Persnickety parsnips

Someday I will succeed with parsnips, but my luck is bad so far. The usual problem with parsnips is soil, because their big roots (the part you eat) have to be able to penetrate deeply. But that was not my problem, either when I tried two years ago in my raised beds at home (soft, deep soil) or this year at the demo garden (not raised beds, but easily dug, soft, deep, rich soil).

Parsnip seed has to be fresh (less than a year old) and even so the germination is poor. I didn’t get great germination in my home garden, but I did get some seedlings – which then did very poorly in the unexpected shade of my overwintered cardoons.

Well, I didn’t know they were going to come back, did I? They are not entirely hardy in this region… anyway, cardoons are another story entirely. The parsnips, to return to our struggling protagonists, pretty much pooped out.

Except one, which never produced much of a root, but kept growing slowly through the season, and reappeared the following spring, when it (like a good biennial) went to flower and then to seed. I collected the seeds… most of them… and pulled the plant out.

Fast forward to this March (after my garden had been covered under two feet of snow for what seemed like months). I was clearing the bed to plant potatoes, when I discovered five little seedlings of… parsnips! Well, I didn’t want them there, but I had already planned to try parsnips in the demo garden, so I dug them up and potted them. Yes, I know you’re not supposed to transplant parsnips, but waste not want not. And as it turned out, none of the seed planted in the demo garden germinated, so it’s a good thing we had the plants

The transplanted seedlings, happy in the deep rich soil, grew quickly. And then… well, look at the top photo. No big delicious roots… lots of yellow flowers.

The only theories I can come up with are that a) Children of Struggling Protagonist Parsnip actually sprouted last fall (after I had cleared out the remains of Groundhog-Devoured Beans – yet another story) and I didn’t notice them until this spring, so they really are second-year plants, in a sense, and have every right to be flowering, or b) something about the transplantation process stressed them so much they went straight to flower without bothering about the root-forming part of the operation. But I will happily take other people’s theories, or the actual answer!

In any case… it’s frustrating. I may try seeding again with fresher seed, even though it’s June and that’s very late to be seeding parsnips.

What are doing well (you may just be able to see the grassy stuff behind the parsnips in the photo) are the salsify and scorzonera in the same bed. More about those hopefully more successful root crops later.

In other, non-Grow It Eat It news, we have a Demo Garden Mascot. One of our gardeners discovered this cute little creature while pruning the trumpet vine on our entrance arbor.

It’s a Gray Tree Frog. I hope it continues to live happily in our garden, eating bugs.

4 Comments on “Persnickety parsnips

  1. How great that there's a tree frog up there! I was so hoping for a happy ending to this parsnip story. Looking forward to reading about the salsify and especially the scorzonera – haven't hear about that one!

  2. Scorzonera is closely related to salsify – it's got thicker leaves and the root is black-skinned instead of whitish. And I haven't grown or eaten either before so I'm looking forward to seeing how they do!

  3. I have parsnips for the first time this year, from year-old seeds. I stuck them in some unexpected space, and they took a while to sprout, but seem to be doing well. Having planted the parsnips on a whim, I didn't check for companion plants. Turns out they hate carrots. I planted them right next to… carrots!

  4. Good luck with your parsnips, Karen! I can see how they might not like carrots, since they are related to each other and probably don't share well.

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