Tips for growing root vegetables
It’s an adventure and a treasure hunt: You start with a tiny seed or root, and before you know it you are pulling on the tops, hoping for a good yield. Let’s start with the basics for beets, radishes and carrots.
Basics for growing beets, radishes & carrots
1. Plant at the best time
Beets, radishes and carrots grow best when soil and air temperatures are between 50 and 75 degrees F. For fall harvest, plant in late summer and continue to do so throughout the fall months. They’re happy growing in full sun or even part shade. This makes them great candidates for interplanting with taller crops, which will help protect tender seedlings from hot temperatures in the South.
2. Start with great soil
Loose, well-drained soil is the key to producing large, nicely shaped root crops. Before you plant, be sure to remove rocks and debris that can inhibit root formation. I also like to work compost or a balanced slow-release fertilizer into the soil before I plant. These crops are versatile and you can grow them in the ground, in raised beds or even in containers. For beets and radishes and some shorter carrot varieties, look for a container around 12 inches deep. For longer carrots I recommend at least 18 inches deep. The wider, the better.
3. Use the furrow method for root vegetables
Beets, radishes and carrot crops grow well when planted using the furrow method, which is planting in a mounded row: When you run a trowel or hoe across your bed, you create a mound on either side. Instead of planting in the trench, plant in the loose soil of these berms. This is the opposite of what you do for most crops.
4. Give seeds the right spacing
To plant, gently press the handle of a long-handled tool into the moist soil before seeding. Then sprinkle the seeds about an inch apart into the imprint and cover them with a thin layer of compost. To prevent the soil from forming a hard crusty layer, try keeping your newly seeded row covered with a tarp or burlap sack just until they sprout. Once the seedlings reach 2 to 4 inches tall, it’s time to thin them. Forgetting to remove some of the seedlings will lead to overcrowding, which causes poor root development.
To thin, grab a pair of snips or scissors and cut out sprouts until you’ve achieved the spacing recommended on the seed packet. Try not to remove the stems by pulling them out. You can uproot and disturb the root zone for multiple plants if you do. I add the thinned sprouts to salads and smoothies.
5. Harvest root vegetables early and often
Harvest these plants at various stages during the growing season. You don’t need to wait until they’re fully mature. If you’ve never tasted a baby beet, radish or carrot, try one and thank me later. The flavor is unlike any other. Unfortunately, baby root crops do not store well. For approximate maturity dates, refer to the seed packets. The phrase “ready to harvest XX days” refers to the days after germination so that’s when counting begins.
Although root crops like to have regular moisture as they’re growing, stop watering as the roots reach maturity, as this can cause them to crack.
Tips for growing beets
Beets (Beta vulgaris)
- Each beet seed produces two to three sprouts.
- Soak beets seeds in water for up to 24 hours before planting to increase germination rates.
- Beets grow best in cooler temperatures. To keep soil cool, apply a layer of organic mulch once beets have sprouted.
- Try growing beet greens. These varieties only produce the green tops
and no roots. ‘Fresh Start’ and ‘Fresh Pak’ are two of my favorites.
- Classic ‘Detroit Dark Red’ is also one of my go-to varieties. It
retains its deep red color when cooked and its sweet flavor is perfect
Radish (Rhaphanus sativus)
- Radishes can be ready to harvest around 4 weeks after germination.
- Don’t wait too long to harvest a radish. When sliced in half, a ripe
radish will have a smooth interior. An overripe radish will have a
- Try growing ‘Round Black Spanish’. The contrast between the black
outer skin and white flesh is impressive. The usually spicy white flesh
turns sweet when sauteed with a little butter and herbs.
- For something different than the traditional radish, grow daikon radishes (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus). This type grows better in hot weather and its white flesh is milder than a red radish.
Tips for growing carrots
Carrot (Daucus spp. and hybrids)
- Be patient: Carrot seeds can take up to 3 weeks to germinate.
- Remove the tops of carrots immediately after you harvest to help the roots last longer.
- At the end of the season in fall you can “store” carrots in the
ground by waiting to harvest them until you are ready. Just spread a 2-
to 3-inch layer of mulch on top of the carrots to protect them. They’ll
be fine until the ground freezes hard.
There are four basic types of carrots:
|Chantenay||Short, wide carrots; good for containers and poorer soil; good winter crop in warm climates.|
|Danvers||Medium-sized; best when harvested young; tolerates poor soil better than most varieties|
|Imperator||Medium-sized; most common in grocery stores; need deep, rich soil|
|Nantes||Small to medium-sized; sweet flavor; not usually grown commercially|