Carrots are rarely used as a side vegetable in The Bahamas but are indispensable for adding to soups and souses. The largest type is Imperator but the best tasting are Nantes and Chantenay. If your soil is heavy you should try Danvers, a broad-shouldered heavily tapered carrot that is ideal in clay soil conditions.
Plant your seeds in raised rows for good drainage in soil that has been well fertilized but has not had any fresh compost added. I grow my carrots in grids. I press a milk crate into the ground and use the pattern of squares produced to evenly plant my seeds two inches apart in a block. It’s tedious business but worth the effort once the carrots begin to develop.
All root crops should be pulled as they approach maturity or corkiness will occur. Most root crops last for a long time in the refrigerator after being harvested so you can stagger your sowings to several small sowings a month or so apart. Keep young plants well watered.
Sweet potatoes can be grown from supermarket offerings. Cut the thin end of a potato generously and set it in a saucer with half an inch or so of water. Refresh the water every day and in time shoots will appear. When these shoots are over one foot long and develop a bark they can be used as slips and planted quite deeply at an angle in sandy soil. Water well until established.
If nitrogen-heavy fertilizer is used the plants will produce lots of leaves but small potatoes. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer for best results. A successful sweet potato patch will give good ground cover. Harvesting is done by digging your hands into the soil and feeling for potatoes of the right size. The most productive sweet potato generally available is Boniato, with white flesh. Here on Abaco many gardeners grow heirloom sweet potatoes – usually quite small – that have been around for generations, some white and others yellow.
Farmers grow their Irish potatoes from seed potato stock that is generally unavailable to gardeners. So back to the supermarket we go and look for potatoes that are developing ‘eyes’ or growth nodes. It is a good idea to grow the most expensive potatoes available, such as fingerlings or Yukon Gold.
Cut your ‘seed’ potato into wedges containing no more than one eye. Plant these five inches deep and lightly cover with soil. Once a shoot develops from the eye you can gradually add soil until the hole is filled, then add more mounded around the stem.
Once your potato plant has flowered and dies back it is time to harvest – one of the most rewarding of all gardening experiences. If your home grown potatoes are not as large as those in the super market, do not worry – small potatoes usually cost more. Lift the plant with a garden fork and then sift through the soil with your hands.
Beets have been a popular crop on Abaco since time immemorial. Again, you can sow the seeds – actually capsules containing several seeds – in raised rows or in blocks (using your milk crate) three inches apart. Keep young plants moist and pull your crop when short of maturity. Either boil or roast the beets with the leaves cut away. These leaves are some of the most highly regarded ‘greens’ and are worth chopping and cooking gently in bacon fat or olive oil. The roots can be dressed with a balsamic vinegar based sauce to give a delicious sweet and sour experience, but bear in mind that beets taste delicious without any dressing.