Although it seems early in the year to be thinking about Winter veg, a lot of the staples for the Winter months need a lot of time to develop and parsnips are no exception. We would usually start them from seed a couple of weeks earlier than we have this year but due to the big freeze we have delayed until now.
We do two separate sowings of parsnips a few weeks apart which gives us the opportunity to resow the first rows if we get poor germination. Parsnips can be a little bit tricky to get to germinate but there are a few simple ways to ensure the best chance of success. Always buy fresh seed for parsnips as they are one of the few vegetables for which seed will not store. When buying the seed there should always be a date on the packet telling you either when it was packed or when to sow them by so always make sure you double check this. Another consideration is the soil, we are lucky enough in the Kitchen Garden to have quite light and free draining soil but if you are on heavy soil then it is wise to wait for a few weeks until the soil is warmer to avoid the seeds rotting in the cold and the wet. We also protect our early sowings with a layer of horticultural fleece just to give them a little added protection from the colder weather.
The process of sowing the seeds is the same as with any of our direct sowings. A shallow drill is created and the seeds sown into the bottom of it. In this case we sow them a couple of centimetres apart before covering over and watering in. Although this is quite a close spacing it allows us to thin the seedlings to the correct spacings after germination. We use this as an opportunity to get a bonus crop by waiting until the parsnips are at perfect baby parsnip size for the kitchen and thinning at this stage. We then leave one parsnip every 8 inches or so to develop into the main crop of large parsnips for Winter harvesting.