03 April 2013

Parsnip progress

A while since I posted - gardening takes time.
Finally the seeds on my Short Fat Parsnip parents are ready. The Halblange and De Gurnesey have set seed synchronously, but the Kral, and the late-planted Melbourne Whiteskin have been tardy. This has implications for parsnip breeding, since the trigger for flowering is presumably day length - manipulating these varieties so that they flower together will take a bit more thought than say for corn, where you can stagger planting times. Don't think that will work for a biennial. But I think there has been sufficient overlap in flowering to allow some cross pollination.

But this difference in flowering times has further implications. Accepted advice when seed collecting is to harvest the best seed. In the case of parsnips, it looks like the first umbels have the best seed. And recall that parsnips need a big gene pool for a healthy breeding population. So in a perfect world I would collect the seed from the first umbels of all four varieties I'm growing.  But the first umbels on the early flowerers won't have crossed with the later varieties. So I've seperately bagged the seeds from what I hope are contemporaneous seed heads - the earliest from the Kral and Melbourne Whiteskin, and the second pick from HLW and DG which started flowering earlier.

On another note, the second sowing of Kral which took place in early Spring has survived the record dry, but a number of plants have started to send up flower spikes. This presents me with a dilemma - do I havest this seed (which might develop too late in the season anyway) or do I reject this seed, since it comes from individuals that are prone to annualism rather than biennialism? I don't wish to encourage genetics that allow the parsnips to bolt in one season - I might end up with a population of bolters, giving lots of early seed, but no parsnips to eat!

Below, a picture of the DG (left) and HLW (right) parsnips I pulled after harvesting the seeds.
The HLW has tubbier tubers, so closer to my desired target.


  1. You're one of the 3 other people in North America excited by parsnips ;-) I planted about 60 parsnips this year for breeding, a mix of the Halblange and De Gurnesey varieties. I'm more of a landrace grower than heirloom preserver, so I dug about 100 roots of each and picked the best to replant and produce seeds.

    The nice thing is that growing a lot of parsnips for seed takes very little space, as the nutrients are stored in the root, meaning you can plant them very close. I leave about an inch or two in each direction and plant them in a block, so the 60 roots only takes a space less than 6' by 2', or 2m x 60cm if you speak metric.

    My big problem with parsnip seed is a tent caterpillar that likes to live in the seed heads then bore into the stalk, I have to pick them pretty much every day in the summer as they're very agressive. The other issue is you end up with so much seed, I have about 1.5 pounds from last year and it doesn't keep well. I've been practically trying to givre it away on Ebay and no luck, guess there's not many parsnip growers left. I think I'll try using it for a cover crop in September / October as they grow all winter in my maritime climate.

    Good luck with your project. I lost the tags but I remember one of the varieties was great, 90 percent of the roots were keepers, the other variety had about 30 percent perfect roots for me.

    1. Thanks for the comment - Please, put me in touch with the other parsnip breeders!
      I'm actually not in North America- I garden in Bendigo Australia.
      I can confirm the masses of seed produced - there's buckets of the stuff. I've just sown 2 more beds of Halblange and Kral from my potential F1 seed. Trying for an autumn-winter-spring flowering, to get some F2 seed i hope. Yhat's where some segregation might occur.
      If your varieties are the same as mine,and you are after a short fat 'nip, my guess is that the Halblange is much stumpier that the de Gurnesey. At least that was my experience.
      Stay in touch - this 'nip breeding is a lonely affair. I'll get some more pics and further comments up soon.