The parsnip plant produces a thick, white, edible root that resembles a carrot, its close relative. The flesh of the parsnip root is smooth and tender with a slightly sweet taste. Although a cool season biennial crop, producing small yellow flowers if left in the ground for a second season, parsnips are grown as an annual when harvesting the root. If you wait until after the first frost to harvest, the root’s flavor will be even sweeter. This is a great season-extending crop because of its cold hardiness. However, don’t try to eat the hairy, toothed leaves, and wear gloves when harvesting, as the sap within them is toxic!
The Harris Model parsnip is one of the more commonly grown varieties thanks to its long tap root and rich, nutty flavor. While it can often take a bit longer than other types of parsnips to sprout and mature, germination rates are usually quite high, and the roots can reach up to 12″ in length! In addition to having high yields, the Harris Model parsnip often develops a beautiful, almost pure white flesh as opposed to the creamy hue of most other varieties.
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: 3″
Space Between Rows: 18″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–70°F
Days for Germination: 10–28
Sow Indoors: Not recommended.
Sow Outdoors: In late spring to early summer, or 4 months before average first frost. In areas with mild winters, sow in fall for overwintering and harvest the following spring.
Grows best in cool weather. Taste is sweetest when harvested after a few hard frosts or in spring after overwintering in areas with mild weather. Heat will reduce germination rates and also stunt plant growth and root development, so avoid growing in warm summer weather. For best results, plant in spring or early summer in cold climates or in late fall through early winter in warmer areas.
Natural: Full sun. Tolerates partial shade.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained sandy or loamy soil. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.0 will keeps plants healthy and nourished. The soil needs to be loose, deep and free of stones for proper root development.
Soilless: There’s not a great deal of data on soilless growing for parsnips, so be sure to let us know on our contributors page if you have any success with this method!
Hydroponics: We’ve heard parsnips are the hardest root veggie to grow hydroponically; however, it is possible.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Consistent moisture will result in the best quality harvest. Reduce watering as roots begin to thicken or else you risk splitting them.
Nutrients: If soil is poor, feed with compost tea or liquid seaweed once per month. Amend with fertilizers containing potassium (like greensand) and phosphorus (colloidal phosphate or wood ash), but keep nitrogen levels low to avoid excessive foliage growth and neglected roots.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar feedings of compost tea or liquid seaweed once per month.
Pruning: When plants are 6″ tall, thin to 3″ apart.
Rotation: Plant after potatoes to take advantage of the deeply dug, loosened soil. A 3-year rotation is recommended to prevent disease issues.
Companions: Grows well with onions, radishes, wormwood, garlic, peppers, bush beans, and peas. Avoid delphinium and larkspur.
Harvest: Dig up your parsnip roots after the first few frosts for best and sweetest taste. If you’ve overwintered your crop, you can harvest anytime in early spring after the last hard frosts but before plants start sprouting new greens. Remove any loose soil immediately after harvest. The hairy leaves are not to be consumed, and wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting as skin contact can cause an unpleasant skin reaction.
Storage: If you’re short on space, you can cover your parsnip crop with a thick layer of mulch and pull up only what you need throughout the winter. Store picked roots in the refrigerator after removing all loose dirt. You’ll want a high humidity environment for best results, so keep them in a plastic bag for 2–6 months of freshness.
Helpful Hint: Parsnip seeds are notorious for having low germination rates, but never fear! There are a few ways to help improve your yields that are as easy as they are effective. The first thing to know is that parsnips are more particular about germination temperatures than many other plants, so be sure your soil is going to be consistently above 50°F before planting. The second thing to pay close attention to is the quality of your soil. Parsnips don’t like rocky or compacted soil, so get your hands dirty and clear out a good space before putting in your seeds. Finally, be sure that your seeds are fresh! After a year, seeds become even less viable and are almost impossible to get to germinate. Follow these steps, have a little patience, and we’re sure you’ll be pleased with your efforts!
Preserve: Blanch and freeze cubed or sliced parsnips. Parsnips can also be canned using a pressure canner. Picked and lacto-fermented parsnips are another option for later use.
Prepare: Parsnips are usually eaten baked, steamed, fried, or roasted. Use similarly to other root vegetables. A good additions to wintertime soups or stews. Before use, rinse well, peel the outer skin off, and cut off the leafy top.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin C, folic acid, manganese, and potassium. Also a good source of dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Regular consumption may reduce risk of a number of serious health issues, including diabetes, heat disease, cancer, hemorrhoids, obesity and high blood pressure. The B9 vitamin found in the plant may help to reduce risk of depression, hearing loss, and heart disease, as well an being beneficial for pregnant women. Parsnips also contain antioxidants, including vitamin C, which can support overall health.
Warnings: The elderly and those taking prescription medications should consult with a doctor before regularly eating high potassium foods like parsnips. Do not consume leaves as they are toxic.
For a savory treat on your biscuits or turkey, try this Parsnip and Garlic Gravy!