Trench Planting Root Crops
If you want to grow terrific root crops in hard clay or compacted soil, and you can get your hands on a lot of organic matter (shredded leaves, grass clippings), give trenching a try. It's another way to create an ideal growing environment for those roots.
Trench Planting Method
Dig an eight-inch trench, fill it with five or six inches of moist organic matter or compost, pull two to three inches of soil over the organic matter to fill the trench back to ground level, and plant your seeds in that top layer of soil.
The organic matter will decompose all summer, staying soft and moist. Your root crops will grow down into that loose, humus-rich material. You can grow tremendous, prizewinning roots this way, but remember, the smaller ones are the best tasting, so pull them up before they get huge. Just for fun, leave one or two to mature past the eating stage, and get a snapshot for the family album. Your friends will never believe you grew them.
If the organic matter you use in the bottom of the furrow is mostly compost or well-rotted manure, there's no need to add fertilizer. If you're using old, chopped hay or leaves, sprinkle a small handful of 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 on every two to three feet of trenched organic matter to make up for the loss of nutrients that are used to break down those materials. Cover the fertilized organic matter with at least two inches of soil.
Trench composting works especially well in heavy, clay soil. It is also a wonderful way to improve your soil a bit at a time. If you rotate your root crops each year, after a few years your whole garden will have rich, loose soil.
The main trick with trench composting is to moisten the organic matter you put in the trench, if it's dry. Plant the seeds just as you would on a regular seedbed. After that, it's practically just a matter of watching them grow.
Photography by National Gardening Association.