One of my early disappointments with gardening in containers was my first lot of carrots. The leaves looked lush and amazing, but when the time for harvest came the carrots had not grown at all underneath! Unfortunately at the time I didn’t yet know that carrot leaves, like those of other root veggies like beetroot and radish, could also be used for cooking, so it all went into my compost!
After a few years of gardening and quite a few such experiences along the way, I have realised the following really important tips for growing root vegetables:
Sow directly: Root vegetables may not do well with transplanting, especially if you are a beginner. It is recommended to sow directly in the soil or container where you want them to grow. In both cases, it helps to loosen the soil before sowing so that the roots can expand well.
Give them space to grow! If your soil is too tightly packed, or just simply too cloggy, there is very little space for the roots to expand. In such cases the foliage above may not be any indication of the growth beneath. It is also essential that they are spaced out well and this might mean that you have to thin out some seedlings when they are a couple of inches high.
Water with care: Most root vegetables need optimal watering – too much and they’ll get soggy and rot, too less and they’ll dry out. Prepare your soil mix with care so that it retains just enough water, but is well drained as well. (I use an approximate proportion of 1:1:1 Soil:Cocopeat:Compost/Vermicompost for most of my plants.) When watering, ensure that the entire medium is receiving the moisture and not just the surface of the soil.
Harvesting: Whenever you’re sowing a variety, it is best to keep track of the time to harvest right from the time of sowing. For example, radish varieties can be harvested as early as 40-50 days, and carrots may take 2-3 months depending on variety. Pull out one of the tubers to get an idea of growth, before planning when to harvest the rest. If you find flowers appearing, this usually means it’s too late and the roots would be too woody to consume.
Try, try, try again – is always the gardener’s mantra. After one harvest of shallots or sambhar onions, I am trying my hand at potatoes and the bigger onions now. It helps that the kind folks who work for me keep bringing me one veggie or the other if it has already sprouted and looks ready to plant. This time my strategy is to try a grow bag, as I’ve been told potatoes grow very well in sacks, so wish me luck!