Days Gone By
16th Feb 2005
Parsnips is one vegetable that I do feel needs a long growing season to develop it's best profile, hence the need to have an early start with it. Ever since I have been gardening and exhibiting seriously, which is well over thirty years, I have kept all my diaries where I make copious notes regarding sowing dates and my mixes etc. Prior to writing this article I dug a few of the older ones out and had a little read, what a difference there is now in the general technique of growing to what it was then. Also both the quality and size of nearly all the root vegetables as well as onions and leeks have undoubtedly improved dramatically. There was no talk about covers and polytunnels, and even if there was, I probably couldn"t have afforded them at the time whilst still bringing up a young family.
Why don't you have a sneaky look over my shoulder and read what I had down for Friday 6th August 1976, nearly thirty years ago. 'Picked 15 onions from the garden ready for the Anglesey County Show Tuesday and Wednesday next week, they were as follows = 1 @ 18 inches circumference, 1 @ 17¼ inches, 6 @ 16 inches 5 @ 16½ and 2 @16¼. The 18 inch onion weighed 2½ lbs. and the average weight of the rest was just over 2 lb'
They wouldn't stand a chance today would they, but they helped to win a red card for me as part of a collection, how we have improved since we began using covers and using modern composts etc. Further down the same page you can see another footnote, ‘Given three leeks for seeding from Mr Davies Llandyrnog, the biggest was 7½ inches around at the bottom and 6½ inches round at 4 inches up the barrel' At the time of writing these note, Mr Davies who lived just outside Ruthin, was the bees knees at the time winning nearly al the shows up the North West area. I well remember him staging 3 collections, one of 12 kinds, as well as nine kinds and 6 kinds of vegetables at the prestigious Shrewsbury show and winning each one of them. That took some doing I can tell you, so these leeks at the time were as good as you could get up here then, yet they must have measured under 6 inches around half way up the barrel. They wouldn't stand a chance today would they and barely bigger than some people plant out their blanch leeks these days!
However I'm digressing, the real reason for checking up on my diaries was to see when I had sowed my parsnips at that time. In those days some of them were simply bored straight into the garden soil whilst around 1976 I had two slightly raised beds constructed, and these were filled with top soil from my garden, certainly not the done thing to be carrying out today. In 1976 I sowed my parsnips on the 28th February; in 1977 - on the 29th January, in 1978 – on the 5th March, with a note to say that four stations were sown with the variety Student, plus a further four stations of my own selection of Tender and True and fifty one of a new variety called Impact. I have no further record of this variety and I have never heard of it since, I wonder if any of you had grown it at that time. In 1980 the sowing date was the 17th February and in 1984 it was the 27th February. Significantly, those parsnips were part of one of my best collections at that time and they also won the class for a dish of six. This happened at Reading where the National championships of the NVS took place. The collection of six in those days really was quite hard as every dish had to have six of each kind. It was given a total of 94½ points which was, if I can remember correctly about 10 points ahead of the second. This, when you worked it out meant that each vegetable nearly averaged 16 points and if my memory serves me well the parsnips were awarded 18 points in both the collection and the class.
The mixture that year was as follows – 3 bushels of sieved soil from underneath my greenhouse bench where it had been drying out. 3 bushels of peat sieved through a half inch sieve and 2 bushels of fine sand. The following ingredients were then added to every bushel – 5 ounces of bone meal, 4 inch potful of lime, 4 inch potful of seagold (now called calcified seaweed) 4inch potful of superphosphate and a 4 inch potful of sulphate of potash.
It does seem therefore that sowing before February's out seems to have produced the best specimens for me. Anytime between now and the weekend I shall sow them again and, wait for it, the above mixture is the one I shall use, if it did the business then I see no reason why it can't do it now, lets hope so anyway.