Parsnip House Saga
5th Jan 2005
If you have been following my parsnip house saga, you will recall that it cost me an arm and a leg to construct and up to last season, its third year, I hadn't produced parsnips of any real merit from it. Well, last year proved to be far superior and I was able to bench some really good specimens, they never got a red card, but watch this space! I know I can grow good parsnips, if I could only get them sown on time, last year was during early March which for me just isn"t early enough to have sufficient weight on them. This year I intend to have them sown around mid February which gives the plants an extra two to three weeks of growth which can put that extra bit of weight down the body towards the end of August, early September.
Greenhouse at Bangor
The strange thing is that I have always grown marvellous parsnips in my greenhouse at Bangor for the Chelsea flower show. In fact, in the nine years that I have been growing for Chelsea, parsnips has been one vegetable which has always been consistently good. Indeed I would as far as to say that the ones I pulled last year were the best ever and I could easily have staged a very competitive set of five at the National championships. There's no doubt that the consistent and even temperatures throughout their growing period has a lot to do with their quality as well as the growing method. Each parsnip is grown in individual pipes 4ft long and 6 inches in diameter that are tied up vertically to a steel bench and sitting on a concrete floor. This obviously means that the roots can't get down any further and when I harvest the parsnips, very often some roots will have started turning around the bottom of the pipe. The mixture I use is 1 bag of Levington F2S emptied out into a concrete mixer with added 4 ounces of fine garden lime or carbonate of lime. One good tip I was given by a friend of mine Jim McCartney, who is in the building trade, always add a couple of bricks into the mixer with the compost, it helps to mix it better and break down any lumps in the compost.
At Chelsea I stage two triangles of 10 parsnips, four on the bottom, then a layer of three, then two and usually topped with my best specimen. In order to make sure that I have a good twenty to choose from, I always grow 40. So good were the parsnips last year that I stopped pulling any more after 30 because they were so consistently uniform in size and shape, I just hope they'll be as good again this year. The seed for this years Chelsea was sown just before Christmas and any day now they'll be popping their heads through the compost. From that point on, right through to harvesting them, they will have no feed at all with the pipes being kept uniformly moist throughout.
Back home I have repeated what I did last year by lining the inside of the raised block beds with polythene, in my case it was black and white as it was the only source I had at the time. There no doubt that this helps to maintain a constant growing environment by maintaining a regular moisture level within the bed. The polythene prevents the blocks from soaking up the moisture like blotting paper with the result that the outer edges of the sand within the bed could get quite dry without you realising it. I believe it also helps any settlement of the sand within the bed to be even as it slides down smoothly against the polythene whereas against the blocks there would be some friction.
What I need to do now is to clean out all the sand and the structure so that I start off with the knowledge that there won't be any nasties harbouring around. What I always use to clean the glass and woodwork is Armillatox, mixed at the makers' recommendation for cleaning glass and polythene, and this will be mixed in a bucket and applied onto the glass and woodwork with a hand brush. I have always afterwards hosed it down, often using a pressure washer, However, Armillatox informs me it would be much better to let it dry on the glass. Their reason for saying this is because water is the biggest vector of disease, applying any more of it, whether it be via a hose pipe or a pressure washer, would simply serve to re inoculate your structure with potentially more disease spores.
I have four raised concrete beds under glass to grow parsnips and I grow ten parsnips in each bed. There's no doubt that these days we are spoilt with a choice of top quality parsnips at our disposal and in my current seed catalogue I stock all of those that have the potential to win at the highest level. Indeed, I now stock a wider range of parsnips than any other amateur seed Catalogue. Gladiator, Archer, Javelin, and Dagger are all exceptional parsnips and this year I have introduced Dr Peter Dawson's latest new hybrid called Albion. This variety should be much whiter than any previous variety and if the three staged by Gerald Treweek at the RHS show last Autumn is anything to go by, it could become a real winner. They must have been good, as they were awarded the Society's Silver knightian Medal for the most meritorious exhibit in the single dish classes.