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GROW WITH ABUNDANCE: Laying Down Roots in a Healthy Winter Garden

Image courtesy of Jeremy Keith.

By Sommer Cartier.

Root crops are cool-season crops, cultivated for their underground edible harvest. Because their edible parts grow out of sight, they present a unique challenge. Even the most experienced gardener struggles to identify problems beneath the soil, and root damage often goes unnoticed.

While it helps to have some experience and a keen eye, the following growing suggestions will help gardeners get started on the right track and avoid root crop cultivation problems.

Loosen Soil

High-quality roots require loose soil with good drainage. Before planting, break up any dirt clods around the roots and remove larger debris, such as clumps of clay, stones, or twigs. This will allow your seeds to surface with ease and for roots to grow straight and long (in the case of carrots) or plump and round (in the case of beets) without being obstructed.

Start From Seed

Most root crops have taproots, which need space to burrow into the soil. If allowed to reach the bottom of a container, for example, the crop will likely be stunted. To avoid stunted, odd-shaped roots, sow your seeds directly into the ground.

Water Often

For root crops to grow big and healthy, they need plenty of water, especially during the sprouting stage. To help maintain consistently moist growing conditions, sprinkle peat moss over your seeds or blanket them with damp newspaper sheets. Once they've sprouted, remove the newspaper and continue to water generously until the seedlings are established.

Thin Seeds Early

Seeds can be sown in rows or broadcast across the soil. Regardless of how you start them, they will need to be thinned. This is a time-sensitive task. If multiple sprouts are left to compete for water, nutrients, and space, their growth will be stunted.

Use the Correct Fertilizer

Select a fertilizer rich in microorganisms such as fungi. These organisms form a symbiotic relationship with most plants, helping their roots to draw more nutrients from the soil. Focus on fertilizers with a ratio high in phosphorus and potassium relative to nitrogen. While phosphorus and potassium promote health edible roots, high amounts of nitrogen can be counter-productive since nitrogen encourages vigorous foliage growth at the expense of roots.

With these tips in mind, you are sure to enjoy a healthy bounty of root crops this season. However, if you do experience some gardening mishaps, remember that failure is an opportunity. It's a chance to reevaluate, learn from the error, and do it better next time. These are the teachable moments that make gardening so rewarding.

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