(Carol O'Meara / CSU Extension)

When it comes to workplace rivalries and interpersonal competition, gardening skill isn't usually what managers look to control. They're busy intervening in personality conflicts or differences in style rather than mediating disputes on who has a better carrot crop. But when gardeners are enclosed in an office, subtle envy can arise, especially when the success of vegetables comes into play.

It began quietly enough last summer, when we noticed our co-worker, Amy, noshing a seemingly endless supply of snow peas. This went on all summer, well past the time when ours had given up for the year. Crunching those sweet pods, she cheerfully complained that her snow peas just wouldn't quit, and she had to keep eating them just to keep up. We gardeners among the staff developed a narrow-eyed, pinched look to our expressions.

This year, her tomatoes thrived while ours sputtered, and her peppers had staff nearly apoplectic with disbelief, since our crops suffered stunting and disease. But it was when she brought in the turnips that our boss realized he'd need Human Resources on speed dial just to get through the growing season.

Root crops can be hit or miss for many gardeners in Colorado due to heavy clay soils, water stress and heat. But Amy overcame all that with liberal amendments of composted manure, drip irrigation and a bit of tender loving care.


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If you're interested in expanding your food crops but haven't ventured past carrots, taste a few root crops this fall to help you plan for planting next spring. Lighter, loose soils will produce straighter root vegetables. Sandy soils are ideal, though the vegetables can grow in clay soils after some preparation. Make notes to improve your soil so it supports the growth of root vegetables; if you don't have a source for compost, winter is a great time to ask around for a supplier.

Direct sowing is the best way to get a good crop, since most root vegetables don't transplant well. One exception is parsnips, which, due to their slow germination and long growing season, need to be started indoors in February. Pop the seeds into small Jiffy pellets and handle them carefully when transplanting so you don't disturb the roots.

The beauty of root crops in fall is that they demand very little from the gardener: just a thick blanket of straw mulch — about 12 inches deep — applied after the soil cools down keeps these vegetables available for harvesting well into December. Although they can be left in the soil all winter, they should be removed before the spring temperatures warm up. Most are also frost hardy and will grow if an early fall frost is followed by warm weather.

Here's a quick primer on trying roots this fall:

Soft flavored turnips are ball-shaped, often purple topped with a white bottom root. They're an ideal supporting cast for the stronger roots like carrots or beets.

Parsnips are long, white roots resembling carrots and are perfect for soups, stews, baked dishes or mashing. Don't let the carrot-y appearance fool you, though, the flavor is more earthy and cinnamon-like. For old fashioned comfort food, thinly slice parsnips and bake with cream, nutmeg or thyme.

Rutabagas, like turnips, are mild flavored enough to support other, stronger-flavored vegetables when cooked with them. Unlike turnips, they impart an earthy underlay to the dishes. They can be harvested at any size, so enjoy them in late summer or fall.

Celeriac (celery root) tastes of celery and parsley once you peel past the off-putting, warty exterior. Often overlooked as an elegant accompaniment to meals, it lends itself well to boiling, mashing or French frying.

Carol O'Meara is the extension agent in horticulture entomology for Colorado State University's Extension in Boulder County. Contact her at comeara@bouldercounty.org.