Parsnips as a Staple Crop

| 5/19/2015 9:25:00 AM

Tags: root cellar, storage crop, parsnips, Garth and Edmund Brown, New York,


Why Parsnips?

The parsnip is an overlooked vegetable. I think this is in part because cookbooks often lump them in with turnips and rutabagas, even though they have nothing in common. Also, the ones in the grocery store are often old and slimy on the top. Mostly, they are just less a part of the culinary landscape than potatoes and carrots and beets. This is a shame, since parsnips are a delicious and versatile vegetable, and it is doubly so for the avid gardener or homesteader.

They have a number of qualities that recommend them as a staple crop. They are, as mentioned, delicious and versatile, lending themselves to roasting, sauteing, mashing, or pretty much anything you might do with a potato. In my opinion they are more palatable than beets or rutabagas or even carrots. Once established they are vigorous, hearty plants with few disease issues. They store beautifully in the cellar or in the ground. Though they are biennial, they are easy to overwinter in sound enough condition to save seed.

So why aren’t they more widely grown? Other than ignorance about how awesome they are, the greatest difficulty is germination. Trying to get a good, even bed of parsnips can frustrate even the most experienced and dedicated gardener. It seems like no matter how heavily they are seeded or how diligently they are watered, there is always half a row where few or none germinate. But the rewards come harvest make them worth growing.

How to Grow

Parsnips are less prone to getting fibrous than carrots, so the main storage crop can be planted in the spring. Unfortunately, they do not reach peak flavor until they’ve been through some frosts, so they aren’t the best root to eat during the summer.

They will give some sort of crop even in soil that isn’t particularly fertile, but they’ll do much better in a mineralized, well prepared bed. Though they don’t feed as heavily as cabbages, like all garden veggies they do appreciate nitrogen, whether from seed meal, high quality compost, or a green manure. A lighter soil with relatively fewer stones will increase the number of perfectly shaped roots, but this is primarily an aesthetic concern.

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