Carrots and Parsnips
Carrots and parsnips are favorite “winter” vegetables. They are “root” vegetables that are staples of Minnesota gardens. You can save the carrots and parsnips that you grew in your garden for eating in the winter. Even if you didn’t grow them yourself, carrots and parsnips are a great addition to a winter meal. Learn more about how to grow and enjoy these healthy and tasty vegetables.
Julie Harris, Master Gardeners
Carrots and parsnips are favorite “winter” vegetables. They are “root” vegetables that are staples of Minnesota gardens. You can save the carrots and parsnips that you grew in your gardens for eating in the winter by pickling, boiling, blanching or freezing. Even if you didn’t grow them yourself, carrots and parsnips are a great addition to a winter meal.
There are many carrot varieties. When choosing them, consider size (long, thin carrots versus short, stubby ones) and the ultimate use, such as a great crunch when freshly picked, long term storage use, or cooking.
Parsnips are white but look like carrots in that they are generally long and they taper from a thick top to a narrow end.
Carrots and parsnips love sandy, loam soil. Unlike parsnips, carrots will grow in heavier clay soil as long as it is well-drained and not compacted. Soil can be improved by adding well-rotted manure or compost in the spring or fall.
Always sow carrot or parsnip seeds directly into garden; do not start them in pots. Their long taproots begin to develop early and transplanting damages their root growth. The seeds are tiny and can be difficult to handle. Some people choose to buy carrot seed in a “tape” format or in pellets. Seed tape is more expensive but may yield better results because less thinning is required. Minnesota gardeners can begin to plant carrots directly into garden soil beginning April 15 and parsnips beginning May 1. For a continuous supply, one can plant sets of seeds 2 or 3 weeks apart.
When the seedlings are 3-4 inches tall, the plants need to be thinned to allow roots to develop. Most importantly, they need consistent watering to avoid bitter, misshapen or undersized roots.
Carrots can be harvested when they get to useable size but be sure to water the day before harvesting or after a rain to ensure root hydration. Make sure to loosen the soil around the carrot before pulling them out to avoid breaking the root. Remove the greens and clean the roots before eating or storing.
Parsnips should remain in the ground until late fall and even into later spring. Cold soil temperatures increase the sugar content, so the later you dig out the roots, the sweeter they will be. Parsnips are best stored in a root cellar.
Both vegetables are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that are good for you. Carrots have vitamin A and beta-carotene which may lower diabetes risk. They also contain calcium and vitamin K which is for good for bone health. Carrots are also known for their fiber which helps keep blood sugar levels under control. Parsnips are loaded with vitamin K and magnesium, and also contain fiber and antioxidants.
The two vegetables have distinctive flavors. The parsnip has an almost spicey flavor, reminiscent of nutmeg and cinnamon, whereas the carrot has a flavor that is closer to that of winter squash. Carrots can be eaten raw or cooked but parsnips are generally eaten cooks. Parsnips are generally sweeter than carrots and, in fact, were used as a sweetener before cane sugar was available. The bottom line - carrots and parsnips are nutritious and delicious!
Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extension (1, 2, 3)