Sowing Parsnips and Carrots

The heat of February is a distant memory for us, we have slipped into a sullen spring of overcast days and misty mornings. The rain has been constant to the point that we have had to start heating our home again. At this time of year we are normally preparing kindling and wood for the stove in winter but it feels like everything we chop goes into the grate to keep us warm. We're hoping things will pick up soon and the sun will be beating down by the time this post goes live. However, the drab days doesn't stop me from starting to sow seed in our new potager. These are the first seeds we have sown direct in the new part of the garden and there is some excitement to see whether the new raised beds will tackle a problem crop for us, carrots. Carrots have never grown well for us here, they refuse to grow. We can't even say that our carrots are stubby or humourous, they simply never put on a show. The only ones we grew where back in 2012 and the harvest was not exactly massive. Like onions - though we are trying garlic again for the first time in a long time - we chalked this up to the right plant in the wrong place or as it should be said, 'Dead plant walking'. However, we have had a lot of success with parsnips in the past and we thought we'd grow them side by side for moral support. Sowing seed in rows is easy, all you need in raised beds is a garden trowel, a piece of wood plank longer the width of your bed and the edge of your hand. Your first task is to lay that plank across the bed and run your hand down the edge of it ploughing the soil. This will give you a lovely drill. This is the fancy term for fairy ditch - the name D gave them - but basically you will have a small furrow or indentation in the soil full of leprechauns and drunk fairies. Again, D thinks this is what happens if you leave them empty over night. I think the worst moment is when I actually found a small cup left in a drill, it turned out to be a playmobil cup left there by D. Oh how he laughed and kept on laughing at every opportunity for months. Now you have your drill. You have a choice here about your drill, you can water it now before sowing into it or not. I would advise this if your soil is dry and there is no forecast for rain. I would always advise against watering after sowing seed in open ground as you have a tendency to wash away the seeds as most garden roses on watering cans are too large, and are mainly there for mature plants and not seeds. If you insist on watering afterwards invest in a seed rose which has finer holes in it and waters more softly. The great thing about using a wooden plank as your edge for your drill is that if you get a plank with a correct width you can do two drills and then flip the plank over to create the next line and so on and so on. You can see what I mean in the photo below where I have made two seed drills on either side of the wooden plank. I use an old piece of decking.

soil, sowing seed

I'm sowing from Real Seeds Tender & True Parsnip (£2.29) and from Seeds of Italy Carrot Touchon (£2.45)*. I've grown Tender & True before in the Wartime Garden, so know it does well in our soil. Parsnips are slow to germinate so you could sow another crop between the rows. I'd recommend radishes as they are fast to crop and won't compete with the parsnips. Personally, I hate radishes. There I said it.

Real Seeds, Seeds of Italy

You don't need loads of seeds to sow in your drill. It is better to sow thinly, this means less seed equally spaced and not just filling the drill with seed until it brims like a fairy with a playmobil cup full of beer. I tend to use these seed packets over two years and then replace but by then I have used up the seed anyway. After two years the seeds will become less likely to grow.

parsnip seeds, life on pig row

You can see below how I have sown the seeds. You will note that I'm not perfect either and in parts there are too many seeds but I can thin these when they grow. However, parsnips still grow well when bunched together, they won't be as big but they will be a good size. If you choose to thin out - the act of pulling out crowded seedlings to leave one or two at the correct spacing (see the back of packet seed for the spacing instructions) - then that's your choice and if you don't then you take what you get. You then pinch the drill together with finger and thumb covering the seed. You can also choose to cover with garden compost or organic compost bought in, this will improve your soil and many people swear by it as a way to introduce nutrients to the seedlings without the need to feed. Either way is good practice. Just remember that come winter to mulch your beds by adding well rotted manure.

Seed sowing, seeds on soil, life on pig row

You then repeat the action of using your hand to make a drill to sow as many rows as you wish. In the photo below I show you how I used my hand to make the drill, normally down the side of the plank to keep it straight, it gives you an idea of how useful a tool a hand is. I've sown two rows of parsnips and three of carrots. They aren't long rows as our raised beds are three foot wide, meaning I have six foot row of parnips (that's roughly 1.8m) and a nine foot row of carrots (roughly 2.7m). I will do a second sowing of carrots later in the season. You can thin carrots out but be aware of the carrot fly who is attracted by the smell of you crushing the seedlings as you pull them out. Many gardeners state that a barrier of eighteen inches will keep the carrot fly away as they don't fly above this level, as we have never had success with carrots we can't comment on this but know many growers who grow their carrots in drums and old waterbutts. They never have problems with carrot fly.

 seed drill, hand, gardening

Finally, label the end of the rows. To minimise plastic use you can use one label and write on x2 or x3 to denote how many rows you have sown. I always work right to left meaning that in the photo below I have five row but only two label as three rows are after the first label and two after the second. It also reveals how lazy I can be.

Carrot sowing

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*Prices were correct at time of posting.

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