5th May 1999
There's no doubt that I worry more about the seed of parsnips germinating than any other vegetable seed; they can be so erratic, and if they decide not to germinate, then by that time you will have lost valuable sowing dates. I have spoken to many growers over the past few weeks and without exception, they were all saying that parsnips have taken anything between 5 and 7 weeks to germinate this year. No doubt this is partly because, as exhibitors, we like to have our seed sown very early, anytime from mid February, so they are actually in the compost when the weather is cold and the soil temperatures are very low. However I remember writing only two years ago about an exhibitor friend of mine who that year had his parsnips through in just under two weeks so it just proves how different every season can be and how the seasons affect our vegetables growth rates.
This year I have sown more seed than ever as I am also helping my son to grow some show vegetables in his garden for the first time, so there are six 45 gallon plastic drums there, three of which have four parsnips of the variety Archer with the other three having my own seed of long carrot sown. At my fathers I'm growing Gladiator and at my friend Jim I have six drums, five of which are Javelin and the other is the latest F1 hybrid variety from Dr Peter Dawson called Dagger. This is certainly a vigorous grower as I already have it growing in 6 inch pipes for Chelsea. It should posses a slow tapering body with its weight carried all the way downwhich is differently to Gladiator which has a square shoulder; this one will have sleek shoulders, much more like a young lady.
Back home I have three beds of 16 Javelin and the final bed is 16 of the very latest hybridcalled Paragon, the seed of this one was very small indeed and caused me some bother as a couple of stations failed to germinate. This latest variety, according to the breeder, should be a very heavy type with large broad shoulders and a snow white colour. Time will tell if it is of any use on the show bench.
Glass and Collars
As soon as the parsnips were sown, the bed was covered over with panes of glass which were removed as soon as the seedlings appeared through the compost. Every station was then covered over with plastic collars about nine inches in height; these were cut from used water and lemonade bottles that I had stored over the Winter months. They are kept firmly in position by pushing two long split canes down the inside of each collar which prevents the wind from blowing them away.
The idea is that as the growth progresses the foliage will gradually get acclimatised to the environment as it slowly grows upwards through the clear tube. Once they are clear of the tube and the weather has warmed up, they will be removed and kept for re use once more next year. After that point there won't be too much work involved with the parsnips apart from supporting the foliage. If your parsnips grow well you should have some really strong tall foliage which is a good sign that you have some excellent parsnips below as well. The foliage being so heavy can easily crack and any foliage that snaps in this way is no longer functioning towards giving your parsnip the opportunity of optimum growth.
As I have a wooden structure over my parsnips, strong green twine will be wound around the structure a couple of times to make sure that minimum damage can be caused by any strong winds. This wooden structure used to have glazed panels in position early on in the year, but I am now convinced that the parsnips will benefit more by having the glazing panels slid into position during the last month of growth.
My reasoning here has evolved because on numerous occasions, I have pulled some terrific parsnips only to find that after a few minutes the shoulder of the parsnip splits across rendering it useless for show purposes. The problem becomes much more acute the heavier the parsnip is, simply because the parsnip's tremendous growth is constantly under pressure within the bore hole so as soon as the parsnip is pulled, that pressure is released and obviously something has to give.
By sliding the glazing panes over the top of the structure from early August this prevents the rains from getting at the parsnips and from that point on they will have no water whatsoever either. The parsnips will still grow as there is abundant moisture still within the bed further down and only the top few inches will be bone dry. I feel sure this will help to set the skin firmer around the shoulder area of the parsnip, the area that's more vulnerable to splitting. If it works I will certainly let you know.