When to start: Spring.
At their best: Summer, autumn, and winter.
Time to complete: 1 ½ hours.
You will need: Seed for root vegetables – such as carrots, radishes, beets, and celeriac.
Reliable and easy to grow, beets come in yellow, white, and striped varieties, as well as the traditional blood-red. Sow a new batch every few weeks and harvest the plump, sweet, earthy roots as you need them.
Sow seeds ¾ in (1.5 cm) deep in rows, directly in the soil, every two weeks from late spring. Thin the seedlings shortly after germination so plants are 6 in (15 cm) apart.
Beets are sweetest and most succulent when young, and can be harvested when they reach the size of a golf ball. Leave some in the ground to grow larger, where they will last into winter. Pull them as required, although they will eventually become tougher and less tasty. When you harvest beets, cut leaves bleed and stain; instead, simply twist off the leafy tops.
Carrots are the mainstay of the kitchen garden, but these root crops need free-draining soil to do well. They are also prone to a troublesome pest, carrot fly larvae, which you need to guard against.
Sowing in drills
Sow seeds ¾ in (1.5 cm) deep directly into the soil from mid-spring. As they grow you can thin them out and eat as baby carrots, leaving the others in the ground to mature. Try not to bruise their leaves when pulling them out because the smell attracts carrot fly (see Tips, below).
Carrots are ready to harvest from midsummer. On sandy soils, you can simply pull them out of the ground, but on heavier soils use a fork, taking care not to damage the roots. Harvest young carrots to use immediately. Older ones can be stored in a cool place over winter.
Tips: Protecting covering
The carrot fly locates carrots by scent, and then lays eggs nearby. As these hatch, the larvae burrow into the necks of the roots, at the base of the foliage, often making the carrots inedible. To prevent this, cover the crop with a light, transparent mesh, such as garden fleece, dug into the soil at the bottom, or surround your crop with a solid barrier 30 in (75 cm) high, because the adults can only fly close to the ground.
The edible part of celeriac is actually the swollen base of the stem, not the root. Since this develops below soil level, it is commonly regarded as a root vegetable.
Sowing and planting
In early spring, sow seed in modules in a greenhouse or cold frame. Germination can be slow, and the plants need a long season to mature fully. Pot them on as they grow. When they are about 3 in (7 cm) tall, harden them off outside. Then plant them out into well-drained soil, at a distance of about 6 in (15 cm) apart.
Celeriac can be harvested from late summer and throughout winter. As they do not store well once dug up, leave them in the soil until you need them. Cold weather improves the flavor of celeriac but can damage the plants. A mulch of straw applied before the first frosts will prevent this and keep your crop in good condition until you harvest it.
Raised bed options
Elevating your crops in raised beds solves many problems. You can fill them with good-quality topsoil, free from weeds and stones, or use them for crops such as blueberries that like specific conditions—in this case, acid soil. They are also easier to tend, and can save your back from damage. Make your own or buy a kit, and choose beds made from natural lumber or woven willow, or lightweight man-made materials that last for many years.