Root vegetables never get respect. It’s bounty and vibrant colors lie under the dirt. The spring superstars like lettuce, broccoli and cabbage receive all the hoopla. And why not? What you see is what you get. The gardener knows when to pick things like broccoli thanks to the visible ripeness. Root veggies require a little more attention as well as an even watering distribution..
Yet, there is no bigger reward than pulling out a ripe red onion or a sweet potato for the dinner table. And, this isn’t the grocery store root veggie, even if the label says organic. The taste of a freshly plucked root veggie has no comparison. A beet and carrot are truly sweet and a radish becomes the champion of the salad bowl.
Here are some of the more popular root veggies and how to become a master gardener of the underground.
The varieties of available beets are staggering. Golds, Detroit Reds, and the Chioggias (striped insides) can create a beautiful display on the dinner table. The greens from beets can be picked and enjoyed raw or cooked. The roots will not be affected from the picking, and will grow to golf ball size or much bigger.
The best way to grow beets are to sow them straight in the garden in either early spring or late summer. Here’s a guide for when to plant in the region.
Once the soil is workable in the spring, plant seeds an 1″ apart with 12″-18″ between rows. Begin thinning plants when they are about 5″ tall. Compost the thinnings or bring them to the kitchen for stir frys or salads. Be vigilant with the weeding throughout the beet’s cycle. Any competition from a rogue plant can stunt the root’s growth. If the weather seems unseasonably warm (beets do well with day temps of 75 F or less), cover the plant during the day with a light (.5 oz) Remay blanket (aka germination blanket). This also keeps the bugs away.
Try not to overdo with a nitrogen-centric fertilizer. The leaves will be healthy, but the roots will be thin at harvest.
Speaking of harvest, the average wait time for pulling the roots are 60 days. A good sized beet will be anywhere from 1 1/2″ to 3″ in diameter. Anything smaller or larger should be taken to the closest Fifth Season Store and handed over to an employee for quality culinary control.
To be continued…