Top tips for parsnips

If you’re growing parsnips, this article will give you a few top tips to help you get the best from them as we move into their harvesting season.

Watch out for canker

If the crown/shoulders of your parsnips begin to turn brown/orange and a little rotten, then they probably have been affected by canker, a spore driven fungal disease that causes the roots to rot. This starts to happen as cooler, damper and windier weather comes in over the autumn. You may see signs of it on foliage too (it’ll look a lot like leaf spot).

Parsnips grown in heavy soil are more at risk of developing canker, particularly if drainage is poor. You’ll also find that damaged roots will be more affected, so if you’ve accidentally forked a parsnip, or if slugs have damaged the roots at all, they are more susceptible. As a preventative measure, you can try earthing up your parsnips to ensure that the crowns are not exposed, this will help to protect them from spores. It won’t guarantee that your plants will be unaffected, but it’ll certainly help. Simply cover any exposed crowns with some good quality compost.

If your parsnips do get affected, pull them up, cut off the affected parts and use them as normal.


Wait for frosts to sweeten the roots

Parsnips develop much of their flavour when temperatures drop, and will be far nicer harvested after several frosts. You may find advice out there that you can dig them up and freeze them overnight in the freezer to mimic this, but to be honest we haven’t found that that works. Better to leave it to mother nature.


Keep an eye out for new foliage

At this time of year, you’d expect to start seeing the foliage die back. New foliage would normally come through in spring, and once this begins the roots turn woody and tough and become less pleasant to eat. We have experienced, in recent years, this second sprouting of foliage happening much earlier, with the changing seasons and general confusion around what the weather is doing. We’d recommend checking, particularly if we do not get a prolonged cold spell too, and if you see signs of second foliage coming through you can pull the parsnips up.


Dig up and heel in if it gets snowy

Something that can be frustrating is that, in the cold weather at exactly the time you want to harvest your parsnips, the ground is too rock solid and you can’t dig them up. To combat this, you can harvest parsnips a little earlier while the ground is softer, and then heel them in by burying them at a 45 degree angle in a planter or pot filled with loose compost. Place them in a more sheltered part of the plot where they are less likely to reach freezing temperatures. Next to a shed is ideal. This way, they become much easier to pull up when you want to use them.


Tangled roots?

Parsnips don’t like their roots to be disturbed, which is why we supply them in fibre bio-pots that you can plant straight into the ground. However, even with minimal root disturbance, they can get themselves into a twist, and if they are planted too close together, or grown in heavy soil, this is more likely. There’s no reason you can’t still use them in your cooking (although they are really annoying to wash).

To improve things the next time you grow parsnips, try these tips:

  • Handle the plug plants as little as possible when they arrive
  • Thin out each plug plant by snipping off excess seedlings to leave just one per pot
  • Plant into well dug over and raked soil, with added compost if growing in clay/heavy soil and any stones removed
  • Give an extra 10cm spacing between plants