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PHOTO: Susy Morris
Root crops are some of the earliest spring vegetables you can plant in the garden. Best planted by directly sowing their seeds into the vegetable garden, the four root crops featured below easily shake off spring’s cold soil temperatures and unpredictable frosts. For best results, plant the seeds according to package instructions as early as four to eight weeks before your last expected spring frost.
In my USDA zone 5 garden, I start sowing seeds of these root crops by the first week of April. If the soil is still too wet to till, I simply spread a 2-inch thick layer of compost over the planting area and sow the seeds in shallow furrows directly in the compost. Then, after these early root crops are harvested in late spring or early summer, I till the area and re-plant it with a summer crop, such as bush beans or basil.
The queen of the spring garden, radishes thrive in cold temperatures. In fact, if the soil is too warm or the air temperatures is too high, you’ll get puny roots and the plant will prematurely bolt (aka, go to flower). Because radishes mature just 30 days after planting, this is a tasty, fast-maturing crop that belongs in every vegetable garden. For staggered harvests, sow 20 to 30 seeds every two weeks throughout the spring. This will keep your family in radishes, without overwhelming you with too many.
Try these varieties:
- Easter Egg: for its brilliant, mixed colors
- French Breakfast: for it’s elongated, crisp root
- Cherry Belle: for its traditional radish flavor
Turnips don’t just have to be a fall crop. Early-planted turnips are a great spring root crop, especially when harvested young. I pick them when they’re the size of a ping-pong ball and enjoy them roasted or mashed. The young greens make great additions to salads, and mature greens are delicious sautéed or tossed into spring soups and stews.
Try these varieties:
- Purple Top: my family’s favorite
- Golden Globe: cherished for both its exceptional flavor and yellow color and the
- Tokyo Market: a beautiful white turnip
This root crop is a personal favorite. I love the flavor and texture of roasted beets. If you’ve never grown your own beets and have only tasted them from a can or pickle jar, you’re in for a real treat. Homegrown beets taste nothing like their processed counterparts. Beets easily germinate in cool soil, but because each beet “seed” is actually a collection of several seeds, remember to thin the young plants for the best root growth.
Standout beet varieties in my garden include:
- Golden: a mellow, yellow-fleshed beet
- Red Ace: a good, old-fashioned standby
Although they germinate best in slightly warmer soil, carrots can still be planted up to four weeks before your last expected spring frost. Here in Pennsylvania, I sow my first row of carrots in the middle of April, and I continue to sow a new row of seeds every three or four weeks throughout the summer. I harvest some roots in the baby stage while I allow the rest to reach maturity. Even thinned carrot seedlings are delicious tossed into a salad or on a sandwich. Carrot seeds take a very long time to germinate, so be patient with them. And, don’t plant the seeds too deeply; 1/4 inch below the soil surface is the perfect depth. Try these varieties.