Beets and other root crops

Thursday, March 28, 2019
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Larry Fields, gardening columnist for the Laurel Outlook, grew these giant turnips and carrots.

Story and photo by Larry G. Field

Special to the Outlook

Both beets and other root crops will be discussed in this segment. Root crops are plants that provide an edible tap root such as radishes, turnips and carrots. Onions are not a root crop. The thick, bottom, food storage portion of the stem is the onion crop, not the “roots”. Some root crops produce a second crop, edible leaves such as “beet greens” or entire “baby beets.” I will discuss edible tubers in a separate segment, tubers such as potatoes and their relatives.

Root crops normally grown locally include radishes, beets, carrots, turnips, rutabagas and parsnips. All grow well, but I have trouble with root maggots in turnips and rutabagas so I choose not to grow them. Some local growers do well with them: test them if you wish to grow them.

My technique for growing root crops is to dig a trench and fill

it with a mix of well aged manure, sand and nitrogen fertilizer. The bacteria of decomposition break down the manure releasing nutrients while consuming nitrogen. When using aged manure, mix 25 percent manure with 75 percent sand. Reduce the amount of manure if not 2+ years old. My trench is shallowest (2-3”) at one end for radishes and progressively deeper for beets (3-4”, Detroit), carrots (6”, 1 ea. slender, half long and oxhart) and parsnips (8-9”, All-American). The decaying manure releases nutrients and produces tiny voids in the soil for the sand to be pushed into by the expanding roots.

Thinning of freshly germinated root crops is important. The small seeds are frequently planted excessively thick. Thin as soon as the plants are large enough to work. The minimal spacing should be as suggested by the seed supplier; but more if you wish the root to grow larger. If you want two inch diameter beets, the thinning minimum should be two inch spaces. I use thinning to help with sustained yield of the crop. I might thin beets at one end of the row to 1 inch spaces, and progressively increasing spacing to about four inches at the other end. The wider the spaces, the faster/larger the vegetable will mature. The more crowded the vegetable, the more time needed for it to grow providing a sustained yield.

I obtain a sustained yield of radishes by planting four varieties.

I plant the fastest maturing first, about April 1, wait a week and

plant the second fastest, and so on until the slowest maturing has been planted (Cherry Belle, French Dressing, French Breakfast & Icicle) As the two fastest maturing are harvested, I replant them, providing a timed six crop harvest. Thin to 3” and harvest prior to hot weather.

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