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The time is ripe to plant those root vegetables

Posted 4/9/2009

From garlic to potatoes, most cool-season crops grow well here

By Leslie Allen

It appears to me that everyone I meet has the gardening bug. How about you? Are you planting a vegetable garden this year?

If you’re new to growing your own in northern Nevada, you may be surprised to discover that we can start growing food now. March was the beginning of our cool season, and now is a good time to start planting cool season crops. My favorite cool season crops are root vegetables. I’m sure most of you are familiar with classic root vegetables such as carrots and beets, but have you ever grown your own parsnips or rutabagas? Well if this is the year of your Victory garden, I encourage you to declare victory over food boredom!

Root crops are the underdogs of the garden. They don’t receive any of the adulation of tomatoes, and they certainly don’t often have poems or soliloquies written about them. Indeed, even in the movies they are maligned as the food of the poor and destitute. But root vegetables can be very exciting! You can spice up the first meal of the day with the beautiful and refined French breakfast radish. Or you can end your day with a silky and smooth parsnip and apple soup.

Root vegetables are crops that grow underground. However, not all underground crops are root crops. Technically speaking, some underground crops are actually modified stems, not roots. But we don’t need to belabor the point. For this discussion, root crops will include potatoes, onions and garlic, even though their edible parts are not their roots.

Which root crops grow best in northern Nevada? Nearly all of them! We can grow carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, garlic, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, horseradish and kohlrabi. Kohlrabi defies the root vegetable definition because it actually grows above ground, but it is commonly planted with beets.

Root crops do not transplant well and are best directly sown into your garden. Prepare a seed bed by breaking up any large clods of soil. Soil cultivators are handy tools to use for breaking up clods (they are those three-pronged tools). Work 3-6 inches of compost into the soil and then rake the seed bed so that it’s level. Now you’re ready to sow the seeds.

Most seed packets have excellent descriptions for cultivation. In general, seeds should be sown to a depth two to three times the diameter of the seed. Make sure to water the seeds once you’ve sown them. Potatoes, garlic, horseradish, and Jerusalem artichokes are not grown from seed, but rather from small pieces of a "parent" plant. Onions can be grown from either seed or sets (small onions started by a nursery).

Garlic (though best planted in the fall), horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips and onions (seeds or sets) can be planted now. Beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, celeriac, rutabagas and kohlrabi can be started beginning in April. Potatoes are best planted in mid-April. All of these tasty delights can be sown in succession until the beginning of May. This will spread the harvest throughout the summer. Everything except potatoes and onions can also be sown again beginning in late summer for a second cool season harvest.

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