The Patience of Old-Timers

Perhaps this should be titled, “Back to the Farm Posts.”

With my focus on the Itinerant Merchant Exemption issue, working on my classes, heading to Pierre last week to meet with other Dakota Rural Action folks and the Health Department on implementation of the Home-Processed Foods Law, I haven’t been posting much on the farm doings.

I have been working in the gardens, though–it really helps me to focus and remain calm in times of stress–even if much of what I’m doing is shoveling sh*t and muttering to myself.  Yesterday, I saw my first toad of the season, amended yet another bed in the north central garden, and did a little planting as well.

First Toad, 2010

I filled out the end of the radish row with “Sparkler White Tip,” planted a small bed of cilantro with seed I saved from last season, put in three kinds of kale and row-covered them, and also sowed two varieties of parsnips.

Two of those crops are for spring and two for fall.  This is the earliest I’ve ever planted kale, but I’ve long been jealous of my neighbors’ (Carol and John) gorgeous huge kale plants.  It finally occurred to me that if I planted earlier like they do (instead of, say, August), I might not be stripping my little kale plants practically bare every time I harvested.

This year’s kale varieties are Red Russian (“Ragged Jack”), Lacinato (“Dinosaur”) and White Russian (do they call this “Ragged Jill”?). I can’t wait to bring those big bunches of colorful, tender leaves to the market and deliver them to the CSA members this fall.  But I guess I’ll have to wait. That’s kind of the point of sowing earlier.

Good thing there’s plenty of other faster-maturing crops to think about in the meantime.


Parsnips are a relatively recent addition to my winter menu, and shortly thereafter they became a part of my growing menu as well.  I didn’t grow up eating them, so I never knew how sweet and earthy and amazing they are.  I hear they’re popular among the “old-timers,” and I can see why they’d be a popular “old-timer” crop–they take immense patience.

First of all, the seed is covered with a flat, papery husk that makes it susceptible to blowing right out of your hand in the slightest breeze.  Because they’re flat and papery, they’re also harder to space well when hand-sowing.

They also take forever to germinate–and I do mean forever–and you have to keep them moist the whole time, of course.   This isn’t so bad in a wet year, but while you’re waiting for your parsnips to come up, any weeds in the bed get way ahead of them.

My advice is to sow the parsnips, forget about them (put them by something else you’re watering anyway, so it won’t seem like a waste of time to drag a hose over), and when you’re thoroughly disgusted with how weedy that bed has become, and you’re ready to just swipe the whole deal down with your hoe, don’t.

They’ve just started to come up.  Go through and hand-pluck all those weeds, very carefully inspecting for those sort-of celery-like leaves that mark your recently emerged parsnips.

This takes maybe a month.  And that’s just the beginning of the patience this crop is going to require of you.  Because even though the package says they’ll be ready 90 or 120 days after emergence (which would put me, with the month-long germination wait, at the end of August or beginning of September), they won’t be.

They won’t be ready until pretty much everything else in the garden except a few Brussels sprouts and leeks is long-dead–after the frosts have really hit.  That’s when they’ll be done.

If you want, you can even practice the supreme patience of the old-timers and leave the crop in the ground until the earliest days of next spring–before they start sprouting again but after they’ve had time to reach their full sweetness.

Me–I’m planning them for my last couple of deliveries of this CSA season–along with a good batch for my own crisper.

I might leave a few in the ground (maybe caged to keep the deer from discovering them), but most will be eaten in the late fall and through the winter–when their incredible sweet earthiness adds so much to hearty soups and casseroles of roasted vegetables.

The main variety of parsnip I’m growing this year is a half-long version called “Cobham Improved Marrow.”  As I mentioned in my recent carrot post, half-long varieties make a lot more sense in our clay soils.

Half-long parsnips are even more important than half-long carrots (I learned last season) because a standard-length parsnip will send the tail end of its root down a couple of feet–a pretty outrageous excavation project not unlike extracting three-foot-long daikon radishes from the ground.

Not a lot of fun–especially if the soil’s wet and clumpy–which at that depth and in clay, it always is.

But, I’ll get to have some of that fun anyhow because I had to fill out the last five or six feet of one side of the double row with “Lancer,” which is not a half-long variety.

Maybe those are the ones that will get to stay in ’til next Spring–when digging down a couple of feet will seem reasonable if it means getting something fresh from the garden.


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