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Vegetable parsnips (Pastinaca sativa subsp. Sativa) are a subspecies of the native wild vegetables and belong to the family of the Umbelliferae (Apiaceae). They are related to carrots, dill and parsley, among others.
The unusual name causes grammatical confusion again and again: Speaking of a single turnip, according to Duden is both the name "the parsnip" and "the parsnip" correct. The majority in both cases is "parsnip". To avoid the difficult term, one can call the vegetables but also as mutton or moor root.

Parsnips were a popular vegetable in the Roman Empire and can be found in every garden until the 18th century. Only then were they increasingly displaced by carrots and potatoes. Their rediscovery is due to the organic farming: In the health food store and at the organic vegetable stand, the mild root vegetables are again ubiquitous. Creamy parsnip puree, creamy soup and crispy parsnip chips are now even on the menus of many gourmet restaurants.

Appearance and growth

Parsnips look very similar to the parsley root, but make longer and thicker beets. They grow as two-year-old plants and develop a turnip in the first year. The umbels, which are up to 120 centimeters high, with yellow single flowers are in rare cases already at the end of the first year of cultivation, but usually only in the second year. The turnip is up to six inches thick and has a yellowish-white color. It can be up to 40 inches long and 1.5 pounds heavy. It is striking that it tapers from top to bottom quite early and forms a long peak on loose ground. The leaves and also the meat of the roots spread a pleasantly sweet, fennel-like fragrance. The celery-like leaves are one-to two-fold pinnate and have up to seven pairs of pinnates. Parsnips are one of the few vegetables that are frost hardy and therefore can be cultivated beyond the winter.

Parsnips and carrots

Adult parsnips are bigger and thicker than carrots. Their roots also reach deeper

Until a few years ago, parsnip varieties had to settle for pastinacies with historic varieties such as 'White King' or 'Half-length White'. Now, new variants come on the market and also have the organic breeders ahead. They reintroduced an old strain found in the gene bank and improved it by consistent selection. 'Aromata' tastes even nuttier and sweeter than their starch-rich predecessors, but is just as easy to look after in the bed. The buttery yellow roots are tender and also taste like raw salad. 'Turga' can stay on the bed until spring. The long, yellowish-white roots are completely frost hardy. 'White Gem' develops short, broad-shouldered, snow-white roots with sweet meat and is one of the few varieties also suitable for cultivation on heavy soils.

Location and ground

Parsnips can be grown in a sunny to partially shaded bed. The most beautiful beets are harvested on deep and loose loamy sandy soils with a high humus content and even soil moisture. Very heavy and compacted soils are unfavorable, as predominantly shorter, multi-legged beets develop here. When preparing the bed you should loosen the floor as deeply as possible with a sow tooth and distribute about three liters of humus per square meter on the surface. Work it flat with a cultivator or krail and allow the bed to rest for about a week until it is planted so the soil can settle.


The sowing takes place in mild conditions already in March. In cooler regions you should wait until the middle or end of April, then the seeds of the parsnips germinate faster and more evenly. Note the expiration date on the seed bag and only buy as much as you can sow this year, as the seed will not germinate for more than two years. Sown in rows with 40 centimeters distance. Pull around two centimeters deep grooves and warp the seeds after emergence to 10 to 15 centimeters distance. Depending on the temperature, the young seedlings only venture out of the ground two to three weeks after the early spring sowing and bend like a hairpin ("ironing stage"). Because of the long germination period, you should sow a few rapidly germinating radish seeds as a starter seed.

Development of parsnips

From seedling to flowering: the stages of development of a parsnip

Crop rotation and mixed culture

Anyone who follows the crop rotation when cultivating vegetables ensures optimum nutrient supply to their plants and increases their resistance to diseases and pests. In addition, it guarantees long-term good and healthy crop yields.An ideal pre-culture for parsnips is a green manure that deeply loosens the soil, for example, lupins, but also starvation such as cabbage or tomatoes are suitable. Not recommended are other Umbelliferae. So if you've grown fennel, celery, coriander or something similar, you'll have to wait about four years before you can sow parsnips. Only then is the risk of infection with typical replica diseases banned.
In the bed, parsnips can be combined with radishes or dress salads. These are already harvested when the parsnips have grown so large that they need more growth space. Onions are also suitable as mixed culture partners.


When the first leaves unfold, the otherwise robust plants are quite sensitive to frost. In cool spring weather, therefore, a fleece cover is recommended in this stage of development. In addition, the bed must be chopped regularly, so that the initially rather sluggish parsnips are not overgrown by weeds.
If enough compost has been applied during the preparation of the bed, no further fertilization is necessary despite the long growing season - on the contrary: if there are too many nutrients available, many leaves develop, but the roots remain small.
The beet begins in July. In the first few months after sowing, the main root is not even as thick as a pencil, with the onset of growth, the leaf heads turn dark green and become more vigorous. Maintain a good water supply, especially in high and late summer, and water in time as soon as precipitation stops, otherwise the plants will not produce thick beets - the more water and starch the plants can store in their storage roots, the bigger they become.

Harvest and storage

Parsnip crop

Loosening the soil around the root makes it easier to pull the parsnip out of the ground

Fresh from the bed, parsnips are nicely crisp and the pleasant aroma gets better as the winter progresses. In order to be able to harvest at any time even in snowy areas, the bed is best covered with brushwood or fleece. Who wants to create a small supply of long periods of frost, the turnips into a cold frame or stores them in buckets of wet sand in a cool, humid cellar. Too dry stored parsnips become quaternary and tough. Beets that are too small are used as birch trees and pulled out of the ground by hand. Thicker roots break off easily. Loosen the ground next to the row beforehand with the spade or the digger fork, and then pull it out more easily. Tip: The leaves and young shoots of parsnips are an excellent spice for soups, sauces and salads. Like herbs, they are freshly harvested as needed in the summer and processed immediately.


Who grows parsnips in the garden, can also easily win their own seed. Pick strong biennial plants for the seed harvest and let them stand for the winter. Parsnips, which already bloom in the first year of cultivation, are at most suitable as soup vegetables and are not suitable for the propagation. The umbels first in the second year of cultivation later carry the largest and germinable seeds. Do not wait too long with the seed harvest, otherwise the fruits will disintegrate and the seeds will be carried away by the wind. The best time is as soon as the umbels turn yellow or light brown. The seeds are left to dry for a few days and kept until the spring best in a paper bag dark, cool and dry. For seed harvest you should wear long-sleeved clothing and then quickly wash your hands or wear gloves. Parsnip leaves and stems contain phototoxic substances (furocoumarins), which in combination with sun rays can lead to skin reactions with redness and itching to blistering.

Diseases and pests

Parsnips are overall very robust and are hardly affected by diseases and pests. Occasionally fungal leaf spot diseases can occur on the leaves, especially in partially shaded, humid areas.

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