The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
February 6, 2013We now enter the month of February and the greens grown in the open ground are lying dormant until the moderating temperatures of late March restore them to their former luxuriance. It is the time of year that we turn to the stalwarts of the late winter garden; the season in which we gather the roots that lend hardiness to the stew and are a companion to the roast. Just beneath the frozen surface are parsnips and turnips, radish and carrots and several of the lesser known subterranean delights such salsify and skirrets. Like the greens, roots are much improved by freezing weather and the parsnip is, perhaps, improved the most of all. The management of this most useful root was described by John Randolph, the former Royal Attorney General for the colony of Virginia, who has recently left Williamsburg for England where his true sympathies lie, leaving behind his brother Randolph and his son, Edmund, both notable patriots. Although we must take exception with his politics we may nonetheless profit from his long experience in the garden. On the subject of parsnips he has advised, “When the leaves begin to decay, which will be about February after frosts, they should be dug up and put into dry sand, which will preserve them till April. They are not sweet till bit by frost.”
For those who reside in colder climes, a straw mulch to keep the frost from penetrating too deeply into the ground will aid in the digging of them. As they are deep-rooted crop, a spading fork will be of assistance in loosening the ground before they are pulled.
For a complete discussion of the various types of roots the reader is encouraged to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners (Rodale Press).