Thursday, 8 September 2011

Don't judge a book (or beetroot) by its cover

Or more precisely, don't judge the size of your roots by the amount of leaf above the ground. I sowed a couple of short rows of beetroot earlier in the year. There were sown in the same bed as the disastrous Italian heritage radishes with the long complicated name an the very small chilli plants. As you can tell by the description, they weren't that successful but this is the same bed that I have been growing my runners in and my hopeful sprouts.
I thought the beetroot was going to be a dismal failure because the leaf growth seemed sadly lacking, some making little more than half a dozen leaves of under four inches in height. Compared to the beetroot sown over a month later and growing resplendently in another bed, with huge two foot leaves in big bunches, they seemed destined to end their days garnishing the compost heap rather than a salad.
I had left them to try and put on some growth as they were not taking up much space or requiring any real attention other than watering and weeding. It may have been the weather, the soil, the shade from the bean 'wall' or a number of things so I just let them get on with it.
As it happens I have been harvesting the healthier looking roots for a few weeks with varying results, some medium sized some small and few large. But all had large fleshy an shiny beautiful leaves.
This week, thanks to the heavy rain and the driving wind, my wall of beans finally changed from a precarious listing position to a permanent horizontal one so I made the most of the beans that were left and cut the stems of the vines so I could tidy the mess. I decided to pull up the miserable wretches that were the early beetroot as they were in the same bed and beginning to lose the fight with the weeds, lush and green from the rain. To my surprise, the roots were healthy, clean and averaged two inches in diameter, just the right size for pickling as baby beets. With most, the leaves were still tiny pathetic looking tufts on top but the roots were if not impressive at least very usable.
It just proves the point, don't just what lies beneath by the evidence you see on the surface. Sometimes the right soil contains all the plant needs for growth where it counts. Leafy crops require more Nitrogen,root crops need Phosphorus to succeed and without Potassium we wouldn't get flowers or the fruits that follow. It must have been the case that the soil in the first bed had a good amount of Phosphorus, where the second with the later sowing had high Nitrogen content, producing a lot of lush but ultimately pointless leaf growth.
It serves as a good lesson in maintaining a good level of nutrients in your soil, preparing the right beds for the relevant crops an knowing what they need.

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