Roots and Shoots

Parsnips are a fickle crop. It is common knowledge that they are slow and scarce at germination, particularly with older seed, and thus it is often advised to buy fresh seed each year.

Homegrown parsnip

Despite the wilful nature of their seeds, we had a good crop of parsnips last year, and I’m fairly confident that in the months ahead we will again have a fairly full line of parsnips standing here, waiting for the frosts to sweeten their flesh. This is due to a little ‘cheating’ in our germination method, courtesy of a neighbour in our village, who shared with me last spring an approach that she had been using successfully for a few years now, that we too have found surprisingly prosperous.

Parsnip seedlings germinatingPlace a piece of wet kitchen roll in an old margarine tub, sprinkle parsnip seeds fairly thinly on top, fit the lid back onto the tub, and place it somewhere undisturbed and cool outside. From time to time, check the contents and perhaps re-dampen with fresh water, and watch for germination.

Some weeks ago, then, I flicked out the dozen or so seeds which showed the first white shoots into a prepared drill in the garden, interplanting them with radish seed. Like many gardeners, we use radishes as a catch crop along our rows of parsnip, both to maximise use of the ground and to mark the row while the parsnips slowly emerge. These French Breakfast radishes are making a delicious harvest now, with the familiar crenellated leaves of many of the parsnip seedlings clearly emerging between them, so that we can happily pull up the radishes to enjoy without losing the row.

Parsnip seedlings among catch crop radishes

The tub was put back in a cool place outside, and just this week I opened it to find the next batch of seedlings, some beginning to develop their first true leaves despite their restricted environment.

With the first batch already getting into their stride, I filled the occasional gap with a new seedling – sometimes needing to tear the tissue gently where the roots had grown through – and extended the row with the remainder. We have not bought fresh seed for three years now, this technique yields ample crops for us from the older seed: a great way to remove some of the variability of germination and waste less seed, while still ensuring a bountiful harvest in the winter.

Row of radishes between parsnip seedlings

This method was a revelation for our parsnip-growing. Do you have any tried-and-tested tricks for your crops?

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10 thoughts on “Roots and Shoots

  1. I can grow ornamentals like nobody’s business, but veggies I find challenging and growing from seed even more difficult. I always appreciate anyone who will share a tip that increases success, thank you.

  2. This tip is great, thank you, I might try it with celeriac which I think is also difficult to germinate and I will try some parsnips too! Christina

  3. Thanks for the detail – I have heard it mentioned before but with little info. Is it suitable for any other veg – or flowers – do you know?

    • I’m not sure, though I like Christina’s suggestion to try it for celeriac. I suppose the answer is to try it with a few seeds if you have any variety that seems reluctant to germinate reliably in the more usual way!

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