Saturday, June 6, 2020

Still treading water

Pollen levels are still high.

I am treading water until the worst of it is past.

So, instead of real content you get a look-ahead.

We are still in the planting progression.

The honeydew melon seeds are starting to break the soil crust.

Pickling cucumbers won't be far behind.

Some seeds germinate well in cold soil (radishes, peas) while others are pigs for heat (melons, squash).

Among the last seeds to go into the ground are root-crops. Most of them are biennials by nature. The classic biennial over-winters as a small, juvenile plant. It puts on a spurt of growth in the spring when there are long days and good soil moisture and then ripens seed in mid-summer. That category includes winter wheat, turnips and carrots.

When biennials are planted a bit earlier than their normal biology's rhythm, various organs store the extra energy. Sometimes the roots engorge. Sometimes the stems or leaves.

Catch the wave
Plant "root vegetables" too early and they bolt and try to make seeds. Plant them toward the beginning of June and you might get large-but-tough roots. Plant them at the end of June (at least in Eaton County, Michigan) and you will get decent size and good quality for most turnips, rutabagas, carrots, beets, Asian (Daikon) radishes and so-on.

Given the sudden interest in gardening by many interest I applaud, the turn-around time on ordering seeds from mail-order nurseries can run two weeks to a month.

So if you find yourself staring at that last little bit of garden that did not get planted. And if you are not inclined to plant winter squash to fill it. Then this might be a good time to order some seeds for root crops.

Carrots are shy germinators and require fussy weeding but most people will eat a carrot. Most beets produce multiple plants per seed and require serious thinning. Asian radishes get pissy if you let the soil dry out and can be planted as late as mid-August. Turnips and rutabagas are as close to bullet-proof as you can get

I recently learned that the "heat" in some Daikon radishes is greatly diminished by cooking. While I have not tried this myself, I can see how this would make radishes a more versatile vegetable. Bonus Link

All of these vegetables can produce eye-popping tonnage per acre if you meet their needs. While they can grow in poor soil, they produce much better in soils of at least moderate fertility and moisture.

A good gardener is like a person composing a symphony. Each movement has a pace and cadence. Every instrument has a place.


  1. Have you ever thought about posting all your farm & ranch essays in a separate folder? You've got a wealth of transferable information to impart.

  2. Good advice, Joe. I tend to plant root vegies too early because I have had early frosts clobber my garden with frequency. Many years ago, I can't recall which one, we had a killing frost on August 23rd. Any time after September 10th is likely. So it's a tough choice. I think that as I have additional space I'll do another planting of rutabaga and beets in a week or so. I appreciate your thoughts on these matters as I tend to get in procedural ruts.--ken

  3. I have not had a problem with tough root crops by planting early, but maybe that has to do with out long days. I plant radishes and Japanese turnips early and succession plant about every two weeks. I have some beets transplanted in the hoophouse. Ones we did the same way last year were fine and it saves thinning. Some commercial growers do beets that way because it saves labor and seed in the long run. For some reason I have had no luck with winter squash and melons even transplanted in the hoop house possibly because I only provide heat to prevent freezing and we have too many 35 to 40 degree nights. I don't know if you have cabbage root maggot problems but if I don't put hoops and row cover over radish, turnip and rutabagas they get wormy.

    1. The sentence about planting early was poorly written. The picture in my head was root vegetables as a crop to fill root cellars. That is, plant early and harvest once in the fall. Planted early, they grow for too long of a period and risk becoming woody.

      You, sir, are a better gardener than I am. You plant and harvest in waves rather than one-and-done.

      Thanks for writing. We are all smarter for your comments.

  4. For what it's worth it's not only Daikon radishes it works with regular red round ones.