Plant a little self-sufficiency this year

Backyard gardens and backyard chickens have had a Renaissance recently, thanks to Covid. It gives people a sense of security to know that their food is right in the backyard, not on a barge delayed from China. It was exciting to see so many new people joining the gardening community.

I was surprised, however, at what people planted in these new “self-sufficiency gardens”. Tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis and herbs are all wonderful foods and certainly great choices for a kitchen garden, but they aren’t going to fill your belly in December. To do that, you need to plant hearty, long-lasting vegetables like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, and squashes.

Today, I wanted to share with you my method for planting carrots, parsnips, and beets because now is a great time to get those seeds into the ground (I’ll come back to the pumpkins and potatoes later).

PLANTING CARROTS, PARSNIPS, and BEETS

Loosen your soil with a broadfork (pictured) or pitchfork.

Loosen your soil. Root vegetables need a lot of vertical space to grow, so if your garden soil has been compacted, you need to loosen it. But, do not rototill! This disturbs the soil way more than you need to. Instead, push a pitchfork or broadfork straight down into the soil to about eight inches and wiggle it around a bit. Do this over your whole garden area.

Smooth the area with a rake or your hand to make planting easier.

Prepare your planting area. One eco-mistake a lot of gardeners make it to add compost and topsoil to the whole garden bed. If your soil needs amendments, only add it where it is needed. At the end of the season, you’ll mix it in and over time the whole bed will be improved. To do this, use a spade to dig three inch deep trenches along the rows where you will plant your seeds. Fill the trenches with compost, as needed (I use this technique with all my garden plants).

I only add compost to the areas where I will actually be planting this year. Over time, the whole bed will be improved.

Plant your seeds. Lay your seeds in a single line along the filled-in trench. This is more difficult with tiny carrot seeds than with big beet seeds, so just be patient. It doesn’t have to be perfectly spaced, because you can always thin out your seedlings later.

These are beet seeds, which I soaked overnight before planting to hasten germination. They are planted at a 1/4 inch depth every two inches (you can learn all that from the seed packet!).

Water. Roots crops are slow to germinate (turn into plants), so you’ll need to be pretty diligent about keeping the soil moist where you have planted until you see the little seedlings popping up (check out your seed packet if you are wondering what they will look like). But remember, the seeds are only 1/4 to 1/8 inch deep, so you don’t need to water very much!

Thin seedlings, as needed. Once your seedlings are growing, you may notice they are crowing each other a bit. Feel free to thin them, as needed. Baby root vegetables are delicious roasted. You can also eat beet greens!

Enjoy! Beets will be ready first. In fact, you can keep planting them throughout the summer and into the fall. Carrots, too, are a continual summer crop, though they are slower to grow than beets. Parsnips will be ready in the fall, but you can leave some in the garden over the winter too, if you want a spring harvest.

Just harvested the remainder of last year’s parsnip crop.

Happy gardening!

– Hannah

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