CARROTS

WHEN TO PLANT: Make successive sowings from September through to February.

GERMINATION: Carrot seeds need to be planted where they are to grow, as transplanting damages their fine root hairs too much. Often, carrots are planted in rows, but they are also a great crop for growing in amongst other things, if the soil is right. Companion planting can also be taken into consideration (see below). It can be difficult to work with the hundreds of tiny carrot seeds, often resulting in rows being planted far too densley, requiring a lot of thinning.

 

Pretty much any carrot patch is going to need to be thinned, but you can reduce the amount of thinning required by being careful to not oversow, or by 'diluting' down your seeds by mixing them with sand or coffee grounds. Coffee grounds may or may not deter carrot fly, the main carrot pest. Cover the seeds with a sprinkling of fine soil. The soil needs to be kept moist during the germination period (up to 2 weeks).

SOIL: Carrots like a soil that is easy for the root to push through but also not too loose. Like most root crops, they do well planted in ground that was manured for the previous crop. If you soil is heavy, mixing in some compost, leaf mould and/or sand can help. About two or three bucketfuls per square meter works well.

THINNING: Once your carrots leaves are a few cm tall, you can thin them out to about 2.5 cm apart from each other. A few weeks later, thin them out again to be about 5cm apart or more. This will give you a yeild of baby carrots to eat while the others are maturing to full size.

WATER and FERTILISER: As mentioned above, the soil needs to be kept consistently moist during the germination period. After this, frequent watering is still necessary. As carrots grow, their leaves will begin to shade the soil and pevent evaporation, resulting in less watering being required. A mulch can also be applied around established carrot plants for the same reason. Carrots can be watered with a light liquid fertilser mix during their growth for increased yeilds.

COMPANIONS:  I've found carrots and radishes to be a nice team, the radishes germinate quickly and shade the soil and keep birds off while the carrots come up, then you thin the patch by eating the radishes... onions are also said to repel the carrot fly which can be a problem for some gardeners, so intercropping with onions is also worth experimenting with!

BEETROOT

WHEN TO PLANT: Sow seeds and plant seedlings September through to January.

GERMINATION: Beetroot seeds are actually a cluster of 3 or 4 seeds stuck together. It is best to soak them in water for a couple of hours before planting into seed trays or, ideally, straight into the ground where they will grow.

 

If planting in trays for later transplant, plant the seedlings out when they're about 5cm tall. You need to be very careful when handling them as their roots can be fragile. Each cluster of seedlings will need to be broken up into individual plants. Some people discard all but the healthiest from one seed bunch, while some prefer to plant out all of the seedlings. 

SOIL: Beetroot grows well in good garden soils, however it will also perform well in a mediocre soil. An area that has been manured for the previous crop is the best, as a freshly manured soil can be too strong for beetroot. They can also follow legumes. A near neutral pH is the best, so some lime can be applied before planting.

SPACING: Beetroot should be planted about 10cm apart. If planting in rows, every second row can have the plants offset by half a gap, giving each plant more space to spread its circle of leaves.

WATER and FERTILISER: Your patch should be watered regularly if it hasn't been raining - at least a couple of times per week. This is most important in the first couple of months of the plants lives before they develop a more extensive root sysetm. It also helps to feed a few times with an organic liquid fertiliser, either store bought or home made. A fertiliser high in potash is good for beetroot.

HARVEST AND USE: The leaves, as well as the roots, of beetroot are a delicious edible crop. Harvest these for salads, stir fries, etc. through the beets life, but be careful to not take too many from each plant. The beets themselves can be harvested from the time they are about golf ball size - although its worth waiting a bit longer and letting them get bigger. Some people harvest every 2nd beet at a smaller size, leaving the rest to grow larger. Beets sown in January will mature as autumn falls and, provided theres no animals like chickens around to eat them, they can be left in the ground over winter to be picked whenever you need.

SEED SAVING: Beetroot is a biennial plant, meaning it will flower and produce seeds in its second year of life. It is a cross pollinated plant. One of the main things to keep in mind with saving seed from beetroot is that it will cross pollinate with silverbeet (swiss chard), as they are the same species. As such care must be taken to only have EITHER silverbeet or beetroot forming flower spikes at any one time in the garden.

The best way to save beetroot seeds is, in the summer or autumn, when your crop of beetroot is ready, pick out the best examples as you harvest them. Keep aside at least a dozen, but preferably more, good examples of the variety. Cut the leaves off so that the leaf stems are only 2 or 3 cm long. Ensure that the beets do not have cuts or scrapes on their skin as this can lead to rot. In a wooden or plastic box, lay down a layer of damp (but not wet) sawdust, sand, or shredded paper. Then lay down a row of beets. Cover with another layer of damp sawdust, sand or paper. Continue this until you've stored all of your beets and top off with a final thicker layer of covering. Place this box in your basement and leave it until spring time.

In the spring time, usually around September, when the hard frosts have passed, plant out the stored tubers into your garden. Plant them in a group spaced about 30cm to 45cm apart. The site does not have to be prime garden space - they will still be able to form flower spikes in a less than ideal patch of garden provided it gets a reasonable amount of sunlight and water (but not boggy). After a couple of months the plants will begin to form tall flower spikes which are covered in seed clusters.

