The Root of all Good Things

With the hot weather all but a hazy memory, Sabrina Hahn shows how to start planting your roots.

Autumn is a wonderful time to plant out some root crops such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot. In the Perth metropolitan area you can plant carrots all year round, but the hot summer days tend to make them bolt to seed or become dry and corky. Parsnip and turnip seed will not germinate in higher temperatures, so late autumn is the ideal time to sow.

the great thing about these root vegetables is that you can sow them from seed. that means they are cheap to grow and you will have a huge variety to choose from. Diggers Seeds in Victoria and Eden Seeds, Queensland offer all the heritage vegetables and organic seed. Some of the heritage vegetables perform much better than the hybrids and certainly have a much better flavour.

I guess the most popular root vegetable are carrots, they are so easy to grow and absolutely delicious when home grown. most of these seeds are very fine, so mix the seed with some soil or sand to get a more even distribution and prevent over-crowding.

Carrots

The ancient Greeks were so fond of carrots they used the leafy parts as corsages and in cut flower displays. Carrots come in purple, red, pink, white and of course orange. the familiar orange carrot was not on the menu until the Dutch bred them around the 1600’s.

If you live in the temperate zone you can plant out carrot seeds all year round; but in colder climates, sow seed directly in spring and summer.

Both carrots and parsnips need an open friable soil pH of 6.5-7.5 that allows the roots to develop without obstruction. Avoid lots of manure or nitrogen as this will result in a forked root. Germination for carrots is a few weeks and parsnips up to 5 weeks. As the seed is so small, it tends to dry out quickly so you will need to water the drill before sowing the seed and again after sowing. this is the main cause for failure of germination.

thin your seedlings out to allow room for the roots to grow – this is very important. You will need 10cm apart for large carrots and 5cm apart for smaller varieties. As the carrots grow to maturity, hill up the soil around the tops to prevent them getting green heads.

Top Tip!

When you harvest your carrots, pull the top green bit off immediately as they will draw moisture and sugars from the root. this also applies to beetroot.

Varieties

All seasons/Topweight: a good all year planting variety developed in Queensland. This one is virus-resistant and is orange with a red core.

Chantenay Red-Cored: a sweet and tender orange/red carrot that performs well on heavy soils. It has a broad short root.

Early Chantenay: short-rooted variety suitable for heavier soils.

Manchester Table: grows to 20cm in length and has crisp sweet orange flesh.

Western Red: a very hardy carrot with large orange flesh and excellent flavour.

Cosmic Purple/Purple Tree Colour: a purple skinned variety with a yellow core and orange flesh that grows to 15cm long.

Danvers: great heirloom variety dating back to 1871 that is adapted to warmer climates. It is deep orange and grows to 16cm.

Dragon: exquisitely flavoured spicy sweet carrot with a reddish/purple skin and orange flesh.

Little Finger: A sweet and tender smaller carrot that grows to 10cm.

Thumbelina: crunchy sweet round little carrots.

Baby: Fast cropper; only 8 weeks for small finger sized carrots. This one is good for gardeners who can’t be bothered thinning out their seedlings.

Paris Market/Minin Round: great for pots and heavier soils.

Parsnips

For parsnips, the flavour gets better the longer you leave them in the ground, particularly over the winter months.

Varieties

Yatesnip: heavy yielding variety with cream coloured flesh. Better harvested in winter.

Hollow Crown: about the only variety they grew in NSW around 1820. They are tender and nutty.

Cobham: an English type parsnip with a great flavour.

Beetroot

The resurgence of heritage vegetable seeds has seen a renaissance of many vegetables that had become unfashionable. Beetroot is one of them and there is an astonishing variety available now from seed.
In Europe beetroots are actually grown for the tops of the plants that are used in salads. If you’ve eaten fresh beetroot, you will never go back to the disgusting vinegary tinned variety that doesn’t represent its true flavour.

Beets actually come in many different shapes and colours, including white and yellow. Depending on your climate, you can sow seed from may, once the nights become cooler. Beetroot will bolt in really hot weather if they are water stressed, and be deformed if they hit clay soil. Being a root vegetable they like potassium and phosphorus and need a little extra boron at seeding time. this prevents that brown streaking that gets inside the root. Simply add 3 teaspoons of borax to a 9 litre watering can and apply after sowing or planting seedlings.

Beetroot seeds need presoaking in hot water for at least 6 hours before sowing.

Varieties

Bull’s Blood: beautiful deep red/purple leaves great for salads and deep large red root.

Chioggia: unusual pink and white striped root from Italian heritage with a mild flavour.

Mini Gourmet: a small purple beet with a fantastic flavour that can be cooked whole.

White Albina: an heirloom beet with sweet round root and great large green leaves for salads.

Burpee’s Golden: an orange skinned beet dating back to 1828 that is small, sweet and golden. Its such a versatile beet with attractive delicious leaves.

Growing veges from seed is always rewarding and kids love it. remember to thin overcrowded seedlings at the 4cm high stage to allow enough space for a good root to form. So go and sow a seed or two.

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Filed under Spice Magazine.