By Tristan Kavanagh
Root vegetables are what I enjoy most about gardening. There’s no better feeling than reaping the rewards of your labor. The anticipation of digging through the earth, eagerly awaiting a new batch of veggies concealed away for months: it can feel like you’re digging for hidden treasure.
I’ve had a lot of successes in growing veggies, although a lot of mistakes led the way to an abundant harvest. Over the years, through my own experience and reading gardening blogs like this, there have been certain tips that definitely improve the chances of a successful harvest. I’ll dig into some things that have worked best for me.
Build the Beds
Raised beds bring a host of advantages and I’ve found far more success than ordinary garden beds. You definitely can use garden beds, but if you have the space, raised beds are more effective and a lot of fun to build.
Root crops will need loose soil that’s well drained to properly expand. Raised beds will provide this perfectly. Depending on the size and the design of your raised beds, you won’t have any problems with foot traffic, especially from children. When building a raised bed make sure the depth of your bed will support what vegetables you intend on growing. This guide will give you a good idea on how deep your raised beds will need to be.
Prevent Deformed Harvests
Deformed root veggies can be a major problem. Sometimes their entire growth is stunted. Here are some easy steps to avoid stunting your root crops.
- When using fertilizer or compost, make sure they’re free of clumps. Veggies like carrots or parsnips may misshape as they struggle to push through thick clots of earth.
- Avoid compressing your soil, if not. Your entire harvest could be stunted. Be sure to loosen your soil as far as the roots will need to grow.
- You’ll need to remove clumps of dirt, stones, rocks or any other debris if you garden in the ground. Otherwise, something like a carrot might be strangely L shaped.
Water, Feed and Weed.
Weeds can quickly take over and weaken your yields. I’ve found weeding by hand for root crops is best. Using a hoe can make weeding more efficient, but I found I would always damage the roots. If you’re going to use a weeding tool, be extra careful as not to disturb the roots!
A lot of gardeners have personal preferences on the ways they work their garden. Although root vegetables need to be kept evenly moist, I don’t water root vegetables every day, but about 4–5 times a week and make sure to water them deeply instead.
Moisten Your Seedbeds Before Sowing
Right before I begin sowing the seeds, I pre-irrigate my garden beds. Throughout germination, water frequently to keep the soil moist. You can also cover the sown seeds with grass clippings or burlap to retain the moisture until the seedlings emerge.
Maintain Proper Spacing
It can be a little tricky to properly space root plants, especially if it’s your first time. Their seeds can be quite small. Once your crop begins sprouting, you’ll see some of the plants are far too close together.
If I see two plants too close, I’ll carefully dig one out and replant it in an area with adequate space. Finding out the required spacing for a specific vegetable is very important when you first sew your seeds, be sure to maintain the appropriate distance or your entire crop could be in danger.
For myself I’ve found these measurements work well for some of my favorite root veggies.
- Radishes: 2 inches (5 cm) of space per plant, 12 inches (30 cm) of space between rows.
- Beets: 3 inches (7.5 cm) of space per plant, 12 inches (30 cm) of space between rows.
- Turnips: 6 inches (15 cm) of space between plants, 12 inches (30 cm) of space between rows.
- Carrots and parsnips: 1 inch (2.5 cm) of space between plants, 12 inches (30 cm) of space between rows.
Providing Adequate Sunlight
I got an unpleasant surprise the first time I tried growing root veggies. I made the assumption that sunlight isn’t essential since they’re in the ground. Root vegetables will still need adequate sunlight: at least 4–6 hours per day.
Go Easy on Fertilizer
Unless you’re growing radishes, fertilize your root crops once per month. Be careful of nitrogen fertilizer, as too much can cause problems such as small roots with lush green tops, or very hairy roots. I like to add a 1–2 inch (2.5-5 cm) layer of compost before I begin sowing new crops from seeds.
The Road to Root Veg Success
I’ve found growing root vegetables to be especially rewarding, mostly because I messed them up so many times before my first successful crop. This blog was some of the insights I acquired as I learned to grow root crops.
Tristan’s a gardener from down under running the site Sydney Gardeners. He’s always looking to learn new things on the subject of gardening as well as share what he’s found to work best for him.