Growing Root Vegetables

Growing Root Vegetables

These are often highly nutritious as their deep roots tap levels of soil further down than most plants. Thus they are soil breakers and improvers, leaving behind fine roots and foliage enriched with minerals, particularly the beets and chards.

The soil does not need digging because the fine taproot will go straight down into the hardest ground if it is moist and the seed has a firm covering of soil to push against. They are mostly biennials building up their reserves to flower the following year.

If they get stressed, bolting into flower early is a common problem. Remove bolters to prevent them encouraging others. I use a two-prong fork made from the middle of a four-prong digging fork to lift out roots with minimal disturbance and greatest ease.


Growing Root Vegetables Carrots are probably the most worthwhile crop, but they must be grown under an old net curtain, horticultural fleece or similar to prevent root fly damage. Perpetually plagued by this, I have tried many herbs and strong-smelling remedies with some success, mostly from intercropping onions, chives and leeks. Carrot root fly can be stopped by a simple barrier of anything thigh-high around small beds. This stops the adult fly which will go round rather than over such barriers. But the very best preventatives are crop rotation and a physical barrier of fleece to stop the fly laying its eggs by the seedling carrots.

Carrots need a stone-free, light soil to do well. Heavy clay soils need lightening with organic material and sharp sand well mixed in. Do not overfeed or use fresh manure as these will cause poor flavour and forked roots. Heavy soil may be improved the year before sowing with a green manuring of flax. I find carrots will follow onions well on a light soil. Do not disturb the soil deeper than an inch and the seedling carrots will grow straight down. Sow successionally and shallowly from early spring through till mid-summer. Station sowing at three or fewer per foot apart is best if you want large carrots for storing, but for handfuls of baby carrots I prefer broadcast sowing. Rake the soil, then water it heavily and let it percolate away. Mix the seed with sand and then sow this from side to side, back and fro. Cover the seed with a half inch of used sterile potting compost, sharp sand and peat or similar, pat it down and cover with fleece well pegged down at the edges.

Unwanted carrots left to flower attract hoverflies and beneficial wasps. I keep most of mine in the ground over winter just covered with straw and a plastic sheet. Geese love them!

Epicurean attentions

Carrots keep best once dug with the dirt left on them and only washed when needed. Carrots stored near apples may acquire a bitter taint.

‘Amsterdam Forcing’ is the best quick carrot and is excellent grown in a coldframe. Surpluses freeze well. ‘Nantes Tip Top’ is nearly as good and can be sown from late winter under cover and right through to late summer for little ones for winter. ‘Mokum’ and ‘Panther’ are good summer carrots with sweet crunchiness rivalling shop-bought apples and a better flavour. ‘Autumn King’ is superb if a bit coarse for winter storage. For shallow soil or containers in the greenhouse ‘Rondo’ is useful as it grows short and round like a radish. For maximum vitamin A ‘Juwarot’ is superb, having double the average amount. It is worth trying many different carrot varieties.


Parsnips, Hamburg parsley, salsify and scorzonera are all similar root crops that are not difficult to grow but occupy the ground for a long time and so are not recommended where space is short. Hamburg parsley produces a parsnip-like root and is grown and used like parsnips, but tastes of parsley and the leaves can be used as parsley. Salsify and scorzonera are like long, thin parsnips with a much better flavour. These all rarely suffer from pests or diseases other than the usual soil pests and carrot rootfly. Protect them with cloches or fleece. If left to flower, they are good for beneficial insects and are best intercropped with peas or lettuce. They all keep well in the ground, though it is wise to dig some up to store in a shed when hard frosts are likely. These all need sowing in early spring three seeds per station at about a foot apart and protecting with a small cloche as germination is slow. The seed does not keep, so use fresh every year. Thin to one seedling once they emerge and forget about them till harvest.

Epicurean attentions

Parsnips taste better after the frost has got to them — try them parboiled, then made into French fries. Salsify and scorzonera do not store well, so dig them just before use, parboil without peeling, then slip the skins off and fry the roots in butter. Young scorzonera shoots can be eaten in salads.

Turnips and swedes can be started in cells if planted out while still small, but do much better sown direct, half an inch deep at up to a foot apart, from early spring right through to late summer. Other than flea beetle, they rarely suffer from pests and diseases, but if grown in dry conditions become tough and hot. They grow well in the shade of peas or intercropped with French beans. The leaves of turnips can be eaten as spinach. Swedes are very like turnips, but are sown in late spring either direct or in cells and transplanted while small for autumn and winter use, as they stand and store better than turnips.

Beetroots and chards

Growing Root Vegetables - beetroot Red, yellow and sugar beet are very closely related to leaf beet, perpetual spinach and Swiss chard. Originating from maritime regions, they need trace elements more than most crops. They thrive on seaweed products but do poorly in impoverished chemically fertilised soil. Good mineral accumulators — one-quarter of the mineral content of their leaves is magnesium, which is extremely valuable when added to the compost. They do well growing mixed with French beans, onions and brassicas, especially kohlrabi. The most troublesome pest is birds eating the seedlings and young leaves. Use wire-netting guards or plastic bottle cloches. Sow in pots or cells under cover in early spring, then plant out in the open from late spring to midsummer. The beets do well sown one seed capsule to a pot, cell or station and left unthinned at a foot or so apart to give clumps of smaller beet for pickling. Sown direct and thinned, they can be grown larger for winter storage.

Chards, leaf beets and perpetual spinach are effectively beetroots grown for their leaf and stems instead of their roots. They are treated similarly, but must be thinned to almost two foot apart. These are one of the most productive crops for small gardens, as they will produce till hard winter frosts come, and often sprout again in spring.

Epicurean attentions

The stems of Swiss chard braised in a cheese sauce are delicious. The green leaf can also be used as spinach — keep pulling the stems and it comes again.

06. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Vegetable Gardening | Tags: | Comments Off on Growing Root Vegetables


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