Roots for the home team

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

We’ll start with the good news. The good news is that our hoophouse has successfully extended our growing season. Granted, it’s gotten an assist from the warmest winter in human memory, but it still felt good to be out there in January, harvesting the parsnips and beets I planted in the early summer.

Or at least it did, until I got the bad news.

Root vegetables allow gardeners to remain in denial up until the very last moment. When you’re growing tomatoes, or eggplant, or lettuce, the fruits of your inadequacy stare you full in the face, from seedling to harvest. You watch as, right before your eyes, they stubbornly refuse to turn into the picture-perfect vegetables of your imagination. You never have the chance to develop unreasonable expectations.

Roots, though, allow you to dream. Surely that forest of beet greens is collecting sunlight to feed big, sweet, deep red beets just beneath the surface.


Last week, I pulled up the parsnips. Despite having been in the ground for some eight months, most of them were about the size of my pinky. A couple of them reached a diameter of over an inch, but none was more than about three inches long. A more pathetic root harvest I have never seen.

Or hadn’t, until I pulled up the beets. The best of them looked like miniature stunted carrots. There was not a rounded one in the lot. The dozen or so largest – the only ones that merited keeping – came in at about a half-pound. Total. Not for the first time, I was grateful that beets are two vegetables in one, because the greens were lovely.

I suspect our soil is long on N, and short on P and K. We have a history of growing plants that are long on leaves and short on fruit, and our root harvests have almost always been terrible. Each year, I think I should give it up and only grow things that are supposed to have lots of leaves but beets are one of my favorite vegetables, and I’m of the hope-springs-eternal school of gardening.

So, come spring, Kevin and I will be loading up on organic matter, supplementing P and K, and slipping back into denial.

17 people are having a conversation about “Roots for the home team

  1. personally, i think its a result of too little sunshine, even in the hoophouse. since there’s electric out there, i wonder about a grow light an hour or two a day?

  2. I’m sorry, but I laughed out loud at this. It isn’t schadenfreude, I swear. It’s just sad in that funny way. Probably because this is how my best efforts would end up, as well.

  3. eagergridlessbeaver says:

    Hehe, nice work! Growing mini-veggies takes time and a dedication to being dedicated to not growing large veggies. Hehe. We had some minature veggies last year, it it ani-climatic when you pull them up and see them..especially if you had planned a meal around the veggies like we had!

  4. They really can be sneaky! We planted lots of garlic a couple years back, and rejoiced at the lush, glorious growth of green, looking forward to plenty of fresh, home-grown garlic that season … Right up until we harvested, and found that the greens were all we had. Not one clove we planted produced a fist of garlic.

    I’m glad you at least got some good greens for your troubles.

    • Save your wood ash for the garden! Compost it with your leaves. Wood ash is very base but the acidity in the leaves will help counter this. If I remember rightly, that should boost your potassium.
      We also keep a bucket that we throw out rusty nails, wire, iron pipe pieces. they rust away in the water and we get “iron water” for the plants. We mix this with the liquid from the worm bins or pour it straight by the plants. Root vegetables seem to like a lot of iron. I hope that is helpful to you.
      Remember that even though your harvest didn’t look like the picture in your head, there is still joy to be had in the growing by one’s own hands.

  5. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. My sympathies to all of you who have (or think you would) produce Starving-style stunted roots.

    And thanks for the specific suggestions. Amanda, although there’s not one square foot of our properety that isn’t sun-challenged, I don’t think that’s the main problem here. If it were, our greens would probably struggle more than they do. But still, more light couldn’t hurt.

    Jean, wood ash is a great suggestions and god knows we’ve got tons of it. I’ve also read that it boosts potassium (and lots of trace elements — wood is a plant, after all). In it goes!

    Tovar, love that carrot.

  6. First it’s eggs, now parsnips…our dinner choices are coinciding with your posts. Food-lepathy?

    Our parsnips have also had an entire summer to grow and are still baby veg size. On the plus side – no woody core to cut out. I roasted them with lamb and they were delicious anyway. Our carrots are enormous. Go figure.

  7. Can I point you in the direction of the National Vegetable Society (I know, only in Britian…) Look under ‘Growing for Show’. There is a passionate subsection of veg growers who have mastered the art of growing ginormous root veg. Be warned: this way lies madness.

  8. Root crops are like the mistery prize behind door number 2. It could be a broken down chevy, or carry you through the winter without having to stop in the vegetable asle at the store. Cape cod soil is equivalant to hydroponic soil. Throw down that wood ash spring and fall the pH benefits are just going to leach out through our sand and leave behind all its P and K.
    Actually, I’m not even sure what a parsnip tastes like, but i found that turnips grow like weeds.

  9. This is a stupid question: did you take soil samples and test them? Of course you did. I suggest watching Sleeper, the Giant chicken, huge vegetables, and wires. We just made a parsnip soup. Purchased mine in an organic store. Not bad.

  10. I’m not sure what I’m doing right or wrong but alls i seem to be able to grow here in Northern England is giant beets….bloody loads of em.

  11. Jen — We have ETAP. Extrasensory Trans-Atlantic Perception. But I’d trade it for some decent parsnips, particularly in light of the fact that you send me links to people who are clearly crackpots, albeit of the benign vegetable-growing variety.

    Michael — You’re precisely right about Cape Cod Soil. Maybe if I think of it as hydroponics I won’t get so frustrated. And I like the idea of trying turnips — if they work in Eastham …

    Goose — Yes, we did test, and it wasn’t nearly as revealing as I would have liked. I’m going to take my cue from you in the parnsip department and just buy the bloody things.

    Thud — Giant beets, eh? Is that where you get your nickname?

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