The mountains are starting to shake off the snow and the first few buds are appearing on our branches. Little tulip leaves are just starting to break through the cold soil. The river is starting to flow a little deeper and faster as the snow melt begins. Spring is starting to arrive here in the Rockies and we are celebrating it’s coming with… a nice, harvest of Parsnips made into a lovely au gratin! What?!
This is one of the unique perks of the indoor vegetable garden. You can grow off-season. Just like we had fresh tomatoes in January, we can have Fall harvests in Spring!
Since we have been cocooned up in our houses, social distancing and home schooling, a nice comfort food like a fall harvest au gratin seems like just the ticket. So without further ado, here is the Tub to Table guide to growing parsnips, from seed to harvest, indoors.
- Botanical name – Pastinaca sativa
- Sun exposure – Full sun, part sun.
- Light period – At least 12 hours of light.
- Soil type and pH – loamy, sandy, slightly acidic to neutral. Anything too compact or solid will result in deformed shapes.
- Water – Keep consistently moist but not wet.
- Weeks to maturity – Long season. About 18 weeks to harvest.
- Health benefits – Parsnips are a source of potassium, antioxidants , and fiber.
- Favorite varieties – White spear, Albion.
Parsnips are a root vegetable, related to carrots. Although they are biennials, they are most commonly grown as an annual and require a long growing season. They are associated with fall stews and soups for good reason, they are supposed to taste best when left in the ground after the first frost. Ours stayed at the constant indoor garden temperature of about 70 degrees and were still packed full of flavor. I may try some cooling experiments with the next harvest to see if we can sweeten up the result, but I’m not sure they needed to be any sweeter, as these varieties were delicious.
All three tested varieties were very easy to grow. (White spear, Albion and Hollow Crown.) All varieties germinated about 70%. I recommend White spear and Albion because the Hollow Crown variety did taste more bitter and woody. They can be spaced very closely together and still grow well, however, I tried some even 1-2 inches apart for experiment sake and this did stunt the growth of the smaller parsnip. I ultimately must recommend spacing about 6-8 inches apart (even though I do like to pack them in as close as I can). This way the roots don’t interweave and stunt the growth of one of the two parsnips.
Harvest when the tops of the parsnips are between 1 1/2 – 2 inches wide. Run your fingers parallel to the parsnip and wiggle and jiggle the roots gently out. Or, you could use a hand fork to carefully dislodge the deep parsnip roots gently. The more gently you dislodge them, the longer they will keep.
Since I only grow vegetables from seed in my garden, I cannot grow potatoes in my garden. I think parsnips make a pretty good substitute. They have a pretty benign and earthy flavor, with a texture quite similar to potatoes.
The only way I was able to get my kids to eat parsnips was to go Au Gratin. Add cheese, cream and salt, and shockingly! it’s delicious.
Verdict – B+. Parsnips are a great crop to grow indoors, healthy and delicious. They don’t take up much room, grow easily and are low maintenance in the garden. The main detractors were their long period to harvest, and the fact that my kids won’t eat them. Otherwise they would have scored a bit higher.
Parsnip Au Gratin
A lower carb substitute for pure Potato Au Gratin
- 3 medium potatoes, sliced thin
- 5 parsnips, sliced thin
- 1/4 white onion, sliced thin
- 1 cup shredded white sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- 1 cup shredded gruyere cheese, divided
- 4 Tbsp salted butter, room temperature
- 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp pepper
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400F
- Butter a square, glass casserole dish. Layer potatoes and parsnips halfway up casserole dish.
- Add all onions in an even layer. Salt and pepper to taste and add 1 Tbsp butter. Add a layer of 1/4 cup of each cheese. Layer rest of potatoes and parsnips.
- In a medium saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Add flour, salt, and pepper, stirring constantly. When flour turns yellow, add cream while stirring. Let roux cook until it thickens considerably, stirring occasionally. Add 1/2 cup of each cheese into roux and stir until melted.
- While cheese mixture is hot, pour over potatoes.
- Cover with aluminum foil and place in oven for 1 hour.
- Remove foil and top with remaining cheese and thyme.
- Cook for 30 minutes, or until parsnips are tender and top has browned