How to Grow Parsnips in Southern California
Parsnips are available at most farmers markets and in most grocery stores, but they do not get nearly as much love as some of the more popular root vegetables, such as carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, radishes, and beets. However, this solid source of potassium, folate, calcium, and vitamin K deserves more attention, particularly after you see just how easy it is to grow parsnips in a backyard vegetable garden.
According to Organic Facts and Food Facts, eating parsnips has a variety of potential health benefits, including:
- Boosting the immune system
- Reducing the risk of birth defects
- Improving heart health
- Increasing fiber intake
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Reducing the risk of developing diabetes
- Helping to maintain a healthy weight
- Improving digestion
While these are probably enough reasons for most folks to consider increasing their parsnip consumption, it might also be helpful to know that parsnips have 75 calories, 36mg of calcium, 29mg of magnesium, 375mg or potassium, 17mg of vitamin C, and 22.5mg of vitamin K per 100-gram portion (United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database). You can read the full list of parsnips nutrition facts here.
Parsnips are easy to incorporate into meals. The most popular options are roasting them alone or with other root vegetables or adding them to soups and stews. You can also boil and mash them along with potatoes, sautée them with herbs, or you can even bake them into desserts.
But before you can roast them, bake them, or mash them, you first must acquire them. One way, of course, is to add them to your weekly shopping list and pick some up next time you are at the farmers market or in the produce section of your local grocery store. However, since they are easy to grow, you might want to enjoy them even fresher and more local by growing them in your backyard vegetable garden.
How to Grow Parsnips in Southern California
The first thing to know about growing parsnips in Southern California is that they are actually a biennial plant, but you will be growing them as an annual. This means that you will need to plant parsnip seeds in your garden every year. With some food plants, you can continue to plant seeds from the same seed packet for a few years, but this is not the case with parsnips. While you might get lucky and have some seeds that will germinate the second year, it is best to discard any leftover seeds after the growing season and start with new seeds each year.
How to Plant Parsnips
Parsnips are most delicious when they can stay in the ground until after the first frost, which makes them sweeter. You can plant your parsnips in late spring or early summer. Before planting your seeds, it is best to loosen the top 12 inches of soil in your garden bed and to mix in compost to add nutrients to the soil.
You have two basic options when planting parsnip seeds: You can either sow the dry seeds directly into the ground and allow them to start there, or you can loosely wrap them in a wet paper towel in a sealed mason jar or food storage container for a few days to give them a head start.
When you are ready to put your dry or sprouted seeds in the ground, plant them approximately one-half inch deep and about one inch apart in rows that are at least six inches apart (12 inches is better).
How to Care for Parsnips
As your plants begin to grow, you will start thinning out your rows of parsnips until each remaining parsnip has at least about a six-inch radius of space in all directions them.
Be sure to regularly weed your bed to keep weeds from competing with your parsnips for nutrients and water. Parsnips need at least one inch of water per week and they will need more if it is a particularly dry or hot year.
It is a good idea to side dress your parsnips with more compost about halfway through the growing season.
How to Harvest Parsnips
Depending on the variety you choose, your parsnips should be ready to harvest sometime between about four months and six months.
You can harvest parsnips by pulling them out of the ground much like you would carrots, but you will need to be careful not to break the root, if possible. Because of this, it is generally better to use a spading fork to gently dig them loose from the soil. If you do break some roots during the harvest, eat these first – broken roots do not store as well as intact roots.
One of the cool things about parsnips is that you can leave them in the ground until you are ready to eat them, so you can keep them fresher longer and not take up valuable space in your refrigerator.
If you live in an area with hard frosts, you will want to either harvest all of your parsnips before the ground hardens, or you will want to leave them until the ground thaws and harvest them then. However, this is not an issue for most Southern California gardeners. For us, it is more important to remember to harvest all of our parsnips before the weather begins to warm up in spring.
Once you harvest parsnips, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to two months.