Sunday, October 18, 2009


I have been growing vegetables in the backyards of the various houses I have lived in over many years. My parents gardened before it was fashionable to do so in the neighbourhood I grew up in. Most years I plant the usual vegetables - tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, green beans, swiss chard, radish, zucchini and herbs. I never had enough space to grow corn or the big squashes.

The routine is pretty much the same each year. I plant the seeds and seedlings in the raised vegetable beds and the DH does the watering, puts in the cages for the tomatoes and cucumbers and some weeding. It is a good arrangement. We usually don't have to do much weeding as I plant using a style of the high density method of seeding. I follow the directions for seeding depth but not for spacing between the seeds and rows. Because of the amount of seed I use, thinning is usually required. I think I plant using too much seed because I don't trust that everything will germinate.

This year I planted parsnips. I like parsnips and cook them in a variety of ways. I will save the recipes and tips for another posting. It was the first time for planting parsnips and I figured it would not be much different than growing carrots. I was wrong, these parsnips were twice the length of the carrots I usually grow. The length of them would prove to be challenging when trying to pull them out of the dirt.

By mid September, everything in the garden had been harvested except for some carrots and most of the parsnips. I intentionally left the parsnips for a later harvest as someone told me they would be sweeter if there was at least one frost. The weather on Saturday was warm and sunny, perfect for harvesting the remaining parsnips. Because the ground was wet from recent rains and I knew that the dirt would stick to shoes and everything else, I put on my garden clogs and garden gloves. I found the garden fork in the shed and we were ready for this mighty job. I use the 'we' word as I had my helper - the dog who was game for whatever I was preparing to do in the garden. He can be an annoyance in the garden as he has to supervise me, will grab the vegetables that I have picked off and take off and run with them. I then have to retrieve whatever he has grabbed and hope that there are not his deep teeth marks in the vegetables that he has grabbed. I have learned that when I pick cucumbers, cucumbers or carrots, he is banished to the house. He is less destructive with the other vegetables. He does get to sample the green beans when I am picking them.

As I started to harvest the parsnips, I gave him one to chew on in order to keep him occupied as I picked the rest. It took me a number of different tries using the garden fork at different angles to get those parsnips out. The soil was wet, heavy and proved difficult to pull out the parsnips. Some of them were so long that I had to put my fingers around the top of them and start to pull them out with all my might. I was getting quite the workout. Who needs to do lateral pull ups using hand weights or machines when you can grow parsnips and get the same work out.

There was one parsnip that was proving difficult to pull out. I kept digging out the dirt around this parsnip to expose it more and give me more leverage to pull it out. I would try to turn it with my fingers clockwise and then counter clockwise in order to loosen it up and get it out. The dog had been watching me and he came to help me. He started to dig with his paws around this parsnip. He wanted to get into the act and pull it out. I let him go for it. He grabbed the top of the parsnip with his teeth and started to pull on it. He was putting effort into it and he is 70 pounds of pure linebacker muscle. Eventually we got it out. It was big and long. Why I didn't just leave it in the garden is beyond me.

Now came the fun job of cleaning up - the dirt covered parsnips, my garden clogs and gloves caked with wet dirt, the cement walkway along the side of the house which had clumps of dirt on it and the dog. The dogs' paws were muddy, he even had mud in his nails. While I had been digging out the parsnips, the DH had been washing his car in the garage. The garage floor has a drain but the floor was still wet and it was getting muddy with me tramping around in the garage with my dirty garden clogs. I would now have to hose down the floor once I got everything else cleaned up. The dog was first and once I got his paws cleaned up using a pail of water, a wash cloth and towel, he was put inside the house. I changed my shoes to another pair of garden shoes, washed the parsnips in a big harvest basket from Lee Valley (an amazing store) and had to figure out where I would put the parsnips to dry. The backyard was not an option because the dog would play with the parsnips if they were left to dry on the grass in the sun. I decided to dry them on the front step of the house. The picture of them does not do any justice to their size. I then swept the cement walkway with a broom to move the dirt clumps out of the way. The last remaining job was to hose down the garage floor. This was quickly done and the DH helped out after watching the job I was doing.

What I thought would take 10 or 15 minutes to harvest the parsnips instead took an hour. Lesson learned - what is sometimes viewed as a simple job turns out to involve multi-steps. The parsnips are delicious and it was worth the effort. Next year I am passing on growing parsnips.

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