How to sow no dig parsnips, carrots and other root veg

It’s spring and I am thinking of winter vegetables! Root vegetables are surprisingly easy to grow using no dig methods. Yesterday I sowed parsnips, carrots, radish, Hamburg parsley and scorzonera into a recently applied mulch of compost on top of my heavy clay allotment soil.

We are often told that you have to dig over the soil to prepare the beds for root vegetables to get nice long straight parsnips and carrots. Some even suggest adding sand, really not a good idea for heavy clay unless you fancy making some concrete! If you think about it, deep rooting weeds (docks, dandelions) have no problems at all growing in even  heavy clay; if the soil is healthy, neither will your parsnips. There is no need to wiggle iron bars to make holes for the parsnips and backfill with compost, another suggestion I often see. Sometime like to chit parsnip seeds first, others like to start in loo roll tubes, and both methods do work (although you have to be speedy with the planting otherwise there is a risk of growing an alien rather than a straight vegetable) – I find it less of a palaver to direct sow, especially at a time of year when I’ve got so many other veggies in various stages of growth to care for.

It is absolutely fine to sow carrots, parsnips etc into composted manures. The problem of forking occurs when the manures are dug in, not gently and naturally incorporated into the soil by the worms and other soil life.

These root veg were sown into composted manures, they are lovely and straight.

I spread the mulch on March 24th, just over a week before sowing. The delay was mostly because I was busy, I could have sown the seeds on the same day as mulching. This is composted cow manure. Any compost is fine: homemade, spent mushroom compost, etc. Whatever you have.

Before sowing the seeds, I did the No Dig Dance on the bed to level it and break up any clumps of manure, creating a nicer surface for the small seeds. This dispels another myth – that you shouldn’t walk on the beds. Although I wouldn’t hold a party on my allotment, stepping, walking and dancing on the beds is fine. The structure of the undug soil is so good that it doesn’t compact it.

I mostly garden on my own so it’s quite difficult getting a photo of me doing things. This is the best I could do, a shadow of me on a bed dancing!

Next, I made lines in the compost using a dibber – this is where I will sow my seeds – and then watered each of them.

I’d already prepared labels at home, using the stash of plastic labels I’ve had for around 7 years. It is more eco to use what you already have. I have accidentally ended up with 3 packets of the same variety of parsnip “Tender and True” – one was a freebie from Kitchen Garden Magazine (Kings Seeds), one from The Seed Co-op and the other from Real Seeds. There’s also “White Gem”, from The Seed Co-op. So I sowed one row each of the three Tender and True (each label noted with the seed company) and one of the White Gem. Four rows is fine for me, as I also sow a later crop too.

carrot seeds

Parsnips are one of those seeds that are best used fresh so I don’t keep them from year to year (although they can grow, the germination rate is a bit lower, that’s all usually). It’s worth sowing more than you need to allow for any problems. Parsnips are easy to thin out later on. They are quite tricky to see in this photo!

After sowing the parsnips, I continued with several rows of carrots (see end of blog for varieties) and one each of scorzonera and Hamburg parsley. The latter is a really old seed packet so may not germinate.

Next, it was time for the radishes. These I sprinkled between each row of other veg as a catch crop on the surface of the compost – they will be harvested long before the slower growing vegetables get big.

Using a trowel, I covered the parsnips, carrots etc with a little of the compost, followed by a good watering. The watering can roses have mysteriously disappeared, perhaps during some of the windy weather, so I watered using a wiggling motion to make sure the bed was throughly watered.

Finally, the whole bed was tucked up under a sheet of fleece. This one is 30 gsm and is several years old, as you can see. The fleece helps to protect the seeds from any hungry birds (I am sure they all line up in the hedgerows, watching and waiting for me to go!) and keeps the worst of the weather off, aiding germination. I keep it on until the parsnips and carrots are popping up, depending on the weather.

The key to successful germination I have found is water! They need to be kept moist. Nature kindly helped today with a steady drizzle and some heavier rainfall. If we have a dry spring, I regularly water the bed until the seedlings are growing.

Elsewhere on the allotment, the overwintered garlic is growing well; that will have been glad of the rain today. Next to it (under the enviromesh in the photo) is my Nine Star Perennial Broccoli, now producing delicious white cauliflower-like shoots. A kohlrabi is almost in flower, I often leave plants to ‘bolt’ to increase the biodiversity of the plot – the flowers will feed insects and hopefully encourage beneficial predators to live nearby. The broadbeans are trying their best – poor things were eaten by birds, then flattened 3 times by the weather knocking over the protective cloche I made them. There are quite a few gaps so I’ll pop some catch crops in there.

In the polytunnel at home, the broadbeans are waist height and full of flowers, the peas too. I only sow a few broadbeans in the polytunnel for an extra-early crop.

To celebrate the sowing of the new parsnips, I made parsnips bhajis for tea using parsnips sown in 2018 with onion, kale and spinach from the polytunnel (the recipe is in The Creative Kitchen).

Coming Up!

Some of the events I am speaking at over the next month or so.

As well as the many talks for gardening clubs, WIs, etc, I will also be speaking at these events

I’m giving a no dig talk at Toby’s Garden Festival on May 3rd and will be there both days with a stall – do come and say hello! The lovely event is remarkably good value at only £10 a ticket.

On Sunday 12th May I will be at the South Downs Green Fair next to the Permaculture Magazine/Permanent Publications stall selling books and giving a no dig talk.

