Fertilizer for root vegetables

How to Grow Root Crops

By Charlie Nardozzi, The Editors of the National Gardening Association

Root crops, such as potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, and turnips, are easy to grow if you have good soil, water, and proper spacing. The keys to growing great root crops are preparing the soil bed well and giving the plants room to grow. You also need to keep the crops clear of weeds and make sure they have enough water.

Here are further details on each of these important points:

  • All root crops like well-drained, loose, fertile soil: And with the exception of potatoes, which grow best in hills, root crops grow best in raised beds. They also can grow if you have a gardening spot that gets only 4 to 6 hours of direct sun a day. Try some carrots and onions in that patch.

    To prepare the soil, add a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost or manure at least 2 to 3 months before you’re ready to plant. If you wait until just before planting to add fresh compost or manure, you’re likely to get poor growth because too much nitrogen fertilizer on carrots and potatoes in spring promotes foliage growth but not good tuber and root formation. Instead, root crops enjoy phosphorous, which promotes root growth, so perform a soil test, and based on the results, add bone meal or rock phosphate fertilizer before planting to keep your roots happy.

    Onions in particular like lots of fertilizer, and they can stand some extra nitrogen, which promotes leaf growth. Add extra fertilizer when the transplants are 6 inches tall and the bulbs begin to swell. Then add a complete organic fertilizer, such as 5-5-5, at 1 pound per 10 feet.

  • Root crops, especially carrots and onions, require proper spacing to grow at their best: Thin out the young seedlings when they’re 3 to 4 weeks old by pulling them out or snipping them until they’re properly spaced. Onions should be 4 inches apart, scallions 2 inches apart, and carrots 3 inches apart. Potatoes don’t need thinning and should be planted 8 to 10 inches apart when planted.

    Thinning your hearty crops sounds cruel, but if you don’t do it, the roots won’t have enough room to expand, causing you to get lots of plants but few roots — and fewer roots means fewer carrots and onions.

  • You’ll be rewarded with lots of crisp roots in no time if you regularly weed your root crop patch: After a good thinning, hand-weed beds of carrots and onions; potatoes can be weeded with a hoe. Mulch the bed with hay or straw. You don’t have to mulch in between individual onion and carrot plants. Simply mulch around the beds, and keep them well watered.

Carrots, onions, and potatoes, like many root crops, prefer cool temperatures. They grow best and have the best flavor when temperatures stay below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carrots, parsnips, radishes, horseradishes, beets, and many more delicious root vegetables can easily be grown in your backyard. Most root crops don’t need a lot of attention. Let’s look at the details of how to grow root crops successfully.

What Are Root Crops?

Roots: The Complete Guide to the Underground Superfood (Superfoods for Life) Root crops are the only group in the vegetable garden that you have to subdivide, because unlike other families, not all root vegetables are related. As a result, they will need different feeding regimes, soil and pest control.

The root vegetables include celeriac, carrot and parsnip that belong to the Apiaceae family (same as celery and parsley).

This group also includes:

  • potatoes, (part of the nightshade family)
  • scorzonera (related to the dandelion and daisy)
  • salsify (same family as the sunflower and beetroot)

Root crops can be split into 2 types of plants:

  1. those that send a long tap root into the soil
  2. those that tend to swell their roots

Those 2 types of root vegetables require 2 ways to prepare the soil:

  1. heavily dig and manure the swelling root plants
  2. remove rocks and refrain from adding manure the tap rooting plants

List Of Root Vegetables

Potatoes make up the largest part of the root group, the rest being beetroot, celeriac, carrots, parsnips, and two vegetables that you may not have tried, scorzonera and salsify.

Here are some growing tips for root vegetables to get you started.

Potatoes enjoy a heavily manured bed. Add some seaweed at the bottom of the potato seed trenches as a soil tonic and to help to keep insects away from the potato tubers. Here is how to grow potatoes.

Beetroot is another plant that will thrive in a heavily fed soil, although it does not like an acid soil. As the manure tends to turn the soil a little more acid, if you have a test kit it would be worth checking the PH.

