Getting ready for the Parsnips
14th Mar 2002
Later than expected
I never intended to sow my Parsnips too early this year as I anticipated the new structure that I am building to have been completed by early March. With the extra warmth that this structure would generate I feel that sowing mid February might well give me specimens that could be a bit on the rough side. However the structure wasn't finished until this week so I had no option anyway but to hold back until now.
I have been pondering long and hard regarding the mixes that I intend to use and in the end, after going back over some of my old diaries, I am going to use a compost based on soil rather than soiless. The main problem was deciding on the fertiliser element as there are so many variations around, in the end I decide to give Jack Arrowsmith a ring. Jack has undoubtedly staged the best set of Parsnips that I have ever seen at the Welsh championships a few years ago, so he certainly knows how to grow them.
His mixture this year is the same as the one he used for those best parsnips a few years ago with the exception that he no longer adds Hoof and horn to his mix. The mixture is as follows 4 gallons of sieved soil, Jack gets his from his onion bed and reckons it"s the best place to get it from. 2 gallons of sieved Moss peat passed through a quarter inch sieve and 2 gallons of washed sea sand. To the 8 gallons of material he adds 7 ounces of Superphosphate, 6 ounces of potash and 6 ounces of Garden lime.
Finding a source of good Top soil has always been a problem for me as it is very difficult to really get hold of some good quality fibrous loam. The fact is that nearly all the soil in my garden is no longer soil as such but a very fine composty mixture that is undoubtedly full of organic matter and will grow the finest of vegetables. I have now just found out that the compost company Westlands Horticulture sell in 25 KG bags 'Top Soil', a specially selected and graded soil which is lime and chalk free. This beautiful sterilised loam has been passed through a series of 10mm to 6mm sieves to give a nice fine graded mixture. Looking at it and feeling it in my hands, it really does look the business and should be perfect for mixing with peat and sand to make bore hole compost. It has a balanced clay silt and sand composition which gives it good stability under wet conditions.
I see no reason to think that the parsnips won't grow just as well in other mediums provided the growing ambience is correct. For instance at Bangor, where I sow and grow my parsnips for Chelsea, the mixture is nothing more than Levington F2S straight from the bag. The compost is used to fill 6 inch diameter pipes 4 ft long and I have to say that the results have been really marvellous.
The first sowing will be carried out in three of the four beds under the new cover whilst the fourth and last bed will be left for a sowing of my own Selection New Red Intermediate Long Carrot. I shall delay sowing the carrots under this cover until mid April but next week I shall explain how I go about sowing these outside under temporary covers as well as what mixture I intend to use.
Boring the holes
For creating or boring the holes for parsnips I intend to use first a four inch diameter plastic pipe and core out a hole to a depth of some two feet. After the four inch pipe I shall use a 3 inch diameter one positioned centrally within the four inch hole and a further core will be taken to a depth of four feet. The bore hole will be completed to it's depth using the traditional pointed steel bar and moved around until it actually pushes out the four inch bore hole at the top to 5 inches.
To make sure that the bore hole is the same size each time, I shall use a five inch pot with the bottom removed so that I can place it over the top of the bar to sit in the hole as a guide for size. Hopefully the boring or coring will be a lot less physical this year as all the beds have been emptied out and, with a bit of luck, should produce some quality specimens. Do make sure though that the sides of the bore hole are straight and not convex as the final shape of the bore hole will be reflected in the shape and quality of your parsnips Each bed is 5.75 feet long and 2 foot wide giving me a surface are of 11.5 square feet and last year I had 16 bole holes in each bed which means that each parsnip had 0.72 square foot of surface area to develop in.
The variety of parsnip will be predominantly Gladiator but I shall have a few bore holes of the brand new F1 hybrid Countess as well just to see if it can challenge Gladiator on the show bench. Do take care when filling the bore holes that you have no air lock in them and that you compact the compost evenly in each hole; If you do not compact it, then the bore hole will settle in time.