 

Seeds are ready to harvest when they dry out and turn a cork like colour. When the seed heads look ready (ie. mostly dried out), cut the plants at the base (or even pull them up including the beetroot itself) and hang them upside down in a dry place such as a garage or attic to fully dry out. From here the seeds can be easily stripped from the stalks by running a closed fist along the length of the stalk whilst holding it over a bucket or tarpaulin.

From here, ensure that the seeds are nice and dry before putting into airtight containers and keeping them in a cool, dry, dark place.

This seed saving method is useful because it allows for easy selection of the best plants, increases chances of survival over winter, and it also means that you can clear your best garden spaces for new food crops, planting the seed crop in a less prime position the following spring. However, if you have plenty of space and don't mind leaving your beets in overwinter, you can simply leave them in over winter, thin out the undesirable plants for eating, and then let the plants develop flower spikes in the spring and harvest seed as per above. If you are in an area that gets hard frosts, a mulch layer of straw can help protect the beets over winter.

PARSNIPS

Parsnips are a delicious addition to the southern vegetable patch. They take a long time to grow, but it's worth it. Parsnips are at their bests after the autumn frosts have begun. They respond to cooling temperatures by boosting the sugar content in their roots - making them very sweet and tasty!

WHEN TO PLANT: Parsnip seed is always sown direct where they are to grow. Seed can be sown any time from early spring to early summer. Some people try to squeeze in a sowing in mid summer but your parsnips may not reach a very large size before winter if this is the case.

SEED SOWING: Prior to sowing seeds, prepare a good spot by loosening the soil to a depth of 30cm or so by digging with a spade or a fork. Some well rotted compost can be mixed in at this stage if you feel it is necessary. Although the soil should not be too rich for parsnips.

 

Make a shallow line about 1cm deep and plant the seeds in it so they are about 2cm apart. In many cases the germination rate of parsnip seed is less than 50%, but if it's higher you can simply thin the plants out. Parsnip seeds take quite a while to germinate - sometimes up to 3 weeks. They need to be kept relatively moist during this time. Some people assist this process by laying wooden planks along the length of the rows until the first signs of germination. Once the seeds have germinated, they need to be watered during dry conditions but otherwise they are fairly low maintenance.

CROP CARE: Once the parsnip seedlings start to become established, say about 5-8cm tall, thin them to a spacing of around 8-10cm apart. This will give the tops plenty of space to grow as they can become quite large. Some people space parsnips even further apart than this but I find this spacing to be adequate for moderately sized roots. Hoe between rows to keep weeds down.

 

Keep your parsnip patch fairly well watered to avoid woodyness of roots. But of course don't let the soil get boggy as the roots can rot. Parsnips are ready for harvest when they are at a size that you like. However they get much tastier after the autumn frosts have begun. Parsnips can be left in the ground virtually all winter. Just pull them up as you require them. They can also be cellared if you need to clear your garden space for the next crop.

RADISHES

Radishes are one of the easiest vegetable crops to grow. The hardest thing about growing them is to eat them all before they turn bitter or woody.

 

To grow radishes, simply sprinkle a few radish seeds wherever you want them to grow. They can be sown in early spring to early autumn. I don't usually bother dedicating a separate spot for them but rather just intermingle them with other things.

 

Sow seeds to a depth of about 1cm and if its not raining every two or three days, give them a watering now and then. Germination usually happens within the week and leaf growth is quite rapid after that.

 

Once a decent top has developed on the plants they form the radish itself. This can happen quite rapidly. Radishes are ready for harvest as soon as they are at an edible size. Depending on the variety they may grow too large and split, or become watery, woody or bitter only a couple of weeks after reaching this stage. So if you are a big fan of radishes it is a good idea to plant a few seeds every couple of weeks rather than lots all at once.

Growing daikon radishes is equally as easy, although they take longer, and require a more deeply tilled soil considering their larger size.

SWEDES

Swedes are a delicious vegetable and an icon of the South. They are so successful in our climate that many livestock farmers use them as a 'fodder crop', which is a crop for the animals to feed on over winter when there is not much grass. That does not detract from the swedes use on the human dinner table though. They are delicious mashed (often mixed with carrot), roasted, and in soups, among other uses. Swedes are most useful as something to eat in the winter or early spring when there's not much else ready to pick from the garden.

WHEN TO PLANT: Swedes can be sown from spring through to early autumn.

SEED SOWING and CROP CARE: A light addition of compost and crushed limestone can be mixed in to the soil a couple of weeks prior to planting if required. Swedes do best if direct sown, although growing seedlings in trays and transplanting to the garden also works. Sow seeds approximately 1cm deep, and at a spacing of around 5-10cm.

 

Once seedlings germinate and have a bit of growth on them, thin out the smallest plants to a final spacing of about 20cm. Keep them moderately well watered and keep the rows clear of weeds, especially when the swedes are younger. The swede root (actually a swollen stem base) begins to develop after the plant has a good set of leaves.

 

Swedes are ready for harvest when they reach an acceptable size. Like parsnips, swedes sweeten up and improve their flavour after they've been exposed to a few frosts. Also like parsnips, they can be left in the ground over winter and harvested as required. The warmth of spring will cause them to form flower stalks, at which point the roots become inedible (unless you're reeeeeally hungry).

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