The Q&A Archives: Root Vegetables

Question: I've had two unsuccessful years of carrots, beets, and onions. I've tried seeds for carrots only to get small green tops and needle thin carrots. I've tried beet plants only to get penny size beets and then the greens die. I've tried onion plants only to get penny size and soft onions with green tops which then die. Do I have the wrong soil mix in my raised bed?

Answer: Root vegetables, like above-ground vegetables, need rich, moist soil, and plenty of sunshine to thrive. The problem may be poor soil, lack of nutrients, lack of water, or inadequate sunshine. If your raised bed is in a sunny site, you can grow carrots, onions and beets. If it's shady most of the afternoon, you'd have better luck with shade-tolerant crops such as lettuce or spinach. Amend the soil by spreading 4-5 inches of organic matter over the top and digging it in to a depth of 8-10 inches. Use aged compost, leaf mold, peat moss or aged manure. Based upon your description of the unsuccessful crops, I'd guess your soil was on the clayey side. If that's the case, add even more organic material, and some sand, too. Do whatever you can to loosen the soil and make it easier for the roots to penetrate a good 8-10 inches. The organic matter will help the soil retain moisture and will release nutrients to the plant roots as it decomposes. After planting, keep the soil evenly moist by supplying water every week. Make sure you apply enough water to thoroughly wet the entire root area. To check, dig down after watering to see how far the moisture has penetrated. Following the above guidelines should result in a great harvest of carrots, beets and onions at the end of the season.

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