Gardening Vivian | 26 Oct 2010 05:13 pm

Green Gardening Tips – How To Tell When Your Root Vegetables Are Ready


Growing your own organic vegetables can be a great experience. The environmental & health benefits of green gardening are well documented, but how do you ensure that your kitchen gets the best from your labours? Many gardeners who are new to vegetable growing find it difficult to tell when to harvest their crops, especially when the edible part is underground. Never fear! Here are some foolproof tips for picking ripe roots.

1. THE PACKET: this may sound a bit basic, but lots of gardeners don’t keep hold of their empty seed packets. After all, who wants lots of messy bits of paper all over the place? Well that’s fine, of course, nothing wrong with being tidy, but you might want to consider tucking them inside an old folder or tin, or recording some of the information on the back in a notebook, before you bin them. Most seed packets give guidance on when your vegetables should be ready to eat & this will at least give you an idea of when to start checking for maturity.

2. FOLIAGE: the leaves of the plant can often give clues about its readiness. Onions, shallots & parsnips are ready to lift when their foliage dies down. For onions & shallots, leave them in the ground for 2 weeks after the leaves turn yellow & flop over, then lift them & dry them for storage. Parsnips can be lifted gently with a fork for eating when their leaves die down. You can leave them in longer if you want, but cover the tops with a thick layer of straw to stop frost damage.

Foliage can also give a clue to the readiness of potatoes. For early varieties wait until the flowers or buds have withered (no earlier than June, normally) & then gently dig a little soil from around to tubers to see how big they are. The ideal harvesting size will depend on the potato variety. Main crop potatoes are harvested later in the year from September onwards when the foliage starts to die & turn yellow.

3. BEAUTIFUL BABIES: some root vegetables are delicious when immature. This includes carrots, turnips & beetroot. You can ‘thin’ your produce by pulling out small, young roots to eat as baby produce and leave the rest to grow & mature. It’s a great way to reduce waste and have wonderful sugar sweet mouthfuls early in the season. Carrots can be picked any time after the green tops have sprouted & beetroot is best left until it reaches golf ball size (but don’t let it grow bigger than a cricket ball before harvesting). Baby turnips are usually ready to eat around 6 weeks after sowing.

4 DIG IT: sometimes there is no option but to take a look see. Be as careful as possible when you dig up a ‘trial’ root – you don’t want to damage the rest of your crop. Gently loosen the soil around the root with a fork or spade and then work it free. Carrots are considered mature when they reach a diameter of 2-2.5cm although you can leave them to get bigger if you wish. Like the parsnips, carrots need some protection from anything more than a light frost, so cover them with a layer of hay or straw if you want to leave them in the ground over winter. Swedes can be lifted as soon as they are big enough to use but can also be left in the soil and lifted, as required, through to spring.

One last piece of advice for perfect produce: make sure you harvest on a dry day if possible and leave your roots to dry before storing in a cool, dark place. Most roots store well for long periods, if kept correctly, so you can still be eating your autumn pickings well into the New Year. Bon appetite!

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