06 April 2012

A Parsnip Project Post

As I posted before, Ms Templeton is partial to a roast parsnip. But my soil is hard, and not particulalry conducive to growing long root vegetables. With carrots, I can choose a short or rounded rooted variety, but in Australia, the number of parsnip varieties generally available amount to one - 'Hollow Crown'.
A bit of a search showed up a bit more variety - Eden Seeds (and a few others) does 'Cobham', my local nursery carries Vilmorin seeds, who sell 'de Guernesey", and the big box store had a couple of different varieties - 'Yatesnip' from (surprise surprise) Yates, and 'Gladiator F1' from Fothergills.
And I recently came across 'Melbourne Whiteskin' from Southern Harvest in Hobart. But no short, fat parsnips.

Some of the North American specialty seed catalogues carry a couple of promising lines, but few export to Australia (Pastinica sativa, parsnip seed is an allowed import in Oz). 'Kral' is a short fat Russian variety, and 'Halblange Weisse' another, presumably from Germany. A friend from Homegrown Goodness was kind enough to forward some 'Kral' from Heritage Harvest Seed in Canada and, after much delay, hoop jumping and a flurry of emails, I received Kral and Halblange Weisse from Adaptive Seeds. While these are still wedge-shaped, they have most of their mass in the shoulders of the root, so seem good candidates to start a search for short fat breeding stock. Ideally, I would have liked to get hold of 'Halfback' but I can't find a source (let me know if you know where I can get some).

Another problem arose. Parsnip seed is notoriously short-lived, and germination was patchy to say the least. (Three cheers to Sarah at Adaptive, who, when I reported no-show from their Kral, instantly took it down from their website until they had done a followup germination test. That's ethics!)
Growing out parsnip seed is going to be problematic. Parsnip seems to suffer from inbreeding depression - you need to let a couple of hundred plants cross to maintain vigour. Because of the short viability, you can't grow out half the seed one year, then grow out the the other half and mix the seed lots - the older lot won't contribute much genetic material to the population since it won't be viable. Add to that the biennial nature of parsnip (it grows roots one summer, then seeds the next) and this is turning into a fairly committing enterprise - lots of selection work, lots of gardenbed space, and lots of time.
I'm hoping to do a bit of seed increase to start off, so I've sown seed late in summer, hoping for enough root development to get them through winter and develop some flower heads late next spring. With a bit of luck, I might even have enough fresh seed to share.
I'm also thinking of letting a bit of crossing happen - get a bit of fresh material into the Kral and Halblange lines, so a bit of phenotypic variety gets going, and maybe some hybrid vigour.







While you are not supposed to transplant parsnip, but sow it in situ, due to forking and distortion of the roots, since I'm looking for a seed crop rather than pretty roots, I've sown into some plug trays in my greenhouse, just to make sure I get some plants - I didn't want to risk all my hard won seed to the vagiaries of my vege plot, where a single scorcher of a day could wipe out the whole population.





With autumn coming on and the days being less intense, I chanced the rest of the seed straight into the bed. Some damp hessian cloth over the bed, and attentive watering (thanks to Ms Templeton in my absence) has resulted in lots of little parsnip seedlings on the way.

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