Homeacres is open as part of Alhampton Open Gardens on May 19th.  Charles and I will be there to chat about no dig! It’s £5 for 10 gardens in the village, all money raised for charity. There are teas and the pub is open for meals and beverages too. You can’t book in advance, just turn up on the day.

Looking ahead, on June 13th I’m giving two talks at BBC Gardeners World Live  and will be there during Friday and quite a lot of Saturday too.


Carrot and radish sown April 1st 2019:


Pusa Asuta (Nicky’s Nursery)
Nantes 2 (Seeds of Italy)
Mystery Purple one (damaged packet)
Dragon Purple (Real Seeds)
Blanche a Collet Vert Hors Terre (Real Seeds)
Jaune Obtuse de Doubs (Real Seeds)
Creme de Lite (Nicky’s Nursery)
Purple Sun (Nicky’s Nursery)
Amarillo (Chiltern Seeds)


French Breakfast (Mr Fothergills)
Candela di Fuoco (Mr Fothergill’s)
Red Flesh (Real Seeds)








16 thoughts on “How to sow no dig parsnips, carrots and other root veg”

  1. Thank you stephanie I too sowed carrots and parsnips on my no dig bed which grew spring cabbage, I only started my plot last september. I used really old well rotted horse manure with a top dressing of bought compost, my greens were beautiful and i still have cauli’s and purple sprouting which i’m gradually using up. My fellow allotmenteers have said it’s not a good idea to plant parsnips in compost so now I want to prove them wrong lol. I think they was impressed with my greens plus all the other beds which are doing fantastic.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      That sounds really abundant, how lovely!

      The parsnips in the photo at the beginning we grown in my plot last summer, huge even though we had such dry weather.

  2. hi stephanie, I have tried to convert a few friend with no dig, it worked for me last year. everyone else was failing and I had bumper crops of most things. flee beetle gave me a hard time. last year I sowed different coloured carrots but found that when I cooked them they all went a funny colour, the white went mauve, the yellow went mauve and the purple went a bit lighter. is this normal or is there none colour run seeds?, I suppose the only way around it is to pull up all the same colour. have you ever tried using kitchen paper and wall paper paste. love to know the results, I thought about trying that this year just to see what happens. your blog has given me a taste to try your bhajis recipe. my husband fancies a change tonight from meat and 4 veg.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      I haven’t come across that, how strange – it does sound as though the purple carrot dyed the others. I have tried chitting on kitchen paper but not wall paper paste – if you did use that it’s important to find one with out fungicides in.

      Hope you enjoy the bhajis!

  3. thanks stephanie, I might have to see who I bought my carrots seeds from last year. I thought about using flour and water, sometimes my back doesn’t permit me to bend so I thought it might be quicker to prepare the kitchen paper tapes before hand.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Worth an experiment I should think.

      I have heard of people mixing the seed with paste and oozing that out into a bed, like icing – not sure how well it works though

  4. Hello Stephanie, Is it easy to harvest no dig parsnips? Before I changed over to no dig it was necessary to dig them out of the soil but wondered if you can pull them out from no dig befs or do you harvest before they get too big?

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Hi Keith, that’s a really good question. Thanks for asking as I should have explained it in the blog.

      Mine can be several kilos in weight and so I always use a spade or fork to wiggle them out of the ground. Some people can harvest by pushing the parsnip into the soil, twisting and then pulling – this works really well but I have osteoarthritis in my hands so there is no chance of that working for me. I don’t have the push or the grip.

      I slide the spade or fork quite close to the desired root and gently wiggle back and forth to loosen it – then pull the root. We don’t dig it over, but for sure deep rooting crops can’t be harvested without some soil disturbance. In the first photo you can see one where I slide the spade in too close to the parsnip and sliced most of it off.

      Charles can pull carrots from the ground, with my arthritic hands I need to wiggle a bit with a trowel to loosen before pulling. No dig is about not digging beds over unnecessarily, but for those of us with less mobility sometimes a we need tools to help too. Fortunately a “wiggle” doesn’t disturb the soil lift around the harvested root too much more than pulling it would.

  5. Thanks for your reply Stephanie.

    I’ll give parsnips ago this year and see if I can wiggle them out. If not then I’ll try a bit of gentle persuasion with a fork.

  6. HI

    thank you for tips, – I am trying 3 bed this year with no DIG. I am from Poland and my father and his dad was a;ways doing dinging methods but every 3-4 years was adding allot cow manure into ground. I have started with small 5 pole plot and everyone was surprised how i am doing well, and 4 years later i still doing fine – i have lovely vegetables, parsnips, carrots so big and long last for whole winter. In Uk i find out is really clay soil, where i have added manure and dug all allotment – last year i have rotated and can say not that well everything was growing. So this year i added 2 more plots and my old one will do as no DIG and my 2 new ones will try my old methods and see. Thank you for tips with cow manure will try do dance 😉

  7. When and where will you be speaking at Gardeners World, please? I’ll be there on the 13th, and would love to hear you.

  8. Many thanks for this informative article Steph.
    As you say, if those pesky docks and other weeds thrive in clay, growing parsnips and carrots shouldn’t be a problem.
    I’m excited to try growing Hamburg parsley, a Hungarian friend brought over some seeds. Do you harvest the leaves of these as you would ordinary parsley or they’re best left alone?

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Perhaps you can, I don’t know – I usually leave them as I grow several varieties of parsley.

      Good question though! You can use the leaves after harvesting although again usually I’ve got lots of other parsley flavoured things to pick and so they end up in the compost to feed the next generation of plants

  9. Pingback: 20 Vegetables We Grow In Our No Dig Garden – News

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