Early Sowing of Parsnips for August Shows
14th Feb 2002
A number of growers will no doubt have already sown some of their parsnips and if you are interested in exhibiting them during the month of August, then you should be sowing them anytime now. However this season is going to be very different indeed for those, like myself, who make the Welsh Championships and the National Vegetable Society Championships their main goal. The Welsh is being held during the August Bank Holiday weekend whilst the National is being held five weeks later as part of the Malvern Autumn Show.
It does therefore mean that most things will have to be sown twice in order to make sure that I have some quality exhibits for both shows. Normally of course if I was sowing my parsnips for growing directly outside with no covers, then probably the one single sowing would satisfy. Things however have changed radically over the past five years or so as more and more growers are now building covers over both their parsnips and carrots which changes things quite dramatically. Covering over the growing areas means that you can have the best of both worlds at both ends of the candle. You can sow earlier and have some super quality specimens for August and equally you can sow things later which will carry on giving you quality exhibits when the night temperatures are dropping and the day length receding.
Early Sowing is not always the right answer
Last year for me was a perfect example that sowing everything early is not always the right answer. You must remember that when things are sown early then they do take longer to establish as the night temperaturers can fall drastically. Indeed during February and March it's not unusual to have severe frosts and whilst the frost in itself will not harm the young parsnips seedling it certainly holds them back.
University College at Bangor
Over the past seven years or so I have grown some super parsnips at the University College greenhouses at Bangor and these have been grown at a minimum night temperature of 65°F. They have been sown mid January and I have harvested August quality specimens, that would have won at most County shows, during mid May. This means that they were grown over a period of four months where as some equivalent specimens sown mid February and harvested mid August would have taken six months. I am therefore convinced that there is a lot to be gained in quality if the sowing is delayed until the weather warms up more.
To prove this I sowed four drums of Gladiator in my tall covered polytunnel on the 7th May and these were the best conditioned parsnips that I have probably ever grown. They grew non stop from day one and when I harvested a couple for the National which was held on the August Bank Holiday weekend, I was able to stage two of them. This took just a week short of 4 month and I couldn"t believe the skin finish. There were no grooves at all on them and were the easiest parsnips that I have ever had to wash with superb colour as well. It does seem to me that sowing slightly earlier than this date for me would be perfect timing for the Malvern show which would give them and extra five weeks of growth to gain a little more weight.
One thing I have to stress is that my tall polytunnel must be about as perfect a growing environment for them as you can get, the height from the top of the barrel to the roof must be all of ten feet which means that any heat building up during some hot Summer days is way above the foliage. Also I have two wind up curtains which are more or less fully open along two sides of the tunnel during the Summer thereby allowing air to get into the structure.
Bearing in mind all the above, I intend to delay the sowing of my parsnips in the new structure until the First week of March and then the second sowing inside for the National at Malvern will be around the middle of April which should give me some excellent roots.
The mixture for parsnips I feel needs soil in it to sustain the growth right through to harvest time. I have had a look in my diaries over the years and my mixtures have certainly changed with the passing of time. Some say that the best parsnips that I ever staged was when I won with a dish of six at the NVS Championships when it was held at Southport in 1988. They were sown in four foot long pipes, six inch in diameter and all had been sawn in half so that when lifted, I could remove the ties, and split the pipe in two. These pipes are still with me and I now grow my parsnips for Chelsea in them.
They were sown on the 6th February that year for the first time under cover, the variety was tender and true as the newer hybrids weren't available then. The mix was 1 part Levington Multi Purpose sieved through a ½ inch sieve, 1 part concreting sand with quarter pound lime, quarter pound Calcified Seaweed all the above for 4 - 2 gallon buckets. They were very clean long parsnips but, as most parsnips then, not very heavy. I must admit that I had my best ever NVS championships at Southport that year and my wife made a list of my winnings together with the entries in each class - 1st long carrots from 20 entries, 1st Cauliflowers from 14 entries, 1st with a collection of six kinds, (six of each kind in those days) 1st Parsnips from 12 entries, 1st long carrots, 1st leeks and best exhibit in show from 7 entries, 2nd peas from 18 entries, 2nd celery from 16 entries, 4th stump carrots from 15 entries, 4th tomatoes from 23 entries and 5th with under 8 ounce onions from 16 entries. Not a bad haul and one that I will probably never achieve again, a total of ten cards and best exhibit.
However I feel that my best Parsnips were those staged in 1984, again at the NVS championships when at Reading where I won the collection of six kinds, 6 of each kind, by a clear 8 points from the second with 6 collections staged. I also won the class for parsnips that year with some lovely smooth heavy shouldered specimens and that mix was as follows, and I quote directly from my diary - 3 bushel soil from under greenhouse bench sieved through quarter inch sieve, 3 bushels of half inch sieved peat, 2 bushel fine sieved sand plus 5 ounces bone meal per bushel, 4 inch potful of lime, 4 inch potful of calcified seaweed, 4 inch potful of Superphosphate and 4 inch potful of sulphate of potash. The mix was made on Sunday the 26th and they were sown (my own selected seed of Tender and True) on Monday 27th. I just wonder if this mix would do the business for me this year!