Growing root vegetables

by Elizabeth Beavis
Several years ago I tried to grow carrots in our heavy clay soil and was completely discouraged when I pulled them up to find arms and legs twisted everywhere and not much carrot worth eating.  This put me off for ages, but then I read about how you can feed root vegetables to dairy cows (here) to reduce their grain ration.  This really appealed to me, so I thought it was time to try to grow some root vegetables again.  Nita at Throwback at Trapper Creek (my favourite family cow blog) recommended to me that I try to grow enough for myself before committing to trying to grow enough for my cow.  Great advice of course!

This time I have better soil and have more experience as a gardener.  I read a few of my gardening books and decided to try carrots, swedes and turnips.  We eat lots of carrots, I would say we eat nearly one carrot a day, but they are so cheap at $1-2/kg, it hasn't been a big priority to grow our own.  I thought it would be a nice challenge to see if I could grow our daily carrot in my garden.


I'm quite pleased with this carrot!
 The turnips and swedes are not vegetables that I would normally buy as they are usually $6/kg (my general rule is to only buy veges priced under $3/kg as that means they are in season/local and not being stored or transported long distances).  I have bought them only when I wanted to make vegetable soup.  To be honest, I had no idea what they really taste like, I usually just chopped them up and put them in the soup.  I didn't actually know which was which (and I think our supermarket doesn't either, they are usually next to each other and labelled "turnips/swedes"!).  It has been really interesting to watch them grow in my garden and learn more about them first hand.  And to taste them fresh and crispy.  They both taste very similar, like a mild radish I think.

Anyway, back in Autumn, in late May, I planted a row of purple carrots, a row of orange carrots, a row of swedes and a row of turnips.  I planted them directly in the soil.  In summer I usually raise seedlings and transplant them later, but I had observed that bok choi seeds that I sprinkled out the Spring before had started sprouting through the mulch in Autumn.  I thought that is the bok choi was doing ok, then I would give the root crops a chance too.  I scraped back the mulch, dug a shallow furrow (exposing lots of worms!), sprinkled out the seeds (trying to space them a bit) and them put everything back.  To my great delight, the seeds started to sprout after about 10 days.


another example of some root veges

After a few weeks, when the seedlings had got larger, I tried to thin them.  That is a big job!  The purple carrots were the worst as the seed had been full of bugs, I didn't think it was going to sprout, so I just chucked it all in the furrow, it seemed to have a very good germination rate!  I found that I had to re-thin every few days.  When the carrots got big enough, I just kept the thinnings to eat as baby carrots.  With the swedes and turnips, I replanted into staggered rows so that I didn't have to waste any seedlings, but I can see now that some are still too close.  I'm not trying to just pull out the biggest ones and give the others more room to grow.

About 2 months after planting, I can now harvest a couple of small carrots for dinner each afternoon.  I haven't worked out how to pick the big ones yet, sometimes I think one will be big, and it will just have a large diameter at the top and turn out to be short and stumpy!  Occasionally I pull a big one though!  I have also been harvesting a swede and/or a turnip.  I just cut them up and cook them with the carrot, either steamed, roasted or stir fried has been a nice change to our normal veges.

cooking the veges
I planted some more seed recently, but I think the soil temperature is too low (or the seed's no good) as not many have sprouted so far.  If I was to succession plant, I probably need to get the second crop growing before the frost starts.

Now I have seen the space required to grow enough to feed us, I realise the space I would need to feed a cow as well.  Nita feeds her cow 5 pounds a day, so about 2.5kg, that amount I have in the ground is probably not much more than 10kg, so we wouldn't last long!  For now I have been feeding Bella the tops, which she seems to enjoy.


the root vegetable patch


turnips (a bit close together)

swedes
Next season I would like to try parsnip, salsify (which I only heard about from watching River Cottage, just need to source seeds now!) and mangle wurzle (again, have read about it to find out the best season).  And I will see if we can grow carrots over summer, it might get too hot, but its worth a try :)

And so of course my plans for Cheslyn Rise now include a HUGE root crop area for the cow!  What root vegetables do you grow for you and your animals?  

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