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In previous answers, I've mentioned our general lack of success growing root vegetables in North Texas. Carrots and beetroots do not do well at all - roots are few and small. Onions and potatoes do better but watering seems to be a problem.

Apparently we are 8a/7b on the USDA hardiness zones. That looks about right (8a, lows of 10-15F sounds normal, but this winter was more like 7b, lows 5-10F). Summer temperatures have highs in the 90s / low 100s. Last year (an extreme summer) had over four weeks of highs over 100F - usually it is just a few days or a week at a time.

Rain tends to be in the form of heavy storms during spring and autumn. Nice persistent English rain only comes if we are lucky enough to get a tropical cyclone large enough to survive 300 miles inshore. Unfortunately such events are large enough to make the international news.

Anyway, potatoes seem to work best if they are well watered and planted early (e.g. ones that started growing in the cupboard that get planted on a whim in Autumn). Onions seem to be a war of attrition with most sets eventually dieing but a few survive and become large enough to eat. In both cases, these are veg that don't mind being in the ground for winter - so I think I am giving them sufficient growing season before the dry hot summer strikes.

How can I improve my success with onions, potatoes, and traditional root vegetables (eg. carrots and beetroot)? It seems a plant-early winter crop approach might be best, in order to maximise the growing season?

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I was trying to find info on zuni waffle gardens for root crops, but couldn't find out much, however blackdiamondcanyonkitchen.blogspot.com is a pretty awesome blog you should check out. The only info on beets was, "they were leggy ... will probably have to be reseeded" –  Peter Turner Jun 15 '11 at 15:28
    
Thanks for the link - looks like he has more of a frost problem than we do; but his secret appears to be drip irrigation and a tunnel. –  winwaed Jun 15 '11 at 15:49
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I can't offer too much advise, all I know is I've been in Dallas twice, once in november (still had great weather 70s) and another time in June (must of been close to 100 the week I was there). All in all I love the weather in Dallas, Texas.

What I can suggest is for potatoes have you tried digging a trench about 8-10 inches deep? You should try doing this and then plant the potatoes at the bottom. Cover them with about 1-2 inches of very loose soil. As the potatoes grow, continue adding more loose soil to them until you've added the same number of inches that you used when you originally dug that trench (8-10 inches). Only add additional as you see the potatoes growing (coming up).

Watering is very important, but you have to make sure you don't drench potatoes, onions, etc. Too much water is not a good thing.

Sorry I am just not that familiar with the weather in texas to know enough about how to garden, I have my own troubles here in michigan where one week we have sun, the next week we have rain, and the week after that we have snow. As confused as I can get the plants have to be all the more confused :).

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My wife tried the gradual burial of potatoes last year and it resulted in nothing - not one potato! The same technique works well for my parents in Northern England. Perhaps we cropped too late and they'd used their tubers to keep going through the summer. –  winwaed Jun 15 '11 at 17:29
    
Our weather can easily change 10-20F from one day to another. 70F is warm for November but the next day it could have been in the 50s with a low in the high 30s. It will be cold enough to make the peppers dormant in early December, and they are usually dead with the first hard frost before Christmas. –  winwaed Jun 15 '11 at 17:32
    
@winwaed - it was just a thought, I'm surprised you got nothing out of it. I would say it would really depend on the time you cropped (month, gotta do this early!). Also didn't you guys get slammed with bad weather this year? Or was that last year ? –  JonH Jun 15 '11 at 17:33
    
We had a harsh winter but we dug up the potatoes before that. I think the only big loss was a large aloe we left out (it often dies back with the frost). The Mexican opuntia had been broken up with all the pads inside ready for spring (next winter will probably kill it in my do-or-die maneuver) –  winwaed Jun 15 '11 at 17:36
    
@winwaed - good luck - I wish I could help some more but I don't have too many ideas for that type of climate. –  JonH Jun 15 '11 at 17:47
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