in the last 6 to 9 months, as it can lead to the roots “forking”.
When growing Parsnips in heavy or stony ground to prevent the roots forking, it is worth giving the ground extra preparation. Pre-prepare the seed locations by using a “dibber” to form a conical hole about 30 cm deep. Fill the hole with a potting compost before sowing the seeds.
Sow in situ in April or May, once the soil has warmed up to at least 7 C. Earlier sowings in cold ground are unlikely to be successful, except in the mildest parts of the UK.
Several seeds should be sown 1 cm deep at each location spaced about 20 cm apart. Once the seedlings have emerged successfully, reduce the seedlings to one at each location. The rows of Parsnips should be about 30 cm apart. Remember to keep the ground moist, and in the early stages, protect against slugs and snails.
Harvest the Parsnips in the Autumn or over the Winter, as you need them. They are probably most useful as Winter vegetables, when supplies of other home grown foods are limited.
Storage. They will keep for a few days in the fridge crispator. Most people will leave them in the ground and dig them up, as and when required. They are hardy and the roots will survive under ground, even if the foliage has died down.
Pests and diseases. Parsnips are usually free of pests. However, they can get infected by Canker, which causes brown rotten patches usually at the top of the root. You can still use the roots by cutting out any Canker. Try and avoid this problem by choosing Canker resistant varieties.
Avonresister. A smaller variety with some Canker resistance.
Gladiator. A long rooted variety with some Canker resistance