Carrots, parsnips and beetroot
Carrots, parsnips and beetroot are all root vegetables. That is, they store food in a swollen root ready for making seed in the following season. They require rich soil, but do not like fresh manures due to a low nitrogen requirement. Excess nitrogen makes them leafy at the expense of root, makes them fork and reduces their flavour, which is exquisite. When conventionally grown produce is compared to organically grown, the superior flavour of organic carrots always rates a mention. If they are grown after a heavily manured crop, they will rarely need supplementary feeding.
They should all be sown in spring and summer, allowing plenty of time for them to mature before the onset of cooler weather stops growth. Baby carrots require 8-9 weeks, conventional types 10-15. Beetroot needs 9-12 weeks and parsnip 18-25 weeks. Parsnip will continue to grow in colder weather than the rest.
All require copious quantities of moisture to give of their best and the water must be applied deeply. The onset of watering is held off for as long as possible to allow the roots to dive deep and create long, shapely roots.
You will often read that carrots and parsnips prefer sandy soil. This is sheer nonsense. While gardeners may prefer growing them in sand, (it makes for easier harvest) the best-flavoured roots grow in heavier soils. Heavy soils and light pose germination difficulties for parsnips and carrots. They are small seed needing shallow sowing. To keep the soil moist for the rather long period until germination, cover the drills with old carpet, sacks, boards or whatever. Inspect daily after a week or so and remove the temporary cover when germination commences. While heavier soil holds the moisture, it does tend to crust and the carrot seedlings have difficulty breaking through.
Baby carrots should be thinned to about 2-3 cm apart, parsnips and larger carrots about 5-7 cm. Beetroot needs 6-10 cm, depending on the size you require at harvest time. All can be left in the ground over the winter for eating as required, provided the drainage is good. Growing these crops in raised beds is all that is required to ensure this. If the plants are sown in a swathe across the raised bed, they rapidly grow to shade the bed, creating living mulch.
Beetroot seeds are actually tiny fruits containing a number of seeds. As a consequence, they require thinning to single plants if they are to grow to any size. There are several sorts of beetroot. Apart from the common red sorts, there are white and golden varieties. If the staining caused by red beetroot juice concerns you, the golden is almost as finely flavoured and bleeding is not a problem. There are two sorts of red beetroot, the common globe shape and a long cylindrical type. The cylinder varieties have a much higher yield per unit area and are excellent for slicing. The leaves of beetroot can be eaten as spinach. Take only a few leaves from each plant, though, or you will starve the root and reduce your yield.
Parsnips are rather starchy until the onset of cold weather and many growers wait until a hard frost before harvesting them. The cold converts the starch to sugar and parsnips are higher in sugar than any other garden vegetable.