Root Vegetables for Dummies
Which 3 Root Veggies to Grow First?
Sometimes the reality doesn’t quite match up to the dream. Like when you book that blissful beach getaway you’ve seen in your local paper. The pictures of the “airy beachfront studio” look stunning – yet you somehow find yourself squashed into a sweaty bedsit in a crummy neighbourhood near the airport, where the only bit of sand you can see is that being shovelled in the construction site next door.
Or when you have visions of yourself as a gardening whizz, popping out to the garden to pluck a few edible flowers to place on the colourful plate of assorted salad items that you’ve grown all by yourself.
But of course, it isn’t as simple as that. Because before you get to enjoy that smug feeling of cutting into the world’s biggest and juiciest eggplant or melon, first you’ll probably have to deal with that dismal feeling of a failed crop. Time and time again.
Cabbage leaves that have been brutalised by cabbage worms, corn that’s spoiled by cross-pollination, cauliflower that wilts before it gets a chance to thrive. And it’s a sad thing to witness. It can put many a newbie grower off.
But don’t fret – you can have your dream vegetable garden simply by going back to your roots. (Specifically, by growing root veggies.)
And GardenZoo is here to help you fill your garden – and your dinner plate – with delicious root veggies that anyone can grow!
Top 3 root vegetables for beginner gardeners
Root veggies are the staple of many a meal. They’re tasty, they’re versatile and they’re pretty filling, too. So if you’re not ready to garden some of the more temperamental foods (like celery or artichoke, for instance), root vegetables are a good place to start.
It’s worth noting that root crops all pose the same problem for beginner gardeners. They grow out of sight – so a lot of the time, you won’t know there’s a problem until you harvest them. And a shrivelled potato is a sorry sight.
You’ll learn from experience what it takes to look after the following veggies but in general, make sure the soil is loose enough for them to send down roots. If the soil is too compact, or too rocky, the roots will fork off in different directs and, like an errant teenager, not do they’re told.
GZ Gold: If you don’t have great-quality soil to hand, grow your root crops in a raised bed. So this raised bed is a separate section of your vegetable garden, in which you rotate different root crops throughout the season. Nice one.
Here are some of the best root crops to grow – plus some tips to help you succeed:
The best thing about beets (apart from their dance-floor filling capacity) is that they grow quickly. In fact, they taste best when you harvest them when they’re still quite young. Good news for impatient gardeners!
The trickiest thing about growing them is thinning the plants. Because even if you allow your vegetable seedlings a lot of space in the beginning, the clusters they grow in often mean that sprouted seeds are too crowded to develop into bulbs.
However, if you think your seedlings in the evening, the remaining plants can adjust to the new conditions before being exposed to heat and sunlight. Also, try pulling your extra seedlings when the soil is damp – this means you can remove the excess plants while leaving the ones you want to keep.
It might sound like effort, but since you can eat any of the plants you thin, your efforts aren’t wasted. Plus, you can “eats, shoots and leaves” – and these tender greens are great in salads or stir-fries. The root itself is surprisingly sweet, especially when roasted. Totally worth the price of purple fingers and stained chopping boards! 😉
GZ Gold: To thin your seedlings, you can use a pair of gardening scissors or nail scissors. Or simply pluck them by hand, which is actually quite a therapeutic experience! Allow 3–6 inches of space between the seeds. And don’t forget to “water the survivors” – giving them a rejuvenating spray of moisture to help them recover after the loss of their pals.
Who knew carrots could be controversial? Well, they are. Because in addition to the whole “can carrots improve eyesight?” debate, not to mention their role in tanning people’s skin, carrots have divided the gardening world.
Some gardeners say they’re easy peasy to grow. As easy as peas, in fact.
Others say they’re really tricky; that the carrot is a complex creature which shouldn’t be underestimated.
The hard thing about growing them is that, unlike beetroot, it takes several months before you can harvest them. And while you’re waiting patiently to unearth the fruits (or veggies) of your labour, plenty of pests above and below the soil aren’t so accommodating. They don’t wait for your carrots to mature before having a good ol’ chomp. So in order to grow carrots, you need a watchful eye. (Which you can probably improve by eating carrots – hooray!!)
Carrots need at least 6 inches of well-tilled, loosened soil above them. Soil that’s free from pebbles (otherwise you’ll get mis-shappen roots) and any soil other than clay. Mineral ones work well, but humus soil is the best. Again, feel free to grow them in raised beds if you need to.
GZ Gold: Not having great luck with your carrots? It happens! Try a shorter variety like “Paris Market” or “Little Finger” instead. They mature faster and are just as tasty as the longer ones. Keeping pests away and saving more for you.
3. Summer squash
If you think you might be cursed with a brown thumb instead of green fingers, start your vegetable garden with a splash of summer squash. They’re easy to grow and maintain, they produce a pretty good yield and you can start picking edible fruit after just 7 weeks!
What’s more, if you keep the fruit picked, the plants will continue their growth spurt until winter hits. Yay!
GZ Gold: To get the best from your summer squash, grow them from a central point (rather than running right them through your garden like you might do with winter squash). Remember, they need full sun, consistent moisture and rich soil to thrive. Much like Lady Greenfingers on holiday.
Final thoughts? Dig deep!
If you’re having problems with your vegetable garden, see if you can get to the root of the problem early on. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) Otherwise your grand ideas will go down like a sack of potatoes. (Again, sorry.) So really, there’s no use beet-ing around the bush. (Not apologising for that one. Too proud of it.)
Enough punnery. Time to pick up some seeds, start your vegetable garden and rummage through your recipe books for some root-based meals that are bound to impress when harvest comes around.
Keep an eye out for our post on the trickier vegetables to grow. Master these ones first and then get ready to kick things up a notch!
We’re rooting for your success. 😉