Have you experienced the disappointment of pulling a radish or carrot out of the ground and finding it to be very small or oddly shaped? Root crops can be difficult to judge when they are ready for harvest or how they are growing along the way. Healthy, large green tops can be deceiving on our crops growing underneath. There are some basic growing tips to ensure the best growing conditions for your root crops. Root crops include all of the plants we eat the root of: carrots, parsnips, turnips, radish, beets, etc. These soil preparation tips are also useful for other crops that grow underground such as onions, garlic, and potatoes.
If your soil is heavy and hard to penetrate, your crops are going to have a hard time growing to the proper size. A quick test you can do in your growing area is to see how easily a thin wire can penetrate through the soil. Ideally you want to go at least 10-12 inches deep if you are growing a larger crop such as full size carrots. If you can not easily shove the wire through the soil, then your growing crops will also struggle to push through. This causes stunting in the growth or odd growth patterns as the crop will try to find a different route in the soil. Aerate your soil by using a broad fork and wiggling it in the soil to help loosen up the ground. You can also aerate by using a shovel and turning soil over. This also helps with soil clumps, rocks, or other debris that is making it difficult for your crops to grow.
You might need to thin your crops after planting. Root crops are typically very small seeds, so they are often planted too close together. If seeds are sown too closely, they compete for space and nutrients in the soil. Use your seed packet information to find the proper spacing for optimum growth, usually at least 3-4 inches in between plants. Thin plants when they are about 2 inches tall by carefully pulling out undesired plants. You can also use scissors and cut the green top off the undesired plants, causing them to no longer grow. The key is to leave the plants intended for growth as undisturbed as possible.