Growing Your Own Vegetables - Parsnips and Brassicas
6th Apr 2002
Eating roast beef accompanied by parsnips is one of my favourite meals, particularly if the parsnips have been cooked in the same tin as the meat, they just go together perfectly. The Parsnip, just like it's close family member the carrot, is a biennial. In other words it produces it"s long white or creamy coloured roots in the first year followed by it's flowers in the second year. The varieties that we eat today have been developed from the wild variety that is found throughout Central and Southern Europe. Over the last decade or so parsnips have undoubtedly improved with the breeders regularly producing newer and superior varieties.
Sadly, in the past, a number of gardeners were put off growing parsnips as they very often succumbed to the disease Parsnip Canker. The disease manifests itself as a blackened area around the shoulder and this eventually will totally decompose and render most of the parsnip useless for the kitchen. The older varieties were much more susceptible to this disease rather than the newer F1 hybrids of which today there is a very wide range available.
The first ever F1 hybrid, Gladiator was British bred By Dr Peter Dawson in Surrey, this was the start of a range of hybrids followed by Javelin, Archer and Dagger. Over the past two years or so other breeders have introduced newer hybrids with Panache, followed by Paragon and Polar. Countess is the latest hybrid, a variety that will be sold in pelleted form. All the above are available from a range of vegetables in my latest full colour seed catalogue.
With so many good varieties therefore to have ago at, many of them with resistance to Canker, it is well worth sowing a few early in order to harvest some really good specimens later on. There's no doubt that Parsnips will thrive better in a sandy well drained soil with some added lime. if you have heavy, clayey soil you can still grow some good parsnips but you will need to improve it's structure by forking or rotovating in some coarse concreting sand. Alternatively create a growing environment suitable for them by having a raised a bed, or even growing them in a few pipes just above the ground, these however will require watering on a regular basis. Parsnips will grow well in manured soil but inevitably when you come to harvest the roots there is a strong possibility that the majority will have forked.
Parsnip seed are slow to germinate and the germination time will have a bearing on the soil temperature at the time. I have had parsnips germinate under ideal conditions in ten days but I have also seen them take as long as six weeks under wet cold conditions. Never try your luck by using seed saved from the previous season, parsnip seed, even if kept in a dry cool condition have only a life expectancy of one year so always use fresh seed.
If you do have trouble with parsnip seed germinating, then you can help by first chitting the seed, this is a very simple process of breaking the seeds dormancy prior to it being sown. Do this by laying sufficient seed for your needs on top of a moist layer of tissue paper covered over with the same, leave in a closed container in a warm room. After a week or so, check the container every day, as soon as the dormancy is broken, which will become evident when the radicle (the young root) starts to protrude from the seed case, they can be sown directly into the ground. One word of warning though, do make sure that your seed bed is ready to receive the chitted seed. Once germination has commenced, the young shoot will continue to grow with a danger of the emerging tip being broken and possibly causing the developing root to fork.
Preparing the Ground
Prepare the ground well by forking it over having added some base dressing such as Growmore. Sow three or four seed about half an inch deep in stations six inches apart and in a straight line; it makes it a lot easier when it comes time to hoe the weeds. My own selection will still be Gladiator, the first hybrid introduced, it's very vigorous and has strong resistance to canker. If we are lucky enough to have some dry weather for a few days, make sure that the top half inch of soil is kept uniformly moist.
As they are slow to germinate it pays to sow some radish in between each sowing station. These will germinate within a few days showing you the exact position of your row when hoeing as well of course as having the benefit of a fresh early addition to your salad. When the seedlings are well through, thin each station down, initially to two and in ten days or so down to one. I have in the past thinned down immediately to one only to find that within a few days the remaining one seedling had collapsed for no apparent reason.
There is so much to do at this time of year in the vegetable garden; I often get down there to do a particular job only to find something more urgent needs attention and inevitably end up not having done what I initially set out to do; such are the joys of gardening. A number of seed can be sown now, either in a cold greenhouse or in a cold frame, in particular the Summer brassicas such as cabbage and Cauliflowers. The Cauliflower is often called the queen of the vegetable crop and I believe was once mentioned by Mark Twain as being 'nothing more than a cabbage with college education' The varieties to chose from are very numerous, In my seed catalogue alone I list 4 Red cabbages 13 green cabbages and 11 cauliflowers.
One tip, don't sow the whole packet, there's no need for a glut of vegetables, sow about ten seed of the varieties you like with a further sowing later on, in say two weeks time. This should then keep you in fresh greens most of Summer. The seed need to be sown on top of some fine seed compost in a seed tray, rather than covering the seed over with the same compost, I much prefer to use fine grade Vermiculite which allows the young seedlings to break through unhindered.
Suggested varieties Red cabbage - Autoro, Green cabbage - Estron and Cauliflower -Beauty or Lateman .