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Growing root crops ... tribulation-free.

This system works for beets, carrots, green onions,

kohlrabi, turnips, radishes . . . even lettuce, spinach, chard

Once you get the knack, growing root crops is easy. But for beginners, the path to success can be paved with tribulations. First, you tap-tap the packet, and all the seeds tend to fall into thick clumps. You try to spread them out and cover them evenly. Some wash to the surface when you water; others end up under clods, buried too deep to survive.

If you manage to keep the bed consistently moist enough for germination, there's the formidable task of thinning out all those extra seeds you sowed accidentally in the first place. No wonder a lot of gardeners give up on root vegetables.

Gardener Lester Brubaker of Los Altos, California, has developed some tricks to sidestep all these problems. Regardless of your level of expertise, you may find one or all of them useful for growing any of the root crops shown, as well as kohlrabi, radishes, and turnips; or for lettuce, spinach, and chard if you prefer to sow these directly in the ground instead of starting with nursery seedlings.

In mild-winter areas of the West, early fall is prime planting time for all the crops shown and mentioned here. In cold-winter climates, wait until spring.

Start by loosening soil and working in amendments as needed to build a rich, crumbly soil about a foot deep. Use a rotary-tiller or a spading fork and rake to smooth out clods. Put some amended soil aside to cover the seeds later-a half-barrowful is plenty to cover a large bed. Rake smooth and level as shown, or mound slightly if your beds don't have wooden sides. Moisten the bed thoroughly with a fine spray, then go to step 1.

Extra hints. Check the seed packet for correct spacing for the vegetable variety you are planting. Most root crops should grow 1 to 4 inches apart, depending on their mature size. But since you can't count on 100 percent germination, seeds must be sown more thickly for later thinning. Seed packets contain generous amounts to allow this.

Seeds for root crops tend to be small; cover them only 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Check the packet for the right depth for your seed variety,

Until seeds root deeper, the soil surface needs to stay damp. You can lay fabric directly on the soil instead of over a frame, but you'll need to check more often, and remove fabric promptly when sprouts poke through the soil. With the wire-and-wood frame, your cloth humidifier can stay on until seedlings are several days tougher, and animals can be kept out until plants mature. If you aren't home during the day, you can set a hose nozzle on an automatic timer to mist the bed and fabric at midday.

When the crop's ready, the soil sifter can double as a giant colander, holding vegetables while you hose off loose grit.

Especially inland, where weather is more variable, it's important to start fall crops early and to sow fast-maturing varieties. Alternating periods of cold and warm weather can cause root crops to bolt, racing upward to produce long, flowering stems. As stems thicken and lengthen, roots get progressively tougher and less tasty; harvest and use or preserve the crop as soon as you can.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1987
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