If you don’t have a kit, give the soil a dusting of wood ash: it will turn the soil more alkaline and provide some potassium to help your plants health and overall condition.

Love beets? Here are 31 delicious recipes with beets!

Celeriac is the only root vegetable that you would sow in trays. This is because it needs a long growing season and warmth to germinate.

Sow in a propagator tray in mid-March and plant them out in a manure rich soil, in the sunniest position available.

Carrots, parsnips, scorzonera and salsify send a long edible tap root into the ground, and the straighter the root, the easier they are to harvest and prepare. It’s important to remove the rocks from your soil before planting these , or you’ll end up with misshapen vegetables.

These tap root crops do not like a soil that is over fertile, as it tends to encourage the roots to split. Just a dusting of organic fertilizer should provide enough nutrients.

Here’s a list of cruciferous vegetables.

How To Grow Root Crops Successfully

How to prepare the soil for root vegetables

The root group includes potato, beetroot and celeriac, and to prepare for this part of the bed it’s best to heavily dig in a minimum of one wheelbarrow full of well-rotted manure per square yard.

You can cover the bed with manure in the fall and rotavate it in in the spring. This really loosens up the soil, making it free draining.

Alternatively you could double dig this area, by digging a trench at one end of the bed, filling it with manure, digging a trench next to it and using the contents of that trench to back-fill the first, and then filling the second trench with manure, repeating until you reach the end of the bed where the contents of the first trench can be used to back-fill the last.

This manure rich soil is an ideal growing medium for the general root crops, but is far too rich for tap root type plants.

Preparing soil for tap root vegetables

Carrots, parsnips, scorzonera and salsify send one long root down into the soil. If the soil is too rich, the roots will have tendency to split.

Do not manure this area of the root bed; instead, add either a general organic fertilizer. But first remove the rocks out of the bed to provide a stone free environment.

If your plot is very stony, either plant stubby carrots and parsnips, or have a look at our how to grow carrots page for some good tips on growing on stony ground.

How to care for root vegetables

Once your root veggies start coming out, you’ll need to thin them out. Thin to half spacing at first, so that thinning out to full spacing later in the season gives mini beetroots and carrot fingerlings to use in salads. 😉

Once the root plants are up and going, other than weeding and watering when the weather is dry, they need little else.

Root Vegetable Pests & Diseases

Beetroot and celeriac are mostly trouble free: enjoy these easy to grow vegetables.

Carrots and parsnips will need to be protected from the carrot root fly. You can do this by by erecting a 8″ barrier around the carrot bed, you’ll find more information on the carrot root fly here.

Potatoes seem to have an enemy in every corner. They are attacked underground by a range of insects, and from above by a selection of diseases.

Don’t get discouraged with these potato problems. As long as you take some preventive measures, most issues can be avoided.

Plant your potatoes seedlings in a bed of seaweed. The salt helps to protect the spuds from slugs and other tunneling insects. The seaweed acts as a soil tonic, adding essential minerals to the soil. The seaweed is also an essential part of crop rotation system, building nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil.

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Fertilizing Veggies: Fertilizer Options For Your Vegetable Garden

Fertilizing veggies is a must if you wish to get the highest yields and the best quality produce. There are a number of fertilizer options, and a soil test can help determine what specific types of fertilizer are needed. The most common recommendations for vegetable garden fertilizers are nitrogen and phosphorus, but these aren’t the only nutrients a healthy garden requires. Read on to learn more.

Types of Fertilizer for Vegetables Gardens

Plants are composed primarily of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These nutrients are absorbed from the air and water, but a fertile garden must have fourteen additional macro- and micro- nutrients for healthiest growth.

A soil test will help determine which, if any, additional nutrients need to be supplemented to the plants in the form of vegetable garden fertilizers. Basically, there are two types of fertilizer for veggie gardens: inorganic (synthetic) and organic fertilizer for vegetable gardens.

Choosing Fertilizer Options for Veggies

Inorganic fertilizers for the vegetable garden are made from materials that have never lived. Some of these fertilizer options contain nutrients that can be immediately taken up by the plants, while others are created so the nutrients are released over time. If this is the fertilizer option for you, choose an inorganic fertilizer for vegetable gardens that is slow or controlled release.

