Root crops for Beginners (Dave’s Garden)

Read at: Dave’s Garden Weekly Newsletter Febr.25, 2008

Root crops for Beginners

By Catherine Smith (doccat5)

Root crops are not the most exciting or sexy thing to write about. But they are wonderful for crop rotation, incredibly versatile in their use and great to eat! And not difficult to grow. The key to growing a bounty of great tasting root crops begins with properly preparing the soil. Root vegetables require good drainage and grow best in deeply cultivated soil that is rich in organic matter. Because they require through cultivation they are wonderful to use as succession planted crops for a longer lasting, more bountiful harvest. They can be used as “trap crops” for protecting other plants from insect pests. Radishes are a real “workhorse” for this use. I use radishes for the end of bed markers between sections of lettuce, and other direct seeded plants. Because radishes germinate so rapidly it is easy to see the where one section leaves off and another begins. I always interplant radishes with cubbits, squash, melons and my cole crops. Flea beetles and cabbage maggots love radishes and will go for them first. I simply pull up the infested radishes and destroy them, getting rid of the flea beetles.
Root vegetables are perfect candidates for succession sowing for a harvest all through spring and into fall. It is super easy to interplant among your taller growing crops during the season. Because of this you need to think about purchasing additional seed of your particular favorites. Baby root vegetables taste the best and are easy to prepare in many ways. Even those who are not great fans of many root veggies are amazed at the difference in the taste between the store bought giants and home grown babies. By harvesting them while young, you are also benefiting your soil and surrounding crops.
If I have an area in which I really want to encourage deeper growth, I use Daikon radishes and/or Danver’s carrots or both. Both of those particular root vegetables grow long and strong. The holes left allow both additional water and air to penetrate the soil thus encouraging your above ground crops to send down a deeper root system and make for a stronger plant.

An additional bonus is that many root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips and turnips can be grown well into fall and winter and are extra tasty after a little nip of frost! We are in a mild growing zone, but even in the colder zones, you can still have these veggies by heavily mulching the bed. Do “flag” the area with a stake as hunting root veggies in the snow can be an “interesting” and sometimes frustrating experience.

Planting tricks and tips:

There are several ways to get a more even distribution of these rather small seeds, use an old salt shaker partially filled with play sand, and shake the seed out. And you can make your own liquid seed tape with water and cornstarch: To one cup of lukewarm water and one teaspoon of cornstarch at a time until it resembles Creme of Rice-before it cools to rubber. Add your carrot/radish/parsnip or other tiny seeds to a clean plastic shampoo bottle filled with the mixutre. And sque-ee-ze out your line of seeds!

I usually heavly oversow and use an small iron toothed rake to thin the seedlings once they have 2 true leaves. The “discards” are great in salads and added to greens provide additional flavor.

Parsnips can be a bit of a challenge as even the freshest seed does not germinate rapidly. Interplant with radishes to determine where you have planted the slower germinating parsnips. Side dress them in June with a complete fertilzer, as they are fairly heavy feeders and will produce roots up to one pound.


Daikon Radishes



Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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