I always mention root vegetables when newbies ask me what to grow in their gardens in the mountains.
Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips and radishes can be grown here. Potatoes and onions aren’t really large taproots but are a good bet.
Some things to know about raising a crop of harvestable roots:
They should be direct sown. This means that you start by planting seeds right in the garden soil rather than using transplants started inside (exceptions are beets that are grown for their edible tops).
Don’t skimp on bed preparation. The soil needs to be loose for the roots to push through. The fewer rocks the better. Amend your garden soil with organic matter if it is hard packed.
Root vegetables need sunshine. All day sun if possible. Consistent moisture is also important. If your garden goes through dry spells then root vegetables will suffer.
Carrots may crack and beets will become dry and woody. Root vegetables will overall be puny. Drenching rains can be few and far between in the summer so don’t let a quick mountain thunderstorm fool you into thinking that your garden doesn’t need watering.
A general-purpose fertilizer is good but beware of one that is high in nitrogen. Nitrogen stimulates foliage growth at the expense of the roots.
I have often looked for gardening inspiration in a friend’s backyard plot. This woman must spend hours during the winter perusing seed catalogues to find unusual vegetables. Consequently, she grows vegetables and varieties that I truly have never seen before.
An odd root vegetable crop that has been a success for her is daikon radishes. These are nothing like the familiar red globe radishes.
Daikons (also called Japanese radishes) resemble a large white and very plump carrot. They are usually eaten raw, cooked or pickled. Adventuresome cooks take note: Daikons can be chopped and added for their crunchiness in stir fries and other Asian dishes.
These radishes can grow very large. They are interesting to grow but you must plan for them. Depending on the variety, their length can be 6 inches or a foot long. If you are jonesing to try something new this season, daikons could be interesting.
One plus in growing root vegetables: They won’t be damaged by an unexpected freezing night — which can happen anytime in a mountain climate. Tender plants such as zucchini squash, basil, string beans, pumpkins, marigolds and begonias blacken at the first whisper of a freeze. Not root vegetables.
Since they develop underground, these roots are hidden from the wildlife that inevitably raid my garden. I’m fed up with chipmunks, moose and deer eating my vegetables just when they start looking promising. It is so disappointing after all of the work it takes to make a garden in the mountains.