Saturday, April 08, 2006

Plentiful Parsnips

1,437 Words, Copyright 2006, Harvest McCampbell
Published by the Hoopa People Paper, March 28, 2006
Posted here with permission

Plentiful Parsnips

Fresh homegrown parsnips only vaguely resemble those strange woody roots found at the grocery store. Just pulled parsnips are sweet, fragrant, and have a delicious taste all their own. They can be used raw or cooked in just about any recipe that calls for carrots, sweet potatoes, or turnips. Raw they can be cut into matchsticks or grated for use in salads, aspics, or veggie trays. They can also be grated and mixed with potatoes for hash browns with a twist. I especially like them cut into chunks and cooked with a roast chicken or duck. (Just be sure to keep an inch or so of water in the bottom of roasting pan so they don’t burn.) But don’t stop there. Parsnips can be steamed, stir-fried, added to soup, boiled, mashed, or puréed. Puréed parsnips make a great soup base for both cold and warm soups. Add milk, broth, or stock to correct consistency and flavor. Dress your parsnip soup up with fresh veggies and herbs from the garden and you are ready to serve up a gourmet treat!

The current issue of Organic Gardening Magazine (February / March 2006) declares that “Root vegetables are all the rage.” Fashionable restaurants and famous chefs are whipping up trendy rooty creations and so can you. Parsnips are like tomatoes, fresh is definitely best. Anyone who grows tomatoes knows that store bought just doesn’t compare. Parsnips are almost as easy to grow as tomatoes. They must be started from seed in their permanent location, as they do not like transplanting. Fortunately, parsnip seeds can be found at nearly all seed counters and in most catalogs. I like the variety called “Hollow Crown,” but there are other types, including miniatures for those who like “baby” veggies. (If you miss the free offer below, and can’t find seeds locally, miniature and other parsnip seeds are available from Thompson & Morgan, 800-274-7333, http://www.thompson-morgan.com )

You will need a raised bed or a deep container to accommodate and protect your parsnip roots. Gophers will definitely raid any parsnips they can reach. Mature parsnips can be 18” long and 4 inches across at the crown. Size is definitely a consideration when choosing your container. I grow mine in 12” deep raised beds, (3’x6’) and they accommodate themselves by bending when they reach the hardware cloth at the bottom. (The current issue of Organic Gardening Magazine also has great article on raised beds. However you design your beds, you will need hardware cloth at the bottom if you have problems with gophers.)

For the best quality roots you need a fairly loose planting mix, rich with organic matter. Compost, leaf mold, forest duff, potting soil, or planting mix can satisfy your need for organic matter. The addition of sand or vermiculite will help keep your mix loose and well drained. Mix in a goodly dose of garden soil and a small amount of wood ashes for minerals, and you are ready to fill your bed or containers. Fill the containers or beds without packing the soil down. If you use large pots, you can tip and rock the container to eliminate large air pockets. If you are filling a raised bed simply stir by hand breaking up clumps and filling in the larger spaces.

Before planting your parsnips you will want to water your containers or beds thoroughly and let them settle. You may need to top them off with more soil mix several times. Use care to ensure the soil settles and is still deep enough to accommodate your parsnips. Now you are ready to choose some short term crops to grow along with your parsnips. Here in the mountain and coastal zones of Northern California parsnips can take 6 – 9 months from seeding to pulling. If you live above the snow line, it may take even longer. Parsnips can take a hard freeze. In the coldest regions they will simply go dormant over the winter months and spring back to life with warm weather.

Radishes, lettuce, green onions, and various oriental greens can all successfully be inter-grown with parsnips. You can even include a few broccoli plants in your parsnip beds. The other vegetables will be dinner before the parsnips are big enough to need the whole bed to them selves. Broccoli is best set in the beds as pre-started plants. The broccoli will need a bit of a head start on the other plants to produce a good crop before the parsnips crowd it out. The lettuce, radishes, and other greens can be broadcast over the bed with the parsnip seeds. Parsnips should be sown so that you have a seed approximately every two inches or so. The other things can be sown thickly so you can use the thinings in salads in just a few weeks.

Don’t forget to cover your beds and containers with an old sheet, screen, or netting to keep the birds from feasting on your seeds. Also check the beds mornings and evenings for slugs. Slugs can make short work of seedlings – so don’t turn your back for too long. (My latest trick is to carry a knife and slice any and all slugs in half as soon as I see them. It is a great way to get out one’s aggressions. Just don’t surprise me in the garden.)

