Expert advice: Root Crops

updated on 19 July 2024
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Enhance your gardening skills with these expert tips for planting, support, fertilization, and harvesting from Guest Contributor and CSU Horticulture Agent Cassey Anderson!

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If you’re slow to get started in the vegetable garden, as some of us are, there are plants that can be flexible throughout the season. Some of these are quick to grow, or can stay in-ground as soils cool into winter. Root crops are a great example of a flexible season plant, provided you keep the soil sufficiently moist for seeds to germinate as temperatures get warmer. Let’s dive into some specific roots crops, some of which you may be less familiar with!

6 veggies to grow all season long

In ground root crops do well with a rich soil (4-5% organic material) or several applications of fertilizer over the season. If your soil is not at 4-5% organic material you will want to amend nitrogen at planting, and again about a month later. Nutrient needs may vary, so for the best results get a soil test that will let you know what your soil nutrient profile is. Your local Extension office can give you guidance as well.

Carrots – a regular favorite of most gardeners, carrots offer a relatively quick turnaround, with some being ready for harvest in as little as two months (some may take even less with sufficient water!). Plant in soil that has been well loosened. If soil is too compacted, you may get short or divided roots. Be sure to plant with care or plan to thin seedlings as needed so the carrot roots can grow to size. Carrots do need regular, consistent watering to grow tasty, too little water can make for strong flavors or a woody texture. You can succession plant your carrots, planting a few new rows every few weeks so you can have continued harvest through the season.

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Beets – another fan-favorite that can be very easy to plant and grow. You will most likely need to thin after germinating your seeds as beet seeds may contain between 1-5 individual seeds, so no amount of careful planting will keep them thin enough to bulb well. Thankfully beets can be dual-purpose, the greens are nutritious and tasty so makes the thinning easier to manage. Harvest when the beets are about 2-3” in diameter. Beets can tolerate light frosts in both spring and fall. Succession planting is also a great idea for regular harvests of beets throughout the season.

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Radish – every first-time gardeners’ best friend radish germinates and grows quickly and produces well. Plant in loosened soil and water regularly until germination, usually less than two weeks, sometimes as quickly as a few days. Water regularly to keep the spice to a minimum, erratic or poor water practices can make for a spicey bite that only the brave may want to try. Harvest in as few as 3 weeks, although 4 weeks may be more likely especially in the early season. If the spice of a radish is objectionable, you can slice and stir fry.

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Turnips – less common but incredible in stir fries and offering some fresh crunch to a salad, these grow similarly to both beets and radish, although taking about the same amount of time to mature as beets, thinning seedlings to 3-6” spacing. The Asian turnip varieties may be harvested smaller and I find they are sweeter, European varieties tend to get larger. Turnip greens can be a good addition to stir fry but may be tough to eat without cooking first. If you grow other members of the cole family: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, collards, kale etc. practicing crop rotation can be beneficial in case of persistent disease pressures. Water well and regularly, drought can bring out bitter flavors and the root can become woody.

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Parsnips – longer season than the rest, parsnips can remain in the ground finishing in warm autumn seasons. Parsnips offer a sweet and unique flavor that can be harvested throughout the winter season. Parsnip seeds can be challenging to germinate, you can soak the seed for 24-48 hours prior to planting to help the seed germinate better. Plant in deeply worked soil, some parsnips can grow up to 18” deep, and compacted soil can reduce the rooting depth. Thin to about 4” spacing. Water well throughout the season.

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Onions (scallions or green onions) - while a June planting will be too late for mature bulb onions (which can start as early as mid March), you can likely get scallions or green onions up and growing if you need some more onion in your donation box or your own kitchen. Onions like regular nutrients, so you may need to fertilize lightly every 2-3 weeks through the growing season. As with our other root vegetables, regular and reliable water will keep the onions sweet rather than hot.

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Hopefully for those of you running behind this year, this was a helpful summary of some root crop options for late-early season planting. If you have additional questions, you can reach out to your local Extension office. Happy planting!

Share Your Bounty for Hunger Relief

Gardening in Colorado? Check out Grow & Give www.growandgivecolorado.org and in particular our Colorado Vegetable Guide https://growgive.extension.colostate.edu/colorado-vegetable-guide/ for more crop information on all of the above plants.

What if every gardener planted just one extra plant to share?

One small donation can have a tremendous impact. Just imagine, if every gardener planted one extra plant to share, collectively, we would have an abundant source of fresh, healthy produce available to be distributed to families experiencing food insecurity in our own communities! The free Fresh Food Connect mobile app connects you to a local hunger relief program, then manages and tracks your donations of homegrown produce throughout the season.  Download the app today!

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