6 tips for growing root veggies in the cool months
The chilly weather seems to have arrived very early and very eagerly this year.
As soon as the cold sets in, I start to crave foods that give me a bit of extra energy and warmth. Of all the cold weather vegetables, I think root vegetables are perfect for this job.in the colder months
When we’re talking about root vegetables, those that spring to mind are deep red beetroots, vibrant sweet potatoes, carrots in all array of heirloom colours, and perhaps even creamy parsnips, turnips and bright pink radish.
Growing your own winter veggies is easier than you think. Picture: Fabian Capomolla
These are the common root vegetables; the everyday ones you’ll probably find at the supermarket and in your fridge at various times throughout the year. But there are a surprisingly vast range of roots, some of them more recognisable and easier to obtain than others.
A bunch of nourishing roots that might not be so obvious: Celeriac, fennel, horseradish, garlic, wasabi, daikon, ginger, yams, Jerusalem artichokes, kohl rabi and dandelion.
Whether you opt for standard beetroots or manage to track down some kohl rabi, your meals will receive a seasonal boost.
Personally, I love growing beetroot and turnips through autumn and winter as they double as leafy greens and root veggies. Beetroot leaves and stems go well in salads, with some roasted beetroot, a drizzle of good-quality olive oil, fetta and toasty pine nuts.
I also love throwing some turnip leaves into a pan with oil, then frying them up with eggs. With a slice of sourdough, and a sprinkle of salt, this has to be one of my favourite breakfast plates.
Carrots are super easy and taste amazing when grown at home. Autumn is the right time to sow, whether you pop them straight into the soil, a raised veggie patch, or even in pots.
It’s time to think about planting radishes, too. While the sharp flavour might be an acquired taste, growing radishes is a great way to get kids into the garden because the seeds germinate quickly and produce a tangible, bright harvest in no time.
I admit that it’s easy to buy root veggies from your local fruit and veg shop, or at the supermarket. They are so cheap and accessible. However, growing your own will reward you with some of the best produce bursting with flavour – and that’s something that just cannot be bought.
To get you started, here are some key things to know about growing root veggies.
1. Don’t buy root veggies as seedlings
Root veggies don’t love being transplanted from the seedling tub to your veggie garden. It’s always best to sow them directly from seed, which makes your crop more economical too.
2. Don’t add nitrogen
Root veggies grow better without additional nitrogen (N) added. Too much nitrogen will result in more foliage at the expense of the size of the root. Therefore, go easy on nitrogen-based fertilisers when it comes to your crop of root veggies. This is also why, as part of crop rotation and soil health, they are great to grow straight after heavy feeders, such as tomatoes and members of the Brassica group of veggies, like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kale.
3. Feed with phosphorus
Root veg love fertilisers rich in phosphorus (P). Phosphorus is responsible for root growth, so if you’re applying fertiliser to your root veggies then opt for phosphorus-rich types. Look out for this on the bag, where it states the ratio of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
4. Don’t pick it all in one go
With root crops, you can harvest as you need them. When you’re out in the veggie patch, choose the largest ones available. This gives the smaller roots an opportunity to fill out and guarantees a consistently tasty crop over the course of the season.
5. Water regularly
Irregular watering will result in gritty root vegetables as well as splitting. You can avoid this by hand-watering when the soil is dry – or on days when it’s not raining.
6. Stagger your planting
Another way to guarantee a consistent crop over the colder months is to stagger your planting. I suggest sowing your seeds every two weeks. Think of it as a very tasty investment portfolio: Rather than placing all of your resources into one fund, you can diversify across a range of funds… or rows in your veggie patch!