Sweet, nutritious root vegetables are easier to grow than you might think. With some simple planting tips, you’ll be harvesting your own radishes, beetroots, turnips and swedes in no time!
See the “Root Vegetables” article for an introduction to root vegetables and their varieties.
Root vegetables are cool‐weather crops and should be grown to mature in the spring or fall. They should be direct seeded as they do not transplant well, with the exception of beetroot. Root crops need well‐drained, loose soil for good root development. Specific soil requirements are listed with each crop.
Radishes are easy to grow and quick to pick. They like soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8. Avoid too much nitrogen, which will result in abundant leaf growth but small roots.
Plant radishes in the spring as soon as the soil is friable. Radish seeds will germinate at 55°F (13°C) and prefer to grow in 50‐65°F (10°‐18°C) temperatures.
Sow seeds 1/2 an inch (12 mm) deep, one inch (25 mm) apart, with six inches (15 cm) between rows. Thin to two inches (50 mm) apart. Keep well watered.
Sow successive crops every ten days until temperatures reach the mid‐60s°F (about 18°C). Radishes harvested in cool weather are milder: harvested in the heat of summer, they can be hotter than firecrackers.
Winter radishes should be planted about ten weeks before the first autumn frost. Frost improves the flavour of winter varieties. Larger winter varieties should be thinned to six or more inches (15 cm) depending on the size of the mature root.
Radish varieties include:
- Cherry Belle (round red, 22 days), good in poor soil
- French Breakfast (oblong, red with white tips, 20‐30 days)
- White Icicle (carrot‐shaped, white, 27‐32 days)
- China Rose (carrot‐shaped, rose‐coloured winter radish, 50‐60 days)
Beetroot likes sandy soil that’s rich in organic matter, with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0 (6.5 is ideal). Beetroot doesn’t like acidic soil. Add lime if required.
Plant beetroot about two to four weeks before last frost. Although the preferred germination temperature range for beetroot seeds is 50°‐85°F (10°‐29°C), they’ll germinate in temperatures ranging from 40°‐90°F (4°‐32°C). Beetroot seeds are actually a dried fruit containing from one to four seeds. Extra seedlings may need to be clipped off to thin. Beetroot seeds should be soaked overnight or scored with a file to speed germination.
Plant beet seeds 3/4 of an inch (19 mm) deep, one inch (25 mm) apart, with 12‐18 inches between rows. Thin to 4‐6 inches (10‐15 cm) apart. Beetroot is one of the few root crops that can be grown from transplants.
Beetroot may be grown for greens as well as roots. Varieties include:
- Detroit Dark Red (60‐70), great for roots and greens, excellent winter keeper
- Cylindra (54 days), tubular, good for slicing or pickling
- Lutz Salad Leaf (60‐80 days), chard‐like greens and large roots, good keeper
- Hioggia (55‐65 days), sweet red‐and‐white “Bulls Eye Beetroot”
Turnips are an undervalued crop: they’re easy to grow, tasty and nutritious. Plant turnips to mature in cool weather as hot weather creates a strong‐tasting turnip. Turnips like soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Dig in a two‐inch (5 cm) layer of compost. Add lime if necessary. Unlike other brassicas, turnips and swedes are light feeders.
Plant turnips in early spring, four to six weeks before last frost. Turnip seeds will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40°F (4°C), but temperatures of 45°‐85°F (7°‐29°C) are preferable. Turnips thrive in a growing temperature of about 68°F (20°C).
Sow turnip seeds 1/4‐1/2 an inch (6‐12 mm) deep, one inch (25 mm) apart, with 18 inches (46 cm) between rows. Thin to 4‐6 inches (10‐15 cm) apart.
Turnip varieties include:
- Purple Top White Globe (50 days)
- Seven Top (45 days), grown for its abundant greens
- Tokyo Cross (white, 30‐35 days)
Swedes will grow in average soil. Too much organic matter or nitrogen can caused malformed roots. The pH level for Swedes should be from 6.5 to 7.2. Add lime if needed.
Swedes take a long time to mature and don’t like hot, dry weather. Planted in the spring and harvested in the summer, they’ll be bitter. Planted early to mid summer and harvested in the autumn, they’ll be sweet.
Direct sow seeds three to four months before the first autumn frost, depending on variety. Sow seeds 1/2 an inch (12 mm) deep, two inches (5 cm) apart, with 18 inches (46 cm) between rows. Thin to 6‐9 inches (15‐23 cm), depending on size of variety.
Varieties of swedes include:
- American Purple Top (purple/yellow, 90 days)
- Gilfeather (white, 75‐100 days)
- Thomson Laurentian (purple/yellow, 120 days), good winter keeper