If you are new to gardening check out “The Farmer’s Wife Guide to Growing a Great Garden & Eating From it, Too!” This handy reference written by Barbara Doyen includes drawings of seedlings for parsnips, onions, lettuce, radishes, and other vegetables. Comparing your seedlings with the drawings on the back of your seed packets, or those in “The Farmer’s Wife Guide” will go a long way to help you pull the weeds and save the seedlings. First hand advice is always best, though. If you have an Auntie who gardens maybe she will give you a hand. Local climate and soil can effect the way seedlings look. If you are not sure let the plants grow out a bit and get some help with identification.

Parsnips suffer from few pests once they are past the seedling stage. I have read that they can be harassed by carrot maggots, but I have never had this problem. Crop rotation and inter-growing with onions is recommended when carrot maggots are present. As long as the plants have good drainage, great soil, at least part sun, and protection from birds and slugs when young, parsnips are a relatively carefree crop. They do need adequate watering, but once they are established they can miss a few days irrigation from time to time.

I sow parsnips three times a year. The first sowing is in early spring, the next in mid summer, and the last in mid fall. The seeds germinate erratically over a long period. You will find new seedlings from a few days to a few months from planting. Generally you may need to begin thinning parsnips from your beds about three to five months from planting. At this point the young parsnips will be about the size of slender carrots. They should be thinned to stand at least 4 inches apart. At six months from planting you can begin pulling the largest parsnips in the bed.

When left in the ground for more than 9 months (and sometimes sooner) parsnips will shoot up a tall flower stalk. This 4 – 6 foot stalk bears yellow fragrant umbels that resemble dill on steroids. Parsnip flowers definitely get the attention of garden visitors. In fact parsnips are worth planting just for their ornamental value. Besides being ornamental, the flowers attract beneficial insects that feed on aphids and other pests. Consider allowing your parsnip flowers to set seed. If you do you will have plenty of seed for your next parsnip crop, plenty to share, and enough to plant a decoy crop to help keep those pesky gophers out of your garden.

Parsnips have it all: delicate fern like foliage when young, delicious nutritious roots, fragrant ornamental flowers which attract beneficial insects, they are easy to grow, and hardy enough to be grown all year. If you would like to try parsnips in your garden please use the coupon below for a limited time offer of free parsnip seeds!

For more information and recipes see current issue of Organic Gardening Magazine (February / March 2006) or “The Farmer’s Wife Guide to Growing a Great Garden & Eating From it, Too!” By Barbara Doyen, published by M. Evans and Company, New York. Both of these items should be available by request at your local bookstore or library.


1,437 Words, Copyright 2006, Harvest McCampbell
Published by the Hoopa People Paper, March 28, 2006
Posted here with permission

4 comments:

Becky said...

I have been gardening organically for over 30 years, and longer than that if you count the years I was my mom's gardening assistant growing up. I have never tried parsnips, however, until this year. Afriend who gardens in Alaska clued me in that parsnips are easy to grow and since I love them passionately, I was thrilled to see this new veggie growing heartily in our garden this year. We planted so thickly, I am now starting to thin the plants. I am glad to hear I can use them in so many ways, since my only experience with them so far was as a roasted accompanyment to beef roast or in a chicken soup. These thinnings are so delicate and lovely, though, I can't wait to try them in a salad or stir fry. I will get my chance today. Thank you. Do you know of a culinary use for the leaves? If not, no worries, they will go to good use in my compost pile.

Harvest said...

Hi Becky,

I hope you have been enjoying your parsnips . . . Mine have been reseeding them selves for several years, and I don't ever even have to plant them anymore. The very youngest leaves are tender and can be added to whatever you are cooking. The tender bolts are also pretty dang tasty. The mature leaves have an unpleasant texture, which survives cooking. I have been thinking about drying and powdering the leaves and seeing if they would make a good seasoning . . . But I haven't quite pulled that off yet . . .

The leaves do make a good addition to my mulch, though.

Audrey Barton said...

Thank you for sharing such a wealth of information! I'm a novice gardener and am eagerly awaiting my parsnip flowers! The stalks are about 4 feet tall now, and I look forward to my first batch of self-grown seeds to store and plant again.

Harvest said...

Right on Audrey! Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Please feel free to add me as a friend on facebook, if you like. I have lots of garden photos with lots more information . . .