Parsnips require a long growing season, so make sowings as soon as ground conditions are workable.
The roots are ready for harvesting roughly 20-25 weeks after sowing, and can remain in the ground throughout the winter months.
The flavour is thought to improve if the roots are not lifted until after the first frost.
Roots left in the bed for this purpose should be lifted by March or they will start making new growth.
Seed germination can be quite erratic, so be advised, do not save seed for the following year, always use fresh seed.
Because of this attribute people resort to a number of ways to overcome this situation.
A few of these methods are described below.
To get off to an early start place seed on a damp kitchen towel to chit.
Once chitted the seeds are carefully placed on the surface of multi-purpose potting compost and very lightly covered.
Alternatively, place the seed directly onto compost to chit, then lightly cover when chitted.
Once the leaves emerge prick out the chitted seedlings into 75mm (3") pots of potting compost and grow on in a coldframe until planting out time.
Care must be taken to ensure the plants do not become pot bound.
To allow this will result in some badly shaped roots at harvest time, therefore it is better to err on the side of an early planting out rather than allowing this situation to happen.
Subject to weather conditions plug plants can be planted out soon after the first real leaves appear.
Leaving this task any later cold result in the seedlings becoming pot bound.
Prepare seed bed by removing any weeds that have grown over the winter months, rake in a general fertiliser at about 60gms (2oz) per sq m.
When sowing in-situ it is best to do it in ground that was manured for a previous crop.
Form 25mm (1”) deep drills spaced 300mm (12”) apart, and sow 2-3 seeds at 100-150 (4"-6") intervals along the row.
Germination can be somewhat erratic and the seeds may take two to three weeks to germinate.
After germination thin the seedlings to leave the strongest one to grow on.
Throw away the thinnings as these do not transplant well.
If the ground is somewhat stony, dig holes at 150m (6”) centers, fill them with compost and sow a pinch of seed.
Alternatively, sink your spade into the soil one spade length (spit) deep, move it backwards and forward to form a Vee shaped trench in the soil, fill this with sifted compost and spread seed thinly along the row.
Cover seeds and, after germination, thin them in stages to allow the strongest seedling to develop at a final spacing of 150mm (6”).
After thinning, water along rows to settle soil around remaining seedlings.
As an alternative to growing plants in the soil one could consider growing them in barrels / tubs filled with sharp sand.
Do this by either planting out the plug plants (circa week 21) into the barrels / containers, or drill some holes in the sand and fill these with sifted compost and sow a pinch of seed* (2-3) into each hole.
*Once germinated thin out the seedlings to leave the strongest one to grow on.
Ensure that the plants never want for moisture!
Water them regularly particularly when the plants are quite young,as the top area of the sand/compost due to its free draining attributes tends to dry out more quickly.
It is not so critical later as the plants will seek the moisture at the base of the container and subsequently increase in length.