When choosing an inorganic fertilizer, you will notice there are numbers on the packaging. These are commonly referred to as the NPK ratio. The first number is the percentage of nitrogen, the second the percentage of phosphorus, and the last number the amount of potassium in the fertilizer. Most veggies need a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10, but some need additional potassium while leafy greens often only require nitrogen.

There are many types of organic fertilizers. Fertilizing veggies with organic fertilizer doesn’t harm the environment, as the ingredients found within are naturally derived from plants and animals.

Fertilizing veggies with manure is a common organic fertilizing method. The manure is incorporated into the soil prior to planting. The down side to using manure as a fertilizer is that the garden will need additional fertilization during the growing season. A similar option is to incorporate plenty of compost into the soil prior to planting.

Because vegetables need nitrogen as well as other nutrients readily available, supplemental organic fertilizer is often applied for a quick feeding. This is often used in conjunction with other fertilizers.

For instance, many gardeners supplement a compost or manure rich soil with the application of fish emulsion or manure tea. Fish emulsion is rich in nitrogen but low in phosphorus. It is sprinkled around the plants every 2-3 weeks or as needed. Manure tea is a simple decoction to make. Put a few shovelfuls of manure into a porous bag and then steep the bag in a tub of water until it looks like weak tea. Use the manure tea when you water to add supplemental organic nutrients.

Another vegetable garden fertilizer option is to side dress your plants. Simply put, this means adding a nitrogen rich organic fertilizer along the side of each row of plants. As the plants are watered, the roots absorb the nutrients from the fertilizer.

Beta vulgaris

As summer winds to a close, the weather starts to cool off and the gardener’s thoughts shift toward other things.

The past month or so has been all about staying on top of weeds, keeping pests away, drenching your garden through droughty periods, and harvesting some of your well-earned veggie bounty.

But as any seasoned vegetable gardener knows, summer crops that move out of the soil and into the kitchen call for some new additions in your growing space.

Before you know it, you’re weeding, prepping, and amending fresh beds to make room for yet another round of crops sutiable for the autumn.

There’s no shortage of choices for what to plant at this time of year. Spinach, lettuce, carrots, garlic, and more are all fair game.

There’s one vibrant veggie that always gets me stoked to plant in the cool seasons of spring or early fall: the beet!

A Beet of Background

Beets are so versatile. A root veggie that’s notorious for that earthy taste you either love or hate, they also provide leafy spinach-like greens.

Did you know that beets are actually close cousins to spinach, quinoa, and amaranth (as well as the more obscure orach – have you tried it before)?

All of these are traditionally called goosefoot vegetables, part of the chenopodiaceae family (or “goosefoot family” in Latin) in the older Cronquist taxonomic system; they are all classed within the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae) in the modern APG III taxonomical system.

Here’s a surprise fun fact for you: chard – another goosefoot and lookalike to beet greens, though more colorful – is in fact a variety of beet.

Chard is grown for its above ground edible greens rather than its root. Chard roots do become bulbous and they are edible, but they’re less sweet and markedly tougher.

Both beets and chard belong to the same species, Beta vulgaris, and they do look strikingly similar.

Beets go by the moniker B. vulgaris subspecies vulgaris, while chard is just another variety of beet selected and bred for its leaves rather than its roots: B. vulgaris subspecies vulgaris cultivar cicla (flavescens, in the case of Swiss chard).

Try saying that five times fast!

Back before beets and chard officially parted ways however, they had one shared ancestor: the sea beet, scientific name B. vulgaris maritima, and a denizen of the Mediterranean coast.

Beets have a rich and colorful history. Historical records show that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and even Babylonians bred this taper-like wild root into the bulbous, delicious produce varieties that we have today.

Stepping to the Beet

Think you know which variety of beet you want to try?

Or maybe – like me – you want to try all of them, and grow a rainbow of these colorful gems in your garden!

Regardless of your choice, each variety needs the same basic conditions to grow – though forage or sugar beets will require a little more patience, thanks to their slower maturation rates.

