Root Vegetables, More Than A Stick in the Ground

There is nothing better than the thrill of pulling a carrot straight from the ground, or an onion, turnip, or radish for that matter! Sometimes, however, the surprise is not exactly what you want. Like the discovery of nematode or a wire worm infestation that can leave your root vegetables deformed into mutated fingers and riddled with holes and nasty little bugs. Fungus and bacteria can leave unsightly hard scales or lesions on the skin of root vegetables as well. This is called ‘scab’ and especially affects potatoes. Blight is another type of bacteria that can rot the roots into slime.

Have I scared you away from gardening? Come back! Here are a few steps to help combat insects and disease!

Rotate your Crops. This cannot be stressed enough. The same crop in the same location is exactly what caused the Great Blight of Ireland and the Dust Bowl in America. This can suck the nutrients out of the soil and kill off your beneficial organisms.  Root crops are light feeders (unlike tomatoes and eggplants!) but still be wary of single crop. 

Once nutrition has been leached out of the ground, the plants become sick. Just like in people, weak plants are unable to fight off disease. One issue is the lack of calcium. This will be first and most apparent in radishes, since they grow fast and can be picked in 28 days from planting!  If your radishes are long and spindly, that is a sure sign of lack of calcium. Simply mixing a handful of bone meal or ground up oyster shell into your soil will help fix that. If you have already planted the seeds, I recommend a liquid fertilizer I have found at some nurseries called Cal/Mag.   

There will always be bugs, bacteria, and fungus in the ground. That’s just nature! However, you can help keep a balance between the good, the bad, and the ugly. Adding compost is a great way to introduce beneficial bacteria and fungi to eat the bad soil cooties! Root crops do not need a ton of nitrogen, so if adding manure, do so only sparingly. Compost has more potassium and phosphorus in it, which is what you want for strong roots.

If an infestation of nematodes is still out of control in your garden, and your root crop still looks like a bad attempt at macramé, then try planting Giant Mustard. This plant works two-fold: the roots drive away underground bugs, and the plants can be rototilled into the soil in the fall or early spring to add green compost. You can also buy beneficial nematodes which I have used and they work wonderfully! Look online for ARBICO Organics NemAttack. Apply in warmer weather when nematodes are most active.

Any other questions? Write to me at [email protected]

Happy Gardening!

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