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I tried the trick of germinating the parsnip seeds on damp kitchen towel (on a flowerpot tray and covered with clingfilm to retain moisture) for the first time this year. To my surprise almost all of the seeds germinated!!. Very fiddly planting them out without damaging them and looking at them today I see I have a few gaps, but definately more parsnips than gaps unlike previous years. There's still time to do this!
I am from Hampshire (UK), love parsnips, but live in St. John's, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada (well South of the souther UK). Climate is colder in the winter but like the UK in summer (better this year!) and autumn. Growing parsnips has been a problem due to poor germination of seed and the length of the growing season when the seed is sown in the spring. After trying various methods I have found that the old method of growing is the best. For the past 5 years or so I allow good roots from the past year to grow on and seed (flower/seed July and August). I collect and clean the seed an save it until late November when I sow the seed directly into the ground where it stays all winter. When the snow finally goes the seed are often already coming up and germination is good. This gives me a good plant of seedlings with up to an extra 2 months in the growing season and good yields.
Yes, Excitable Boy, the method that you describe also works for me. I started by germinating the parsnip seed on paper towel in a freezer bag (slightly open) in early May. As soon as the seed sprouted I prepared the soil and made rows, lined them with wetted toilet paper (non-medicated!) and then planted the sprouted seed very carefully with tweezers spaced as I needed them finally. I covered the seeds with sifted soil (my soil contains a lot of rocks). Germination was near 100% and the seedlings were nicely prespaced. Yields were good. I would recommend this method to those who like to plant in the spring.
I find Fall planting easier and it gives an earlier start to the season as the seedlings are up and growing long before I am able to work the soil.