Did you know that most internet lists always place a root vegetable at the top of ‘easiest crops to grow?’ (source #1, source #2) We even included root vegetables in our own list here on Morning Chores.
They are really easy to grow, but you still have to do a little research.
So I’m going to be transparent with you all. Root vegetables are easy to grow, they are great to fit in small spaces, but if you don’t understand a few things about them then they will probably flop. I know this because I struggled to grow them myself for years.
And the main reason was because I didn’t do my research. I heard everyone say how easy they were to grow. I even had people tell me you could grow them anywhere, and maybe those lucky folks can.
But for me, I have to follow a few simple rules to get a good crop of root vegetables, and I’m going to share those rules with you.
Here they are:
1. They Need the Right Soil
Root vegetables can’t just be shoved in the ground and forgotten about. They take some preparation and consideration.
So you’ll need to begin by making sure that you plant them in the right soil in the right place. Most all root veggies like to be in full sun.
Which means if you have a place where they can get full sun for 4-6 hours a day then you are picking a great spot to grow them.
However, the soil can’t be packed down tightly. Root veggies need room to grow. So the soil needs to be loose and easy for the vegetables to grow and push through as needed.
So it is really up to you and where you find that your root crops do the best.
2. Compost is Your Friend
Along with having loose soil in the right space, your root vegetables need the soil to be fertilized.
However, you have to plan to plant root vegetables. I know when spring rolls around, my husband and I think we have a plan for our garden.
But then we’ll get an idea to grow a few extra items and end up redesigning our garden plan last minute. (Please tell me we aren’t the only ones that do that!)
Anyway, you can’t do this to root vegetables. The reason is they need the soil to be fertilized. If you spread lots of rich compost over the place where you plant to plant about 3 months prior to planting then it gives the fertilizer time to work through the soil.
However, if you don’t, then it makes the soil too nitrogen rich. This makes for the tops of the root vegetables to grow but it doesn’t do much for the actual crop itself. Root vegetables actually prefer a phosphorous rich soil.
So you might want to consider adding some bone meal fertilizer to your root crop as needed. This promotes root growth which should help your root crop. You can purchase bone meal fertilizer or make your own as well.
3. Spacing is Super Important to Root Veggies
As I mentioned with the soil, room for the vegetables to grow as needed is super important to root vegetables. Which means, when you plant your root vegetables you will have to go back about 3-4 weeks later and create the proper space.
Basically, when you plant root veggies you cut a row with a hoe or other garden item. You’ll sprinkle the seeds as evenly as possible.
However, if you’ve never planted root vegetables before you might be surprised by how small the seeds are. So it can be difficult at times to space them as evenly as you could a tomato plant.
Once the seeds have sprouted you’ll begin to see how close some of the plants are. You’ll then go back through by hand or with scissors and cut or pull out the seedlings that are too close.
Now, you’ll need to check with a spacing guide for the exact amount of space each root vegetable needs.
But a safe measure is anywhere between 2-4 inches. This will vary depending upon how large the crop itself is when it has reached full maturity.
4. Root Veggies Do Not Play Nice With Weeds
Root vegetables and weeds are not friends. They aren’t even acquaintances. If I had to guess, I’d say they are probably the fiercest of enemies.
And the reason is that weeds rob all of the nutrients from root vegetables and then overcrowd them to boot. I wouldn’t like them either if I was a root vegetable.
So how do you combat this? Well, it isn’t terribly difficult. You can go through your vegetables with a hoe or other small garden tool and clean out weeds.
Or you could just go over the beds by hand if your beds are smaller, and you feel up to it. If not, you could also mulch your beds. You don’t have to mulch in between each plant.
However, mulching the beds as much as possible does help the plants retain necessary moisture and it also deters weeds.
So that sounds like a win for the root crop and for your back, huh?
5. You Can Keep a Continuing Crop
If you are not a canner (but you can learn how to become one here), then you might wonder what in the world you do with a huge crop of root vegetables. I mean, what if they come in all at once? You can only eat so many carrots, right?
Well, I’m going to go over storage a little further down, but you could also avoid being over ran with root vegetables by learning how to plant so you could have mini-crops that are planted at different times so you don’t get over run all at once.
