Parsnips are not the most glamorous of vegetables, even less so when old and woody which is usually a sign of being dug too late. But I am very partial to a bit of roast parsnip and they add welcome variety in winter when veg can get a bit repetitive. We are doing a late sowing parsnip seed now for winter harvest. Others will have sown as early as last spring though they are not likely to harvest before winter. They will have considerably larger specimens by then, as long as they do not bolt to seed. From this you can take it that the timing is not critical. They take about four and half months to reach maturity so you can be eating them from July onwards if planting now. It is usual to leave them in the ground and dig as required. They go dormant over winter and frosts are said to enhance the flavour considerably.
The two critical issues are to use fresh seed (parsnip seed does not store well) and to avoid additional fertilisers. Nitrogenous fertilisers will encourage too much top, leafy growth and not enough root development. Fresh manures will cause forked and misshapen roots. Parsnips are a good option where you have taken out a heavily fertilised crop like leafy greens or even potatoes. Don’t add anything extra – there should be plenty of goodness left in the soil. Make sure the soil is well tilled and friable to allow the roots to grow straight. Seed is sown close to the surface and covered lightly. Once it has germinated and is growing away strongly, thin to at least 10cm apart in every direction to allow room to develop. Diseases are not usually an issue and while a few pests can attack parsnips (carrot fly, greenfly and wireworm), this is not usually a big problem.
First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.