Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ready for the Root Vegi's

My potato plant before the blooms
 I have always wondered if it is just Mother Natures way of being funny, or making sure we really pay attention.  I can walk out to my garden any day of the week and instantly know when most of my crops are ready to harvest.  I know when my tomatoes, green beans and peas need picking. So what's up with those darn root vegetables?  They are some of my favorites.  No garden would be truly complete without a few of these common staples.  Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, Beets, Turnips, Radishes and the list does go on.  Well, maybe mother nature wasn't so sneaky after all.

My potato plant with blooms

Root vegetables are commonly called because it is the root of the plant that is harvested.  The edible goods grow beneath the surface of the ground making it difficult to  know when to harvest crops. Another common tribute is there ability to grow and produce very well in sandy soil.

Freshly harvested White Potatoes
Take the most popular root vegetable, the potato for example.  A potato plant will take approximately 75 days to harvest.  Some shorter, some longer depending on the variety.  It will also depend on the size of potato you prefer. White Potatoes are the most common, one of the quickest to harvest and in my opinion the most flavorful.  Once the blossoms of the potato plant begin to dry out and drop off you will want to check the roots to see how big the potato is.  If the growth is not exactly what you prefer gently return the plant to the ground and cover with dirt.  Try again in about 7 to 10 days and your crop should be ready to harvest.  Potato crops are typically harvested in Spring and than again in Fall


Beets are not quite as predictable.  However beets are quite edible in any stage of growth.  The younger the beet the sweeter they are. Typically harvested in the fall months Beets will take 45 to 70 days to mature.  Once the stem (or upper leaf) of the plant begin to spread outward and turn the purplish color of the vegetable than you'll want to check on the beets progress. You will also notice the top of the beet nudging above ground. If they are a size you prefer, than enjoy.  If not than cover the plant with soil and let rest another week or so.  Turnips fall close within the same family and harvest in the same procedure.  Don't forget to take advantage of the tasty green leaves of both vegetables for salads and soups.

Carrots and Radishes share a common harvest. They will take approximately 45 to 60 days to harvest depending on the size you prefer.  The vegetable will begin to peek above the ground and you can see the top forming.  Even though the head of the crop may seem mature the body may not be as fully developed.  Gently remove one stem from the ground to determine it's readiness.  If it is not mature enough for you preference return to the soil and cover loosely with soil.  Check the same plant again in a week.   Most importantly you must immediately remove the stalk from the vegetation immediately.  The stalk will continue to draw moisture from your crop leaving it drained.

Another common root vegetable is the Onion.  Onions come in many varieties and sizes.  Whatever you prefer they can and should be harvested as soon as they are big enough.  Once the stalk grows tall, sturdy and a deep green the crop is ready.  It's best to allow the onion to grow into various stages and sizes.  That way you can keep the harvest going as long as possible.  Begin digging a few of the onions from the soil when it is still possible to cook with the green stalk.  Eventually the remaining onions will grow larger and the stalk tougher leaving it unusable.  Your onion harvest is complete once the green stalk appears to be dying.  This is the final sign from Mother Nature that the remaining onions must be removed from the ground.
Everyone has at least one root vegetable they enjoy eating.  Most gardener's will tell you they are the most challenging crops, but worth every bit of effort.  They are some of the most vitamin filled vegetables, stay fresh longer and are more versatile than say a tomato.  You get a good harvest and you simply can't go wrong.