Growing for Showing - Parsnips and Celery
15th Feb 2001
Sowing parsnips is always the first job outside for me every year and this year will no exception as I shall be at it during this coming week getting my four raised beds sown.
The beds for my parsnips are built up from concrete blocks and have a height of a metre or so above the pathway around them. However the beds are over five foot deep on the inside and filled with concreting sand which has served me well as a growing medium for many years. The sand currently inside the beds is only about three years old and for the first time this year, I don't intend to empty the beds.
My reason in the first place is sheer lack of time, last year, because of family commitments, I was unable to carry out the work of emptying the drums and refilling them, so I shall leave them alone. The main reason for emptying and filling the beds or drums is two fold, first it eases the compaction inside them so that boring the holes becomes easier. Secondly, if the drums are emptied and refilled during late Autumn, then the sand has sufficient time to compact down again giving you a better shaped parsnip.
If you delay the emptying of the drums until a week or so before sowing, you will notice at the end of the season that your sand has settled down about two inches lower than what it was at sowing time. Naturally as it settles, so the bore hole mixture and the developing parsnip settles with it and this can certainly be a contributory factor for getting mis shaped specimens. The beds will therefore, purely as an experiment for this year, remain as they are. As it"s obviously going to be extremely hard work boring a hole through compacted sand with a steel bar to a depth of some five feet or so, I shall core them out.
My intended method is as follows, Use first a four inch diameter plastic pipe and core out a hole to a depth of some two feet, the sand from the initial cores will be utilised to raise up the beds to their former level prior to compaction. 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 touches the edge of the four inch bore hole at the top. Hopefuly this will be a lot less physical and should produce some quality specimens.
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. It dawned on me when thinking about sowing space what was the comparison between my beds and a 45 gallon drum which has a diameter of 23 inches giving a surface area of nearly 2.88 square feet. With four stations of parsnips usually allowed per drum, this means that every parsnip has 0.72 square foot to develop to it"s optimum size, exactly the same surface area as my beds.
As I have been struggling a little to get a good size on my parsnips over the past few years, 9 inches around being about the average which is really a little too small by the standards set at national level. I therefore intend to reduce the number in each bed so that hopefuly the increased surface area per parsnip will give me bigger specimens. I am also going to change the variety from Javelin to Gladiator which seems to have that little bit of extra vigour in it.
The mixture that I intend to use is Jack Arrowsmiths' mixture which has been very succesful for him and is as follows = 2 builders bucket full of sieved soil from my leek bed, one bucket of concreting sand, 1 bucket of finely sieved Irish moss peat. The fertiliser that I shall add is = 6 ounces Superphosphate, 5 ounces of potash, 5 ounces of lime, 2 ounces of fine calcified seaweed, 1 ounce of Hoof and Horn. To this mix I shall also add a capful of Bromophos.
I shall today be sowing my first batch of celery seed with another further sowing in two weeks time.
The first sowing will be 3 varieties, 'Starburst' which is my new F1 hybrid cross between Ideal and Moonbeam, the other will be a brand new variety called 'Redstar' which is a cross between Ideal and Red Lathom and the third sowing will be my own selection of Ideal to maintain a stock for hybridising. Sadly legislation does not permit me to sell the seed as it is currently unregistered, but I am allowed to sell seedlings and the price of these are in my current catalogue.
Celery can be very vulnerable to damping off so do make sure that everything you use is clean so wash out all the seed trays using some Armillatox to sterilise them and use fresh seed sowing compost. As a big carrier of disease spores is the water itself, I make sure that every drum of water that I have in my greenhouses has a few drops of Armillatox in them to keep to keep the water clean and prevent the formation of algae on top.
The seed sowing compost that I use is Levington F1 and the seed is broadcast sown thinly on top and lightly pressed into the compost. I do not cover the seed with anything just give the top surface a fine mist spray, this is done on a daily basis until germination is achieved inside an electric propagator.