Root vegetables are a great thing to have in the garden during our cool season. Since much of the plant is underground, and our ground rarely freezes in the winter, they are a garden plant that can survive winter cold.
Root veggies, like carrots, radishes, beets, turnips and parsnips can be planted in the fall to be harvested in the winter, or planted late winter to be harvested in the spring. The roots grow best in loose soil without rocks or large clumps. Hard, clay soil will produce misshaped roots. Plant these seeds in a row, directly into the garden by creating a ½ inch trench. The seeds are small, so sprinkle them along the trench, with the seeds about ½ inch apart. Cover with soil, and water gently. Until the seeds germinate, it is important to keep the soil moist. If the seeds dry out, the chances of them germinating are much lower.
Once the seedlings grow to 1-2 inches tall, they will need to be thinned so that there is 2-3 inches between plants. This will give the roots plenty of room to grow. It is also important at this point to keep the area around these seedlings free from weeds… these root vegetables are poor competitors against weeds.
Carrots take 65-75 days to grow to harvest. When planted in late winter, make sure you pick them before it gets too hot in the spring. Hot weather makes the carrots course and fibrous with a flavor that is too strong. Carrots are something that I grow in my garden every winter. I start in the fall, and plant a small row of carrots. Every two weeks, weather permitting, I will plant another small row. This will give me a steady supply of carrots, instead of getting a whole bunch of them all at once.
Radishes are fun, but not everyone likes radishes because of their zippy flavor. Radishes take just 21-30 days to harvest, so this is a good plant to gets kids interested in gardening, since there is not much a long wait for the reward.
Beets take 50-70 days to harvest. Pick them when they are between 1 ½ and two inches in diameter. You will be able to see the top of the beet peeking through the soil, or just brush back some dirt to take a look at the root. Do not let a beet get bigger than two inches in diameter, or it will tend to get woody and tough.
Turnips can be harvested young for the greens… however, keep in mind that clipping the greens will keep the root from growing. Turnips are ready when the root is the size of a tennis ball, 2 ½-2 ¾ inches in diameter. Turnips that grow too long into the warm season will be food for leaf eating caterpillars, so it is best to plant these early to keep it too cold for insects.
I have never grown parsnips, but they are similar to carrots, except take much longer to grow. Seeds take 18 to 60 days to germinate, and the plant is ready to harvest in 120 to 180 days. The roots should be harvested in the fall when the top of the plant freezes.