I really enjoy growing root vegetables, and I think I know the origin of my enjoyment in this case.
Way back in the Dark Ages, when I was a teenager in England, Harvest Camps were often held for students who wished to combine the camp experience with an opportunity to earn a little money in the summer time. The youth group at my church always participated in this program and, for several years, I would help pitch tents, dig latrines and stuff a paliasse with straw, often in the rain as I remember, and begin several weeks of "fun."
If we were lucky, we would pick apples, pears, cherries or other fruit, but most of the time we would end up with potatoes or carrots.
We would follow behind a slow-moving tractor, pick up the vegetables and throw them into a wagon. And, of course, being teenagers, we were always hungry and would eat plentifully of whatever crop we were working with at the time. I can still taste those soil-covered raw carrots and potatoes - crunchy, gritty, tasty and very filling!
Carrots are a good crop for the home gardener, but you must be ready to dig deep and thoroughly preparing to plant or you will be rewarded with knobby and crooked specimens.
There are many varieties of seeds available. This year, I have sown a packet of mixed colors, red, yellow, white and purple as well as the traditional orange, so we will see what comes up. I can never resist these novelty packets, although generally they do not do well.
I prefer carrots roasted to the plain boiled ones. Just toss chunks in olive oil, add salt and pepper and roast covered for 10 minutes in a hot oven and finish at 350 degrees uncovered until nice and brown.
I have consolidated all the root vegetables into one plot this spring. I mixed the carrots with turnips, parsnips and red beets and just scattered the seed. It will be interesting to go out and dig up a pan of vegetable soup makings.
Beets are easy to grow, and the greens are edible as are the roots. The seeds appear in clusters and should be soaked in water for a few hours before planting. Two to four plants will appear from each seed cluster, so cut off all but the strongest seedling when they are about an inch tall.
Keep the beets well watered in the first weeks for even growth. Pick off damaged leaves if you plan to harvest greens, and keep the plot weeded. The roots are best when small, so start harvesting when they are about the size of a ping pong ball.
Canning is the best way to preserve the beets; frozen beets are usually mushy. There are good recipes for relish, but nothing beats (pun intended) a dish of boiled, sliced beets with a generous dob of sour cream.
Turnips also have tasty leaves and can be cooked like spinach. As well as planting in early spring, turnip seeds can be planted again in mid-summer and seem to have a better flavor than those grown earlier.
I like these vegetables cooked in many ways - in stews, soup and, best of all, just plain boiled and mashed with a lot of butter.
Parsnips have a nutty flavor and need a long, cool and damp growing season, which of course means they do not do well in a summer with prolonged hot spells. The soil needs to be prepared in the same manner for carrots. Clumps of clay will cause the root to fork, and then the fibrous texture makes it hard to peel and cut.
I do plant them every year, but the successes in the crop are few and far between. I usually end up getting my supply from the produce aisle.
Root vegetables are rewarding to grow, and children enjoy digging them up.