Root vegetables are the stars of the Fall garden. Every year, gardeners venture into the raised beds and plant patches of their lives to sow the seeds of the Fall harvest.
As with any gardening, growing beets, radishes, carrots, turnips, and other Fall root veggies comes with some challenges.
We'll look into common problems gardeners experience with these plants and provide solutions. Let's get into it.
The Root of the Matter
- Ensure that your seeds get enough water during the germination phase.
- Keep a careful eye out for signs of damping-off or seedling rot.
- Succession sow regularly to ensure that you stay in harvest throughout the season.
- Sudden temperature changes can have disastrous consequences.
- Ensure that you water your root crops consistently throughout the growing season.
- Don't allow short-term crops like radishes and turnips to grow for too long—it will make them tough and bitter.
Low Germination Rates
Many gardeners struggle to get good germination rates from their root veggies. Some of the Fall crops, like carrots, also have a longer germination time.
In plant terms, carrot seedlings aren't all that beefy. They need some help to make their way into the world.
If you plant your tiny carrot seeds under a mass of soil, the ground may form a crust over them and keep them suppressed beneath the surface.
Cover your carrot seeds with a thin layer of fine soft compost, and ensure that it stays moist so that it won't dry over your seeds.
Other crops, like beets, have a hard seed coat, making it difficult for the seeds to sprout.
With beets specifically, it's a good idea to soak the seeds for at least 12 to 16 hours (but no longer than 24) before planting.
Turnips and radishes generally have excellent germination rates.
Green-Thumb Guidance: sow a mixture of radish seeds and carrot seeds.
The fast-growing radish seeds germinate within days, keeping the soil soft for the carrots that haven't sprouted yet.
You'll also harvest the radishes long before the carrots, leaving perfect spacing for your carrots to form.
Gnarly, Twisted, or Deformed Roots
While you won't notice until harvest time (unless you pull the occasional root to check on the conditions), deformed roots are common.
It's most common in long straight roots like parsnips or carrots, but any root vegetable can grow in unusual shapes.
This problem results from uneven or hard soil. Before planting root veggies, it's always wise to check that the ground isn't full of stones, twigs, or other hard objects.
Avoid changes in substrate consistency by mixing in any compost or soil amendments thoroughly.
If your roots are growing around each other, you've probably not thinned your crop enough. With straight vegetables like carrots and some radishes, thinning is essential if you want straight roots.
Green-Thumb Guidance: While they may not look like storybook vegetables, curly carrots and twisty turnips make a good meal.
Cracked, Popped, or Split Roots
If your root veggies are rupturing, popping, or cracking, you're probably not watering consistently enough. Cracking and splitting are also exceptionally common in areas that get sudden torrential rains.
The key is to water often, in small amounts, to ensure that your root veggies have consistent watering.
When root vegetables get a large amount of water after a lack of water, their cells can't contain the moisture, which results in a tear.
Water regularly and, if necessary, provide cover for the plants during large rainstorms. Watering consistently should prevent your root veggies from popping.
Large Tops with Small Roots
In the Fall garden, gardeners often think that root vegetables require the same amount of nitrogen as leafy greens.
Nitrogen is an essential element for most plants, which helps form healthy leaves.
Root vegetables are a bit of an exception in that they require large amounts of phosphorus and potassium and much less nitrogen.
That's not to say that they don't require nitrogen at all, but plants like beets and carrots store sugars in their roots, which you wish to harvest.
If you give them excessive amounts of nitrogen, they'll make tons of tasty leaves but run short in the root department.
Ensure that you give your plants enough potassium, phosphorus, and trace elements without going overboard on the nitrogen.
Green-Thumb Guidance: Wood ash is an excellent source of potassium and easy to acquire by burning pesticide-free garden waste.
If your plants produce many leaves but not good roots, it can also be a sign of hot weather. An unseasonably warm Autumn may cause your root veggies to struggle.
Tough Roots with a Bitter Taste
If you find that your turnips or radishes are producing roots with the consistency of cardboard or a soft wooden branch, it may be too warm for them.
Tough woody roots that taste bitter are often the result of a warm snap. Cool-weather crops like beets and turnips don't take kindly to sudden intakes of heat.
Unfortunately, if your Fall season has a hot flush, there's not a whole lot you can do about it beyond ensuring that your plants are in an area of the garden with consistent temperatures.
The other main cause of tough, bitter roots is leaving them in the ground too long.
Allowing short-term crops like radishes and turnips to grow longer than their time can be a death sentence.
While you'll technically still be able to eat them, no one wants to eat a radish that feels like cardboard and tastes like strychnine.
The best thing to do is get your radishes and turnips in the ground early in the Fall so they can benefit from the consistent cool weather and harvest them in time.
Plants Going to Flower (Bolting)
One of the biggest problems gardeners encounter during the Fall gardening season is that the plants go to flower or bolt, Rather than creating roots or other desirable harvests.
While bolting may not seem like a major problem, plants that go to flower often produce chemicals that make leaves taste unpleasant and stop trying to make roots.
Any roots that exist already are likely to become hard and woody when the plant goes to flower.
There are two main reasons why your root veggies might bolt instead of doing what you want them to:
- Stress resulting from inadequate conditions can make the plant "think" that it should create seed before dying.
- Sudden warm weather triggers the plant's instinct to reproduce.
While you can't do much about a warm snap, you can ensure that you plant crops like radishes, turnips, and carrots early in the season so that they can make the most of the cooler weeks.
As for preventing stress, ensure that you meet all your plant's requirements and provide it with the best possible care. You should also ensure that you harden your plants off when moving them outside.
No Main Root, But Many Tiny Ones
Sometimes when it comes to harvest time, you'll find that your root vegetables are not creating one main root but many small ones instead.
Like many other problems you encounter with root veggies in your Fall garden, the situation is generally due to too much nitrogen.
When a root vegetable has ideal circumstances for growing leaves, and no need to store sugars for future use, it sometimes starts to produce millions of roots that spread all over the place rather than the central root that we all know and love.
It's easy to avoid this inconvenience by feeding your beets, carrots, and other root vegetables in the Fall garden a low-nitrogen diet. Also, avoid planting your root crops after nitrogen-fixing crops like beans and peas.
If you find that your carrots or parsnips produce long thin roots, it may result from excessive cold.
When Fall conditions become more winter-like and cool conditions last for extended periods, root veggies may produce long thin roots trying to reach the warmth of the lower layers.
You can help solve this problem by covering your crops with fleece for plants to help them stay warm.
Now that we’ve discussed roots in the Fall garden, why not check out our other seasonal content? You can learn all about how to care for your trees in the Fall and things to consider when planning your Fall garden.
Have any other thoughts about Autumn root crops? Leave a comment below!
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