You can’t buy the fresh taste and high nutritional value of root vegetables from your own garden. Here is the most important advice for growing your own.
Turnips (Brassica rapa) have never been popular in South African home gardens, even though these vegetables are very nutritious and versatile, and have a strong, nutty taste.
Growing and harvesting
• Turnips do well in full sun and semi-shade.
• Sow the seeds about 1-1,5cm deep, directly into the prepared plant bed. Water them regularly, especially in the beginning, and gradually thin the plants out until there is about 5-10cm between them.
• Depending on the variety, you can start harvesting anything from 30 to 90 days later. The bulbs have to be the size of a golf ball and the white flesh will become reddish at the top.
Beetroot (Beta vulgaris) will grow well in any sunny position, as long as the soil drains well. The plants grow faster in the cooler months, but they can be grown throughout the year, except in very warm climates, in which March to July is the best time. Beetroot must grow quickly in order for it to retain its juiciness.
Growing and harvesting
• Beetroot can be grown from early spring to late autumn. Sow the seeds directly into the prepared bed, in rows that are about 20cm apart.
• Soak the seeds for about two hours in warm water before you sow them. This will help the seeds to germinate more quickly.
• Keep the ground moist until the seeds have germinated. If the plants begin to grow too densely, they can be thinned out to about 8cm apart.
• Begin to harvest when the root bulbs are about the size of golf balls, to ensure that the vegetables are sweet and juicy.
Soil for root vegetables
To grow any kind of root vegetable successfully the soil has to be prepared properly, preferably during the season before the seeds are to be sown, or at east two months before the time.
• Root vegetables hate clay soil and prefer light, sandy loam or peat-enriched soil that has been thoroughly enriched with well-decomposed kraal manure (never use fresh kraal manure), 15ml 3:1:5 fertiliser per square metre and even sawdust and grass cuttings.
• Soil that is rich in nitrogen and is slightly acidic (pH 5.5-6.5) is best. It has to stay moist at all times but must drain well.
• The soil has to be dug over thoroughly to a depth of at least 50cm. Remove all the stones and sticks that you can find, as they will cause deformed vegetables.
Pests and plagues
Quite a variety of pests and plagues have a preference for root vegetables – from snails, butterfly caterpillars and cutworms to root and celery flies, downy mildew and much more. Talk to your nursery about organic pesticides and read more about them in the book Grow Your Own Vegetables by Mariénne Uys (Human & Rousseau, 1997).
• Grow Your Own Vegetables by Mariénne Uys was written specifically for the different South African climatic zones and contains loads of tips and detailed instructions on how to grow your own vegetables.
• Keith Kirsten’s Complete Garden Guide for South Africa (Human & Rousseau, 1992) also gives tips and an extensive sowing calendar for all the climatic zones in South Africa.