Otherwise, the same growing approach applies to beets of any size, color, or shape.

Rules of (Green) Thumb

1. Where Should They Go?

Choose an open, well-draining sunny position. Some late afternoon or early morning shade is okay.

2. What Soil Do They Need?

Soil should be fertile, loamy, and amended with plenty of compost and nitrogen for a successful crop.

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Photo credit: . Product photo via NOLO Bait. Recipe photos used with permission.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

About Adrian White

Adrian White is a certified herbalist, organic farmer, and health/food writer and expert. She aims to bridge the world of natural, holistic health and nutrition to the realm of organic foods, herbalism, gardening, and sustainability – or “Food as Medicine” – throughout her writing.

High in fiber and rich in vitamins A and C, beets have more iron than other vegetables, including spinach.

Better yet, the classic beet’s red coloring comes from betalains — a combination of the purple and yellow pigments that deter the formation of cancer-causing free radicals. “The betalain pigments are potent antioxidants,” says Irwin Goldman, Ph.D., a beet geneticist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Those pigments make beets a feast for the eyes as well as nourishment for your body. Beetroots’ rich reds, golden yellows, creamy whites, and stunning stripes will add a brilliant splash of seasonal color to your autumn meals.

Their bright green foliage with red veins and stems will brighten up your garden beds, too. Beet greens are also tasty raw, braised, or stir-fried. And if you allow a little of the foliage to continue growing, you get plump roots that you can store and eat after cold weather sets in.

Growing Beets

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Beets are adapted to grow in cool temperatures, making them a perfect vegetable to plant both in spring and late summer. They thrive when the days are warm (60 to 70 degrees) and nights cool (50 to 60 degrees). They may go to seed if temperatures drop below 50 degrees for an extended period. Sow the seeds in full sun for the best roots; if you don’t have a sunny spot in your garden, plant them anyway — beets still produce a lot of leafy greens in partial shade.

Soil

Beets grow best in loamy, acid soils (pH levels ranging between 6.0 and 7.5). If your soil is heavy clay, rocky, hard, or alkaline, mix in an inch or so of compost. Add a bit of wood ash, if handy, because its rich supply of potassium enhances root growth.

If in the past you’ve harvested beets with black, hard spots in the flesh, they’ve suffered from the aptly named disease black heart, which is caused by a boron deficiency. Adding compost to the soil or spraying plants with seaweed extract will help somewhat, but if the symptoms persist, have your soil tested.

Planting

Beets aren’t fond of crowds, so when sowing the seeds, plant them about 1 inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart, or sow them closer together and use the thinnings later for salad fixings.

Spread a layer of grass clippings, shredded leaves, or straw around your beet patch to help keep the moisture consistent — that’s essential for uniform root growth. Be sure to mulch well in spring to protect your beets from unexpected hot spells.

Containers

Get a pot that’s at least 12 inches deep and you can grow beets on your deck, suggests Lance Frazon of John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds in Bantam, Connecticut. “Beets are a natural for containers,” he says, adding, “just make sure the containers are watered more than an in-the-ground garden.”

Fall Harvest

You can plant beet seeds directly in your garden about eight to 10 weeks before the first expected frost and harvest them in time for the holidays. Beets harvested in fall have stronger colors than spring-planted beets, Goldman says, and fall beets often have higher sugar levels as well. So what are you waiting for? Plant a row or two this week.

Spring Harvest

For a spring crop, plant beets as soon as the soil dries out and you can work it, typically from March to mid-May. Where the weather remains cold and wet into spring, wait until April. Beets do transplant surprisingly easily for a root crop, so you can germinate the seeds inside and move them to the garden as soon as the soil dries out in spring.

Beet Growing Problems

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Rotation Resistance

Beets are relatively disease- and pest-free, and even the problems they do have are relatively easy to manage. For instance, you can prevent diseases by rotating crops of beets, spinach, and Swiss chard with other types of vegetables. And use cover crops during the off-season, advises George Abawi, Ph.D., a plant pathologist at Cornell University.

