How to Grow a Giant Parsnip
Below is a picture of David Thomas with his World Record 7.85kg 17.27lb Parsnip - September 2011 read on to find out more information
After growing a parsnip in 2010 at 11.9lb I figured that with a few tweaks it may be possible to get close to the world record which was held by Peter Glazebrook at 13lb.
The sowing date was the first thing to consider, I decided to sow the parsnip into a litre pot on the 14th January, I started about 30 in the same pot, parsnips take about 2-3 weeks to germinate.
Towards the end of February just before they came into rough leaf I transplanted them into tubes.
The tubes were filled with a mixture of 50% sand and 50% peat based multipurpose compost. The tubes measure 15cm in diameter and are 36cm long and have been cut down one side so that they will open up wider to slide the parsnip out.
The parsnips were then kept in the greenhouse and watered daily if needed until they were planted in the tunnelÂ on the 26th March. I did not feed them at all in this time as they looked healthy enough.
Meanwhile I prepared the ground in my tunnel for them to be planted into, the soil test came back as P=76.8 ppm and K=168 ppm. The P was high enough and the K was not too bad but I did add some MOP (Muriate of potash) and a little bit of High N fertiliser. The ground was then deep cultivated and tilled to a depth of about 30cm (I used a compact tractor for this). I use T-Tape for watering and feeding so I laid down 2 rows of tape one each side of where the row of parsnips were to be grown. The ground was then covered with black plastic for weed control. I also think the black plastic helps warm the ground and retain moisture.
The next problem was how to dig a hole for the parsnips to fit into so I came up with the idea of making an auger of sorts, it was made from the same pipe as I used to make the growing tubes, in the bottom of the pipe I cut teeth for digging into the soil and I drilled 2 holes into the top to slide a bar through to act as a handle. The auger worked well and cut the holes out to a depth of 30cm. The parsnips were then simply slid into the ground with the growing tube still around them and then the tube was carefully opened a little and slid out of the ground leaving the parsnip planted.
I grew a lot of other veg alongside the parsnips so they all had the same soil, water and feed. As soon as the tunnel was planted out I started to water the plants through the T-Tap.
I am at work all day so my watering is done automatically with a simple battery powered timer bought from a garden centre. At the beginning of the season I gave the plants 20 minutes of water each morning and increased this to 30 minutes as the season progressed. I like to water in the morning as I think the ground has a good chance of warming up rather than water in the evening which leaves the plant roots cold all night. I have a diluter in the water line which feeds every day. I use a water soluble feed with an analysis of 12.12.36; the instructions on the bag are to mix 1kg of feed into 10 litres of water and use the 100:1 nozzle in the diluter. What I do is about 150g of feed to 10 litres of water and feed every day instead of once a week.
This is a tip I picked up from Ian Paton a couple of years ago, as he rightly said "eat little and often rather than one big meal to last the week," so that is the way he treats his plants.
To be honest parsnip growing is not as exciting as growing a pumpkin as you cannot see what is going on beneath the soil. You see the very top white bit of the parsnip but can only guess at how long and wide it is. The green tops grew well and ended up at about 1.5m high, the only problem that I had during the growing season were aphids and slugs. The tops also needed a little support with some bamboos.
I grew 4 parsnips in the tunnel in all and a few outside, the first show I went to was the National Giant Vegetable show at Shepton Mallet which was early September last. I dug one parsnip from the tunnel and one from outside for the show, the heaviest one was 12.3lbs and the second one was just a bit lighter, quite exciting but no World Record!
The second show that I went to was at the Malvern Autumn Show at the end of September, my Daughter Madeline was off school at the time so we both went down to the tunnel to dig up 2 more parsnips. It took us about an hour and a half to dig up the 2 parsnips, they were washed off and placed on the bathroom scales.
We thought that they would be close to the record but were amazed when one was just over 16.5lb and the second one was near 17.5lb, at the show the official weight was 17.3lb a new World Record!