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Root Vegetables

Tips for How to Successfully Grow Root Vegetables and Herbs

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Starting a Vegetable Garden | Container Vegetable Gardening | Early Spring Vegetables | Fall Vegetable Gardening | Vegetable Gardening in Warm Climates | Vegetables A to Z

Root vegetables grow out of sight. Often we don't know if there is a problem until we harvest them. Experience is a great teacher, but here are some tips to get you started on the right track, toward growing a successful crop of all sorts of root vegetables.

A general tip for all kinds of root crops is that the soil needs to be loose enough for them to send down roots. If the soil is compacted or rocky, the roots will become distorted and forked. If you have extremely poor soil, you will be better off growing root crops in a raised bed. You could devote one section of you vegetable garden to this raised bed and rotate your root crops in it, throughout the season.

1. Beets

Photo: designkryt / stock.xchng.

Beets are considered a root crop, but the leaves are edible too. Probably the hardest part about growing beets is thinning the plants. The seeds are in clusters and when they sprout all crowded together. The good news is that you can eat any plants you thin. The tender greens are a great addition to salads and stir fries.

Beets grow quickly and taste best when harvested small and young. You can pull some and re-seed, for a continual harvest. For such an earthy looking vegetable, they are surprisingly sweet, especially when roasted.

2. Carrots

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Carrots are such a popular vegetable, you would think they'd be easier to grow. The long, thin carrot we most commonly see takes several months to mature. While you are patiently waiting for them to fill out, there are many pests below and above the soil that don't wait for maturity to start eating your carrots. So growing carrots takes some experience and a watchful eye.

If you've had poor luck growing carrots you might have more success growing one of the shorter varieties, like 'Paris Market' or 'Little Finger'. They mature faster, are just as sweet and crunchy as longer carrots and you can be eating earlier and replanting throughout the summer.

And here's a quick tip to help you plant those tiny, slow to sprout, carrot seeds.

3. Horseradish

Photo: ©Marie Iannotti

Horseradish is very easy to grow, but with horseradish, a little goes a long way. Unfortunately it can be hard to grow just a little horseradish. The plants are perennial in most areas, so if you leave some root in the ground, it will re-grow and spread - quickly. But don't let that deter you. You can always grow it in a pot. Or take a tip from commercial growers and dig up the whole patch of horseradish, treat it as an annual plant and start from scratch next season.

 

4. Onions and Shallots

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Is there are more useful vegetable than onions? Just think of all the recipes that start off with sauteing onions. Onions are fairly easy to grow. It's planting them that takes a lot of work. You have three options. You can start them from seed, from transplants or from sets, tiny onion bulbs. The sets are the easiest to plant and the quickest to mature. They are also the most expensive.

Onion seed generally needs to be started indoors, in order to give them enough time to mature in one season. And they will have to be transplanted as seedlings.

Many nurseries sell onion seedlings, which saves you the step of starting your own seeds. They are inexpensive, but they are tiny and transplanting is labor intensive. It's worth it though, when you dig the fat bulbs and fill the larder for winter.

Shallots can cost so much in the grocery store, you would think they were grown under lock and key. Actually, you can grow shallots as easily as any other onion. But, like garlic, shallots are generally planted in the fall and each bulbs grows offsets, to be harvested the following summer. Don't let shallots intimidate you. Give them a try and then impress your friends with you fine French culinary skills.

5. Parsnips

How to Grow Parsnips
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Parsnips aren't as popular as they once were, but they grow well in most areas and they will store for months, getting sweeter with a little chilling. They have been overshadowed by carrots and potatoes, but that's not because of how they taste. Different varieties can be mildly nutty to honey sweet. They can be eaten raw, mashed, sauteed and they are especially good roasted. One caveat is that they take 3 - 4 months to mature. So get your seeds in early then sit back and wait for a treat.

6. Potatoes

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

While potatoes are not root crops, they grow under similar conditions and so they are included in this list. Potatoes are a stem tuber. There is an incredible diversity of potatoes and the only way to sample them is to grow them yourself. They are easily started from pieces for actual potato and grow fairly easily, although there are several pests vying for their attention.

Potatoes are easy to grow in containers. You'll need a large container, like a half barrel. Just add a layer of soil, a layer of seed potato pieces and then cover with an additional layer of soil. As the plants grow, continue covering them with soil and potatoes will sprout all along the buried stems. Tips it over and harvesting is a breeze.

7. Radishes

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Radishes are one of the most popular vegetables for backyard gardeners. They're quick growing and easy to pop into tonight's salad. You wouldn't think radishes could pose so many growing problems, but they do. Most radish problems happen when we try to grow them in warm weather. Radishes need soil cool enough to to keep them from bolting, but warm enough so they mature quickly. When you finish reading Tips for Growing Radishes, check out these problem solvers for radish growing problems.

And when you start getting good at radishes, branch out and experiment with other types. There are long, sliver-thin radishes, colorful, spicy radishes and winter radishes that make a wonderful roasted side dish.

8. Rutabaga

I'm surprised more people don't grow rutabagas. Maybe it's the funny name. That's a shame because they are a versatile that has a crisp cabbage-like tang when used fresh and they sweeten up to almost a buttery lusciousness when cooked. They're so good they are used for pie. And they're easy to grow with relatively few pest problems. They don't even require a lot of space. They do need a growing season of 90 days or longer, but they keep for months.

9. Sweet Potatoes

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Sweet potatoes are tuberous roots and are usually grown from slips, small rooted pieces of the tubers. They aren't often grown in cooler climates because they need about a 4 month growing season. However there are varieties that are better suited to northern gardens and it's quite easy to start plants in containers and move them out when the soil has warmed. I have grown them several times in my USDA hardiness Zone 6b garden. They don't always turn out picture perfect, as the photo shows, but they taste great.

10. Turnips

Growing Turnips
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

There's a lot more variety to turnips than you might think. For starters, you can eat both the greens and the root bulb. If you harvest the greens while they're young, they'll keep re-sprouting.

And not all turnips are white with purple tops. There are sweet tiny golden turnip and creamy, bright red turnips too. The really nice thing is they are all easy to grow and fast to mature. You could be eating turnips within 2 months time.

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