Sweet Parsnips

Sweet Parsnips

Parsnips aren’t a vegetable that springs to mind, being more common in the colder countries than in South Africa. But consider this:

  • Parsnips are sweeter than carrots.
  • They are a very good source of fibre and vitamin C, minerals, and B complex vitamins, as well as vitamins K and E.
  • Research has found that they contain antioxidants that have antiinflammatory, antifungal and anticancer functions.
  • They are an excellent winter crop because frost converts much of the starch to sugars and helps develop long, narrow and firm parsnips.


Parsnips are a long-season crop that will only be ready for harvest four months after planting. In other words, sow in April to eat in August. Its most important requirement is deep, friable soil that drains well. Good bed preparation is essential. Remove all stones and sticks, and break down clods of soil to achieve a fine tilth. Soil needs to be reasonably fertile and fine compost can be added. Sow in situ and make sure the soil is well firmed down after sowing. Keep the soil moist but not too wet, because parsnip seed is known to rot, especially if it is not fresh.

Germination is slow and experienced veggie growers sow radishes at the same time. Because radishes are quicker to germinate, they open up the soil’s surface, which helps the parsnip seedlings to emerge. Thin out seedlings to a final spacing of 10cm between plants. The soil can be slightly earthed up around the parsnips after thinning. Keep soil moist but don’t overwater. Fertilising should not be necessary.


Parsnips are generally harvested when the roots reach about 15-20cm in length. In loose, moist soil it is possible to pull out the parsnip like a carrot, but this can damage the roots. It may be safer to fork them out. Push a fork into the ground about 15-20cm away from the parsnips and lever up the soil so that the soil falls away from the parsnips. Like carrots, parsnips can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

The Gardener