Some vegetables don’t like to advertise. Their delectable, enlarged roots quietly grow beneath the soil surface, hidden from view. Listen to learn how to rustle up a batch of these fun, easy-to-grow “root crops” for yourself.
This segment of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Musings podcast series was written by George and Becky Lohmiller and is read by Heidi Stonehill, an Almanac editor.
Root crops are just that—crops that are grown for their edible roots. The most popular ones with the home gardener are beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, and turnips. Potatoes are tubers, and onions are bulbs, so they don’t qualify.
Root crops are easy to grow. They all require about the same growing conditions and care: deep, loose, rich soil; average fertility; plentiful moisture; and at least one thinning.
The Beet Goes On
■ To assure a continuous supply of tempting baby beets and juicy beet greens, make successive plantings every two weeks in spring and early summer. Beet seeds are actually clusters of three to five seeds, so they come up in clumps that need thinning when the leaves are two inches high. Delay additional thinning until the greens are big enough to harvest and eat.
Worth Their Weight in Gold
■ Heavy clay or rocky soil will cause carrots to become stunted, forked, or otherwise misshapen. If your soil is not perfect, try growing midget or round varieties.
How Sweet It Is
■ Like carrots, parsnips require deep, stone-free soil. They are extremely hardy, are insect-free, and suffer from few diseases. Parsnips keep all winter. Just leave them in the garden and the cold soil will turn them sweet and flavorful. Dig them up in spring for the first delicious meal from your garden.
The Radical Radish
■ Radishes are quick and easy. Some varieties will mature in just three weeks. They require little attention and no additional fertilizer—only what you apply at planting time. Sow radish seeds with slow-germinating seeds like carrots. When you harvest the radishes, you will be giving the carrots their first thinning.
Turn to Turnips
■ The trick to growing sweet, flavorful turnips is to harvest them when the root is young and only two to three inches in diameter. If they grow too big, they may become woody and bitter. Remember, turnip greens are high in vitamins A, B, and C and are more nutritious than the roots.