Carrots, turnips and winter

Garden Q&A

December 29, 1996

I still have a row of turnips and carrots in the vegetable garden. The tops are all frozen. Are the roots still OK to eat?

You'll need to dig some of your remaining root crops to determine their eating quality. Root crops planted in late summer or early fall often can survive Maryland winters if covered with a deep blanket of straw or chopped leaves after the tops die back. A thick mulch helps to insulate the roots. Unprotected carrots and turnips tend to lose their taste, and then shrivel and rot because of repeated cycles of freezing and thawing.

We burn wood in a stove through the winter, and we have been told that wood ashes are good to toss on the garden and compost pile. Is this true?

Wood ashes are a fine recycled amendment for garden soils. Hardwood ashes are a good source of potassium (4 percent to 10 percent potash) and a moderate source of phosphorus (1 percent to 2 percent phosphate). Wood ashes are 40 percent to 50 percent calcium carbonate, so their principal benefit is in liming the soil and raising soil pH. A pH of 7.0 is neutral; anything below 7.0 is acidic (sour); and any number above 7.0 is basic (sweet). A soil pH of 6.3-7.0 is fine for most plants.

If you add more than two to three bushels of wood ashes per 1,000 square feet each winter, have your soil pH checked yearly to make sure its pH is not being pushed above 7.0.

Adding wood ashes to a compost pile is not recommended. When your pile is ready to use, it will have a neutral or slightly basic pH. So there is no need to add wood ashes to it.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at (800) 342-2507.

Pub Date: 12/29/96

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