Parsnips take some patience. The seeds are slow sprouting, the plants are slow growing, and he whole crop can take a good year to produce if you do it right. But they’re easy, pest free and well worth the wait. They look like white carrots but are fatter on top and skinnier on the bottom Parsnips texture is somewhat potato like, and they are rather caloric as vegetables go, especially since they absolutely demand, in my mind, to be smothered in large amounts of butter. They are also sweet and flavorful in soups and stews.
Therefore, parsnips are biennials that would send up flower stalks and bloom the second season if you let them, but you don’t. You plant them very early in the spring, pick some in fall after a few freezes, and winter them in the ground for an early spring harvest. Parsnips actually turn sweeter after they have been frozen a few times, since the starch in them turns to sugar. So while they may look ready to dig, it is best to leave them in the ground for a while. Please be in mind that patience with parsnips pays off.
Salsify, or oyster plant, is often grouped with parsnip because it is closely related and is grown the same way. It looks like a slightly shorter, thinner parsnip. “Black Salsify” or “Scorzonera” is not even closely related to either, though it looks like black skinned, white fleshed salsify. It is grown like salsify, and it is convenient to put in next to parsnips and salsify in books and seed catalogs as well as in gardens. All three are more popular in cool climate than hot ones, but you can grow them in the south by planting them in early summer and wintering them in the ground.
Selecting a Site and Soil
Well, the site and space requirements for parsnips salsify and Scorzonera are the same as far carrots, except that they will occupy their plot for the whole growing season. Moreover, the soil should very deep, moderately rich, and not too sandy, heavy or stony exactly what you would prepare for carrots except that you should pulverize the soil a bit deeper. Obstacles will cause distortion of the roots. Very sandy soil will encourage large, useless side roots to form, and heavy clay soil will be hard for the roots to penetrate. To correct either condition or plenty of organic matter until the texture is that a good average loam. Therefore, if you still suspect the soil is too heavy, make a large, parsnip shaped planting hole for each plant by plunging a crowbar into the soil, wagging it back and forth, and filling the hole with a a more hospitable material such as aged compost or light rich soil. Moreover, avoid too fresh manure or soil that it too rich in nitrogen, which will cause branching of the roots.
Being tap-rooted, these vegetables will accept slightly dry soils better than most, since they will dig down for water beneath the surface; they will also tolerate slightly poorer soils. But do not ask the impossible from them. What you want to give them is a moderate but consistent supply of water and nutrients, for a long, slow, steady season of growth. The pH can be anywhere in between 6-8.
How to Planting
Well, if you want to grow, and then sow the seeds outdoors in the garden as soon as the ground can be worked, usually early April where live. If you wait too long, the plants may not get the full growth they need before cool weather slows the growth down in fall. Parsnips and salsify take about three and a half months to mature, and Scorzonera takes four. It is recommended planting by the traditional row method to make mulching easier. Make the rows 12 to 18 inches apart. You can make this crop better pay for its year long stay in one spot by inter-planting the rows with an early crop such as spinach or lettuce. Moreover, you need to use fresh new seeds, and soak them overnight in warm water to shorten the two to three week germination period. They can be mixed with sand or coffee grounds for easier planting. Hence, make a furrow and moisten it well, then sow seed thickly because germination of parsnip and salsify is notoriously poor, even with brand new seed this is normally not a problem with Scorzonera. Also cover the seeds with a half inch of very light, fine soil, or even vermiculite, because they will balk and a surface crust just as badly as carrots will. Pat the soil lightly and water it well with a fine spray.
Keep the seed bed moist during the germination period. If you are like me, you can very easily forget to do this, but there are some tricks to make up for lack of vigilance. Put wet burlap, sphagnum moss or even wooden boards over the seeds till they come up. An even better trick is to plant radish seed mixed in with the parsnip seed. When the fast sprouting radish seedlings break the surface, they will also shade the spindly young parsnip seedlings, keeping them from drying out. By the time you’re pulling the radishes, the parsnips should be tall enough to thin four inches tall or more. If you have made crowbar holes, thin each cluster to one plant, snipping the extras with scissors.
How to Growing
Well, while they are growing, the plants cannot take much completion, so cultivate and weed often unless you have good thick mulch that is keeping the weeds at bay. But make sure the soil does not get too dry, especially if the bed is not mulched. Therefore, unless you have used pretty rich soil, or a slow release fertilizer, an occasional light top dressing during the summer will keep growth going, but do not overdo it.
Pets and Diseases
Neither insects nor diseases should be a problem. You might get celery leaf miners that tunnel into the leaves; if so scrape off the little blisters you will find on them. If your plants get canker, making the roots rot, combat it next time by planting a later crop, using no manure and checking the pH. If your soil is very acid, raise it to pH 7.0 by adding the appropriate amount of lime.
If you’re harvesting in fall, then dig the roots and store them as you would carrots. For overwintering in the ground, pile on at least a foot of leaves or straw or some other loose mulch, as soon as the ground threatens to freeze in earnest. During winter thaws you can pull a few up, but as soon as the ground has really softened in spring, harvest all of them. Do not let the tops start growing again or you will ruin the roots flavor.
Shopping for parsnip varieties is easy. The best variety is “Harris Model” “Hollow Crown” a faster crop, is also good. The standard salsify is “sandwich Island Mammoth”. The one name Scorzonera variety I have seen so far is “Gigantea”.