Beet-Leaf Miners

Beet-leaf miners (Pegomya hyoscyami) can become a problem. Even if they do get into your beet leaves, you can just tear off the damaged portion, says Mary Ballon, owner of West Coast Seeds in Delta, British Columbia, She favors the “two fingers” method as the best way to control this pest, which tunnels into the leaves.

“Do a daily inspection of the leaves by feeling around the leaves for any bumps, and apply two fingers,” Ballon says with a laugh. “It is the only pest that sits still to be squished!” To keep leaf miners and other pests away, simply place row covers over your beets during the insects’ busiest time between May and late June.

Harvesting Beets and Beet Greens

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You can start enjoying your beet crop at the first thinning. Simply cut greens during the thinning process to use in salads. Pull up baby beets when they reach 1 inch in diameter (and cook them up with their stems). When harvesting larger beets, leave 1 to 2 inches of the stems attached to prevent any staining or “bleeding.”

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For a fall harvest, pull up your beet crop after a hard frost. Be sure to cut off the tops close to the roots and store the beets in a box of sand in a cool place like a basement or a root cellar until you are ready to eat them. Greens can be cut, washed, and stored in the fridge until needed for salads, stir-fries, or steaming on the side as a “mess o’ greens.”

Best Beet Varieties

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Heirloom Favorite: Detroit Dark Red, a classic dating to 1892, is still one of the best for sweet roots and tasty greens. Perfect fresh or for canning. Matures in 60 to 65 days.

Great for Storage: Red Ace produces tender greens perfect for salads and rich red roots that resist “zoning” (alternating red and white rings caused by excessive heat). Stores exceptionally well. Matures in 50 to 60 days.

Yellow Heirloom: Golden Beet has bright yellow flesh and a sweet potato-like flavor. Improve its low germination rate by soaking the seed in bathtub-warm water for one hour, then sow 1 inch apart. Sow extra-thick, since it doesn’t produce as well as the red varieties. Matures in 50 to 60 days.

Heat- and Disease-Resistant: Kestrel, a sweet, dark-red globe baby beet, is very resistant to disease and bolting. Matures in 50 to 55 days.

Cold-Tolerant: Bull’s Blood is an heirloom with gorgeous dark maroon-red leaves that provide a great splash of color for salads. It produces a tasty beet when harvested young (2 to 3 inches), and is extremely cold-hardy. Try this beet in your flower border — the wine-red leaves are highly ornamental and look great all summer. Matures in 35 to 40 days for greens; 55 to 60 days for roots.

Great for Greens: Lutz Green Leaf (sometimes sold as Winterkeeper) is an heirloom for fall harvest and winter storage. It grows large, with great-tasting green leaves. Its baseball-size, heart-shaped roots stay amazingly sweet and tender and store well through winter. Great for cooking. Matures in 70 days.

Variety Pack: Jewel-Toned is a blend of burgundy, golden, and candy-striped beets that’s handy if you want to try them all.

4 Ways to Eat Beets

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Steamed: While many gardeners still like to preserve beets through traditional pickling and canning, Steve Peters, commercial seed manager at Seeds of Change in Santa Fe, says he prefers the natural earthy taste of the root. “Steamed with a bit of butter is perfect.”

Asian style: “I like to stir-fry them or steam them with a little honey glaze,” says Radish Bruce, of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia. “Sometimes we eat them raw, shredded up in delicious spring rolls.”

More Beet Recipes

Paired with fruit: For a tasty salad, “combine sliced cooked beets, chopped apples, and toasted walnuts with fresh greens,” suggests Renee Shepherd, owner of Renee’s Garden Seeds in California. “Or you can roast them with orange, ginger, and a touch of tarragon.”

For dessert: If your family doesn’t love beets, try them for dessert. Add freshly cooked, pureed beets to chocolate cake or brownie batter. This addition makes the cake extra-moist and a truly healthful treat.

Fertilizing Beet Plants: Learn When And How To Fertilize Beets

Beets are native to Mediterranean and some European regions. Both the root and the greens are high in vitamins and nutrients, and are delicious prepared a number of ways. Bigger, sweeter roots come from plants that are grown in highly fertile ground. Beet plant fertilizer should contain macro-nutrients, especially potassium, and micro-nutrients such as boron.

