Pernickety Parsnips – How to Grow Parsnips

I have tried to grow parsnips from seed for several years with no success. Parsnips are notoriously difficult to grow.  First you must use fresh seed – last year’s seed won’t sprout. Then, even with the freshest seeds, you may have to wait up to six weeks before you see any signs of life.  And since they don’t like their feet disturbed, spending hours babying them indoors to get them going is futile since they will protest once transplanted.  These vegetables also require a long growing season.

And they’re picky about the temperature, picky about the soil, and picky about the amount of water they get.

Why do I bother!!??

I don’t know.  Maybe I like the challenge.  Or maybe I really like homegrown parsnips. I don’t know. I’ve never been able to get them to grow.

Either way, when a friend told me of this great method of starting parsnips in newspaper cylinders or toilet paper rolls, I was excited to try it! It sounded perfect because you can coddle the seeds and seedlings inside, and then you can transplant them without disturbing them too much because you put the toilet paper roll and all in the ground.

So we saved our toilet paper rolls.  Then I bought some parsnip seeds and tried it … and they did very well at first.

At first.

Failure again.

I was convinced … I will never be a parsnip farmer.

But I had half a package of seeds left, and I didn’t want to waste them, so I planted them in a garden bed that I had been adding loads of shredded dry leaves to for over a year. The soil was rich and moist.  But since I hadn’t been able to get the parsnip seeds growing in perfect conditions indoors, I didn’t have much hope for my outdoor parsnip patch either.

I checked on them every day and kept them well watered, and in a couple of weeks, lo and behold, we had two rows of leeeetle, itty bitty, baby parsnips!
With a fresh does of determination, I watered, pampered, and coddled … and they actually grew!  I had an entire bed of healthy parsnips!

Since these vegetables taste better after they’ve been exposed to cold, we are now waiting for wintery weather to sweeten their roots.  (No hurry, Old Man Winter.  Really.)  But we pulled a few today just for the fun of it … and to share our happy success with you : )

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  1. Can you tell me what zone you’re in and when you started these seeds? Parsnips are something that I love roasted and with kale but need to grow them myself. Thank you for your time – MW

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      When I wrote this post I lived in zone 6. I don’t remember when I planted the seeds, but I think it was late March/early April.
      Now I live in zone 5 and I don’t plant them until May – and sometimes I warm up the soil with black plastic before I do that. And cover them with row cover to keep them “warm”. Ah the joys of gardening in the north.
      Happy growing,

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