Overcoming the problems with Parsnips
18th Oct 2001
One vegetable that's been giving me a few problems over the past couple of years has been parsnips, they somehow or other haven"t been putting on weight as they should have and neither has their condition impressed me. The variety that I used this year was all Gladiator, the first ever F1 hybrid and still the easiest and heaviest to grow and show. There is no problem with the seed so the problem lies with my method of growing them, i.e. the mixture or the manner in which they are grown.
Luckily for me I grow parsnips in my friend Jim's garden as well so I usually manage to get a few sets from one garden or the other. Those I grow in Jim"s, with no overhead cover, just some Enviromesh wrapped around the drums at about 18 inches above the rim to protect them from strong winds, have very small tops or foliage on them. The ones at home that have a timber frame around them with Enviro mesh and polythene over the mesh grew far bigger tops, often out of the top of the frame. The difference however was that around the middle of June when I remove the thin polythene leaving on the Enviromesh, the plants seen to have a terrible check in growth and the foliage turn yellow. The ones at Jim still grow on although the tops look a darker green and more weather beaten. However on the whole, I have probably pulled better parsnips from Jim's drums than I have at home with the early protection of covers.
This year I did an experiment to really try and find what was causing the problem and I placed some drums inside my leek polytunnel, along the back wall so that I would have sufficient height to bore a hole with the steel bar. The idea came to me late on in the season so the preparatory work was not as thorough as I would have liked. The drums only were filled with sand whilst the soil they were sitting on had a couple of spade fulls of sand worked in. The parsnip seed were sown on the 6th May and once they got going I couldn"t believe how powerfull they looked. The foliage was not over tall but the stalks were strong and heavy at soil level.
When I pulled a couple for use on my collection I was amazed at the condition of the skin, they were smooth as silk with none of the deep groves or browning along the hair root areas that is a sure sign of a plant growing under stress. The only problem was that the majority of them had some lumps along the bottom of the root where they had obviously gone out of the drum and into the rich soil below. Next year therefore I shall grow more inside the tunnel as well as sowing them a little earlier. So one of the jobs between now an Christmas time is to set up some more drums as well as removing soil from the bed and replacing it with concreting sand.
With my current two parsnip beds with wooden covers over the top the existing timber covers are going to be completely done away with and replaced with a mark two model! The thinking is that as the beds are fairly narrow (approx., 18 inches across) and the covers are not that high, it must be getting too hot inside on warm sunny days in Spring. The consequence being that they have a check to their growth when the polythene is removed. I therefore intend to build a cover that will encompass the whole of the two beds and this I hope to achieve by screwing or bolting on to the face of the block work some 3" x 2" wooden uprights. To these I shall attach panels of polythene made from some roofing battens and the roof will also be constructed with the same sort of material. As regards to the roof, this will have to be constructed in smaller panels that can be easily removed at sowing time so that I can use the 6 ft bar easily to prepare the holes.
The whole idea still needs a little bit more thought as it certainly needs to be quite strong to withstand the howling gales that we often get screaming in from the Menai Straits which is only a mile away from my house. I am convinced this sort of structure will be better as the heat raised inside will have a far larger are to spread over and the plants won't be stressed out too much. Between the two beds I shall construct a temporary door on one end facing my path whilst the other will be completely blocked off . I don't know what my father would say if he was here now, he was always a little annoyed when I changed things around in the garden or built different beds every year. However I know one thing for a fact, I wouldn't have got to where I am now if I hadn't adapted and changed as time moved along. We must move on as the knowledge we accrue increases, if you do nothing and stand still, you will almost certainly go backwards.