If that is something you’d like, it is very easy to accomplish. You’ll just need to begin planting smaller portions of seeds starting around the first of April.
If you do this every 3 weeks, you should have an ongoing crop for the remainder of the grow season. Remember, root vegetables are very hearty so they can grow in the cool fall temperatures as well in most locations.
6. They Love H2O
Root vegetables need water. On average, they need around 1 inch per week.
So when you plant them be sure that you keep this in mind. A lot of times when you aren’t able to physically see the crop (only the top), you fail to realize that they didn’t get enough water that week.
You won’t want to over water your crop, but by mulching and adding adequate water each week you should hopefully have a great root crop each year.
7. Pests Love Your Root Veggies, Too
Unfortunately, pests love root vegetables. They will ravage them from beneath the earth and sometimes you won’t realize it until it’s too late.
For instance, carrots have to battle rust flies. The only real way to deter them from devouring your crop is to delay planting. You can learn more about growing carrots and solutions for their pests here.
However, here is a detailed list of almost all garden pests. Hopefully, this will help you to stay ahead of the game and protect your garden crops this upcoming grow season.
8. The Exception to the Rule
I’ve spoken about root vegetables a lot throughout this article. Your mind might have wondered to carrots, radishes, parsnips, onions, and many other vegetables.
But don’t forget about the potato. Potatoes are different from a lot of the other root veggies. They need much more space between each plant.
So instead of 2-4 inches, you’ll probably need more like 18 inches between each plant. Also, they don’t like loose, flat dirt. They desire to be grown in little hills.
As you can tell, there are some generalizations when growing root vegetables. However, you will need to do some in depth research when it comes to each particular type of root vegetable you are planting to be more aware of these variations in planting techniques.
Now that you have the 8 basic rules of growing root vegetables successfully, you’ll need to know how to harvest these vegetables.
So here are a few pointers:
1. Radishes Have a Shorter Grow Time
Radishes can be harvested within 3-5 weeks after planting. That is why we love planting them because then we don’t have to wait very long to be able to have fresh produce again.
Actually, I’m considering keeping some garden greens and heartier root vegetables going in my greenhouse this winter.
So radishes will definitely make the list of items I intend on growing because of their short harvest period.
2. Most Stay in the Ground Until They Are a Usable Size
Most other root vegetables will stay in the ground until you see that they are at a usable size. You will know this by going through and testing the size by pulling 1-2 after the days to maturity have passed.
Now, these will vary depending upon what you’ve planted. So be sure to read the packaging.
3. Rutabagas Stay in the Ground Until Late Fall
Rutabagas do stay in the ground late than most other root vegetables. They can usually be harvested in late fall.
However, after you get them to the size you desire then you prep them just like the other vegetables.
4. The Basics for Most Root Veggies
When harvesting most root vegetables, you’ll want to cut the tops down to about a ½ inch above the crop. Be sure not to cut off the root ends or root hairs because this can bring decay on for your root veggies.
Then you’ll use a spade or garden fork to loosen the dirt around the vegetables and get them out of the ground. Wipe the excess dirt off of them, and they are ready for storage.
5. The Basics for Potatoes
Potatoes are a little different. You know to harvest them when the whole plant is completely dead. When the plant has reached this point, you simply dig the potatoes out of the ground.
Then you wipe the excess dirt off of them, and you are ready to store them.
Most root vegetables can be stored in a cooler area and do just fine. So if you want to store them in your refrigerator then you’ll need to place them in a single layer in a Ziploc bag.
However, be sure to get as much air out of it as possible.
Next, you could store them in a root cellar or cool basement. You place them inside wooden boxes and layer them with wet sand or straw. This keeps them from laying right on each other and causing rot.
So you’ll keep them there until you are ready to use them.
Third, you can keep the root crops in the ground. Before a hard frost, be sure to cover the crops with straw or mulch to keep the tops from being ruined by the frost.
Then when you want them, go pull the mulch or straw back and harvest them straight from the ground.
Well, there are my 17 rules for successful gardening with root crops. I hope that you find them useful as well as the harvesting and storage tips.
But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you have any other tips to help grow root crops? How do you harvest and store them? Do you have any tasty recipes you use them for?