Beet Plant Fertilizer

Feeding beet plants is almost as important as soil tilth and water. Prepared beds should have organic matter worked into the soil to increase porosity and add nutrients, but beets are heavy feeders and will need supplemental nutrients during their growing period. The right combination of nutrients is important to knowing how to fertilize beets. The right kinds of nutrients mean bigger roots with sweeter flavor.

All plants need three major macro-nutrients: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.

  • Nitrogen drives the formation of leaves and is part of photosynthesis.
  • Potassium enhances fruit development and increases resistance to disease.
  • Phosphorus helps in the production of flowers and increases root growth and uptake.

Fertilizing beet plants with a high nitrogen

fertilizer will result in leafy tops but minimal root development. However, beet plant fertilizer does need nitrogen to help leaves form, which in turn, provide solar energy in the form of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are an essential part of the beet root formation. Beet feeding instructions must also include the proper amount of potassium and phosphorus for overall plant development.

How to Fertilize Beets

Proper soil pH must exist in soil in order for efficient nutrient uptake. Beets need a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8 for optimum growth. The plants can tolerate a slighter higher pH, but no more than 7.0. is preferable. Perform a soil test to determine the status of pH levels prior to planting and tweak as necessary.

Broadcast fertilizer seven days before planting. Use 3 pounds of a 10-10-10 for fertilizing beet plants. Side-dress the plants one to three times with 3 ounces of the 10-10-10 formula. Higher rates are necessary in areas with more rainfall. Most regions have adequate potassium for large root production, but a soil test will reveal any deficiencies. In the event your soil has limited potassium, side-dress with a formula higher in potassium, which is the last number in the ratio.

Special Beet Feeding Instructions

Boron is necessary for feeding beet plants. Low levels of boron will cause black sunken spots on and in the root. Internal black spot can be prevented with ½ ounce of Borax per 100 square feet. Excess boron is damaging to some other food crops, so a soil test is necessary to indicate if Borax is needed.

Keep beet plants well supplied with moisture, especially at fertilization. This will help draw nutrients into the soil where the roots can utilize them. Cultivate shallowly around beet plants to prevent weeds and harvest beets when they are the size you require. Store beets in a cool location for several weeks or can or pickle them for even longer storage.

Fertilizing and Watering Carrots

Watering Carrots
About a week after planting the seeds, you should start thinking about watering carrots. Carrots require about an inch of water per week to reach their full potential. If no rain falls in your area, you’ll need to water the carrots yourself. A slow, deep soak is the best method. You can use a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system, but these options can be expensive. A mist from a garden hose sprayer will do the job just fine.

Before watering carrots, dig down about 4 inches into the soil beside the plants. If the soil is moist, you’re probably in good shape. If it’s dry, it’s time to water. It’s fine if the foliage gets wet. Just make sure to water slowly enough so that no soil is eroded away. You want to water carrots deeply enough so that the bottom of the root gets plenty of water. Imagine that a growing carrot might be 6 inches under the surface of the soil. If the bottom of the carrot doesn’t get enough water, it will likely end up deformed or fail to reach its full size potential.

It’s a good idea to water carrots in the early morning hours. This will allow any unused water to be evaporated by the afternoon sun.

After the tops of the carrots emerge, you can apply a thin layer of mulch. Grass clippings, chopped up leaves or stray all work well for mulch. This mulch will prevent too much water from being evaporated from the soil. As the carrot tops get taller, more mulch can be applied.

Fertilizing Carrots
If the soil in your garden is not rich in nutrients, you may need to fertilize your carrots. Carrots should be fertilized when the tops have reached 3 inches tall. A granular type fertilizer will work well, if used in moderation. Choose a fertilizer that has little nitrogen and more potassium and phosphate – 0-10-10 or 5-15-15 will work well. Pay attention to the 3 number code on the bag of fertilizer. These three numbers indicate the amount of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium that are contained in that particular fertilizer, respectively. For instance, a 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potassium. A 5-10-10 bag would contain 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potassium. Nitrogen encourages a plant to produce more foliage. Phosphate and potassium encourages more root development. Because carrots are a root vegetable that grow below the surface of the soil, phosphate and potassium are more beneficial to carrot growth.

