Roots and Bulbs

  • Post published:03/28/2009
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Promises of glory at Smith College Bulb Show
Promises of glory at Smith College Bulb Show



            Mary McClintock, with her Root for Your Favorite Root project, has made me think a lot more about the root vegetables I plant than usual.  I’ve also been thinking about root crops in general because many of them are good keepers. They can be stored in the fall without a lot of laborious processing if you have a cool cellar, or can provide the necessary root cellar conditions.

            Today, as I watch the snow slowly disappear from my landscape, for the moment anyway, I’m planning my garden layout. Where will I plant what? 

            Root crops need a good deep soil that will allow the carrot, beet or turnip room to form and grow easily. All of these can be among the first veggies to be seeded in the ground.

            Beets and turnips are ready for harvest in as few as 30 days if you like baby vegetables, but most will be mature in 50 to 55 days.  Carrots take longer to mature. Depending on the variety carrots can be harvested in 50 to 75 days.  This means that these roots can be planted throughout the season, and as they are harvested that space can be used for something else.

            Last year I planted lettuce, peas, broccoli and radishes on April 23.  A week later I planted beets.  It felt wonderful to get seeds in the ground early.

            There was a time when a beet was a beet.  There weren’t a lot of choices, but now there is Touchstone Gold; the Italian Chioggia with a red and white candy striped pattern; Blankoma, a white beet; Forono, a long cylindrical beet; and Bull’s Blood which has deep burgundy leaves that add some colorful interest to the vegetable garden.

            I grow carrots and the biggest challenge they present to me is thinning.  I bow down before anyone who keeps their carrots properly thinned.  I would rather spend the afternoon moving wheelbarrowsful of woodchips than an afternoon thinning carrots.

            This year  I can’t help looking at the huge variety of carrots that are available.  Parmex is a small round carrot that freezes well.  Kinko is only  4 inches long; Nectar is 8 inches long; Sugarsnax is 9 inches long and very high in the antioxident beta carotene.  Napoli has been created to be sown in the summer and harvested in the winter. 

            Orange is not the only color for carrots anymore. Purple Haze, an All America Selections winner has dark purple skin with an orange interior; Purple Rain has even darker purple skin and flesh, but may have a golden or white core; and the name White Satin is self explanatory. So many choices.

            Turnips are easier with fewer choices. Purple Top is the most familiar but there is Scarlet Queen Red Stems, and the white Hakurei that can be harvested in 38 days and be used raw.

            Radishes are a root crop , but I hardly even count them when I plan the garden. I just stick some here and  there through the season. But, of course, there are more than plain old Cherry Belles.  There are white radishes like Ping Pong, long red and white radishes like D’Avignon, and long white radishes like Miyashige daikon radish.  The most unusual radish that I like is sometimes called Red Meat which is not very appetizing, or Watermelon which is better, but I prefer the name that was used in China when we were there, Beauty Heart.  The radish is the size of a turnip with a green exterior and beautiful pink flesh.  In China it was usually served as a pickle and was delicious.

            Those are some of the roots to consider planting this spring, but the place to admire roots that are flowering right now is the Smith College Bulb Show that will be running for another week, through March 22 from 10 am to 4 pm daily.

            Somehow the Lyman Plant House staff is able to manage and coddle crocuses, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, irises, and even peonies, with light and temperature control so they all bloom at the same glorious minute. This is spring magic indeed.

            The benefit of a show like this is the evidence of the immense variety of color and form in every plant species. The daffodils, properly named narcissus, range from the simple and elegant pheasant eye daff to ruffled bicolors.  There are familiar hyacinths, and a vast show small gold and orange Lachenalia hyacinths.  There are tulips that look like a child’s drawing with simple clear lines to the glamorous ‘broken’ tulips.

            In addition to the living fragrant bulbs, the Church Exhibition Gallery is host to Tulip Mania: Five Centuries of Mystery and Madness. Interspersed with the history of the tulip are lithographs of ‘broken’ tulips with their feathering and color breaks by Rory McEwen for Wilfred Blunt’s book, Tulips and Tulip Mania, displayed courtesy of the Smith college Mortimer Rare Book Room.

Don’t Forget the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium Feed Soil, Self and Soul on March 21 at Frontier  Regional High School in South Deerfield. Noted landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy will be the keynote speaker, and there will be workshops on lilacs, bees, rock gardens and much more.  I’ll be there with my worms.

March 14, 2009

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