As soon as the ground is easily worked, pull your parsnips while they are still tasty and tender and store them somewhere using the method of your choice. It can be fun to have a little food waiting to be harvested as soon as spring arrives; if you haven’t grown parsnips before, give it a try!
When planting, treat these deep-growing vegetables like carrots: use a sharpened stick, magic marker, or similar object to repeatedly poke the soil five or so inches deep to make your row. Don’t space them too far apart—as long as you put one seed per hole they’ll make plenty of room for themselves. The stick helps establish a path for the parsnip through the coarser objects in your soil and aids them in becoming long and straight. When you pull the stick out, allow the hole to fill back up with soil since you don’t want the seed very deep anyway. Keep rows around a foot apart.
The biggest trick I’ve learned to growing large parsnips and carrots is mulching – between- the rows. These seeds require consistently damp soil for germination, and though mulch is only between the rows, it effectively maintains moisture throughout the entire bed. Later on when the summer sun hits us at full force, the roots greatly benefit from the reserve supply of water and drought protection provided by the mulch.
You can dig up parsnips in the fall, or simply leave them in the ground to be harvested in the spring. Since this time of year can be busy as one collects (and stores!) the fruits of their labor, I opt to leave most of my parsnips in the ground. By the time I am running out of carrots late-winter, it won’t be long before I am restocking the fridge.
Parsnips can be stored a number of ways. If you plan on freezing or refrigerating, scrub the parsnips with a sterile nylon-brush to remove any dirt. I don’t go too crazy with this step as I will later peel each root before cooking. Parsnips store nicely inside large plastic bags within the vegetable drawers of the fridge. Be sure to wedge a bunch of paper towels throughout the bag to help soak up the condensation that will otherwise gather inside. Occasionally replace the paper towels. Whenever you want a scrumptious addition to your meal, simply reach into the bag and pull out what you want. You can also peel -> chop -> blanch -> and freeze parsnips. Others have success storing parsnips in the garage or another room that isn’t heated but doesn’t sink below freezing. If you choose the latter method, don’t wash the roots, simply brush the dirt off when they are dry.
One impressive thing about these pale vegetables: they are actually extremely healthy! With loads of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, parsnips out-perform a lot of other vegetables we grow. Conveniently, these nutritious roots can be prepared a number of ways in the kitchen, but mashing them up like potatoes is particularly tasty! Also, try roasting large pieces of parsnip on a cookie sheet coated in olive oil, finely chopped garlic, and a little S & P. Parsnips cook extremely fast, so if you want chunks in a soup or stew, add them much later than other vegetables. Otherwise, add your nips with everything else and allow them to break down and contribute to the body of your soup.
Once you start growing parsnips, you are likely to continue to do so, partly because of the privilege of over-wintering them right in the ground. I find myself busy as a bee during the fall harvest, and having the ability to gaze at a bed of vegetables and say, “Ba, I’ll just pull them in the spring” is pretty…pretty sweet. I’ll admit though, it’s their presence on the dinner plate that keeps me planting the seeds! Stay healthy, stay happy, and during these peculiar times of isolation, stay gardening my friends!