Apply the fertilizer at half the rate suggested by the manufacturer. If the directions call for 1 1/2 pounds for every 100 square feet, use 1/2 to 3/4 pound. Too much fertilizer will result in less flavorful carrots with forked and hairy roots. Once you have applied the granular fertilizer, water it in well.

Most of the time, water soluble fertilizers (the kind that are mixed with water and then sprayed onto the
plants) contain too much nitrogen and should not be used. If you want to grow carrots organically, work plenty of compost into the soil prior to planting. You can also apply a side dressing of fish emulsions to add nutrients to the soil.

Now that you know all about fertilizing and watering carrots, it’s time to think about harvesting your crop.

Growing Carrots & Beets

by Rob Sproule

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Both beets and carrots are ideal for small space Alberta gardens. They thrive in our cool spring and fall seasons, have a long shelf life so we can have fresh vitamins into the winter, and they thrive in small space gardens and containers.

From Seed to Seedling

Before you plant, check your soil. Both crops prefer loamy, well drained soils. If you pour water on your soil and the puddle doesn’t drain, consider fluffing the top shade depth with peat moss. You also plant the seeds on the top of small ridges for better drainage.

The best way to grow roots veggies is to direct seed them. You usually do this in mid-May (weather-dependent, of course) once the soil has thawed. Test to see if the soil is warm enough by digging your finger into the first inch; if it’s chilly to the touch wait a few days or the seed will have trouble germinating.

To seed, tap a row about 2 cm deep and sprinkle it about half full with peat moss. The peat will give the roots an easy start.

Beet seeds have a shell that makes them slow to germinate. Soaking them overnight will speed things along for you.

Try mixing some radish seeds in with the carrots. Radishes germinate faster and will identify where your carrots are until they emerge. Ideally you want them about 1 cm apart but their small size makes this interesting.

These crops are ideal for container growing because they need soil that’s free of weeds and a regular supply of water. You can also fill a container with a deep, porous soil for the roots to thrive. They can start earlier in containers because you don’t have to wait for the soil to thaw. Make sure your container is at least a foot deep for the roots to grow.

From Seedling to Eating

Carrot roots don’t like hot summers and grow best between 15 and 18 degrees C. They love airy, organic, peaty soil where their soil can grow and swell easily.

Both crops will thrive in the partially shady spot where sun loving vegetables won’t. Beet roots often dig a meter or more down so don’t plant them within tree drip-lines or other places where they will have to compete with more established roots.

Like most veggies, carrots and beets need to be well-watered or the roots will get fleshy and tough. If your soil is very fast draining (which is a good thing), keep an eye on them when the summer scorch descends.

Thinning them out regularly will not only help the maturing roots take on the proper shape, it will provide you with sweet baby carrots to graze on while you lounge in the garden and baby beets to enjoy at dinner. Aim to thin until they are 3 inches apart if you want full size roots.

Get into the habit of rotating your veggies around the garden in a 3 year cycle with the other crops. Root eating pests survive the winters under the soil and their numbers build exponentially over the years. If you deny them a rooty food source you’ll nip that in the bud.

When it comes to fertilizing carrots prefer potassium (middle number) to nitrogen (first number), which can lead to hairy and fibrous roots if applied excessively. Sprinkling some wood ashes amongst your carrots is a great way to give them an extra dose of potassium.

Harvest and Enjoy

Beets and carrots are mature when the top of the root is just over 1 inch in diameter, although you can harvest them before that. Be wary of letting them mature too long, lest you get a tough crop. Don’t panic about an early fall frost because you can harvest even after hard frosts.

Leave about an inch of greens on both crops when you harvest. This not only extends their already long storage life, it also helps prevent the beets from bleeding away nutrients while cooking.

You can eat both beet roots and greens. Cut the greens off as you thin out the beets (they are tastiest under 6” tall) and throw them in a salad, just make sure to leave ample greens to keep the roots growing.

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