My brother in law, Roger, used to have a rather large vegetable garden. After a career change, he moved to a city house that did not have the yard for a garden.
Recently I asked him what he missed about growing his own veg. His response puzzled me at first. He said, “I miss being able to eat stuff straight from the ground.” Again I was a little confused. Isn’t all vegetable matter straight from the ground? After a little ferreting out, I realized what he meant.
He misses the root crops. He grew beets, turnips, radish, and carrots primarily. He had the obligatory tomatoes and peppers, but his passion was the roots. Being a southern boy, he also loves greens. The things he had in his garden with the exception of the carrots make nice greens as well.
I must admit, I am only slowly coming around to the root family. My family doesn’t enjoy cooked greens. Until last year, I had only planted carrots and parsnips. This year I have branched out considerably. This is due mostly to the amount of gardening space we are now allocated.
In times past I would have had to have sacrificed something my family loved for something they only tolerated. However, with the new house came new space. Space to stretch my gardening legs. This year I am growing turnips, “Red Top Ideal”, beets, “Chioggia”, and radish, “Spanish Black”, “Philadelphia White”, and “French Breakfast”. These are along with my regular crops of carrots and parsnips.
Root crops are pretty happy crops as a general rule. They really are not fussy or demanding. They like light, well drained soil and they like to be fed pretty frequently. Radish likes a cool head and will spice up on you considerably if it’s too warm. It’s important to make sure you don’t have and rocks or clay clots in your bed. As the root is going down, when they encounter an object, a rock, a clot, a root from a tree, they will either bend around the object, or split and continue growing. This doesn’t change the nutritional value in the least, but it does make for odd shaped harvests. It also makes your plant work a little harder which can lessen your yield a bit.
Again, you can eat these, but they are not ideal and can be avoided with a little prudence ahead of planting.
Feeding your root crops.
Root crops like a sweet soil and do not tolerate acidic soil for the most part. Use your compost containing plenty of eggshells or amend with dolomite if necessary to get a pH of 5.5-7. Beets like a pH of 6.5-8. Well rotted organic material and manure at planting and a side dressing mid season will really help. Use caution when adding nitrogen, as too much nitro can cause excessive greens but poorer roots. If you are growing your crops for the greens, nitro away.
Watering the roots
Root crops enjoy moist, loamy soil, but they do not like to stay soggy. They are able to tolerate dry conditions better than wet. Again, a little planning at the beginning of the season, being sure your have a well drained location, will save you headaches and heartaches.
Other things worth mention
Root crops do not want to compete for nutrition or water. Weed vigilantly. Floating row covers are a good idea if you have a problem with carrot root flies or flea beetles. Remember, insecticide is not an option as it will be absorbed and stored by the root, and you will ingest this when you eat it at harvest.
On to the Fun Part
There are so many fun varieties of root crops it is hard to know where to begin.
I guess lets start with carrots. They didn’t used to be orange. I’m planning an entire post on carrots so I’m not going to spoil that, but, let’s just say I love white carrots! Not only do carrots not have to be orange, but, they don’t even have to be long! I’m growing round carrots. How cool is that? Not only are these super fun, they also are an excellent choice for those of you that have rocky, or heavy clay soil. In general, kids love to eat the things they grow. If you have a picky eater, grow some carrots. They’ll at least give them a try, and chances are, they’ll love the ones “I grow myself”.
They are definitely not a glamour crop. They are nutritious and can be really lovely. I have never grown forage beets, but I will when I get my sheep. And for you “Office” fans. “Beets, Bears, Battlestar Gallactica”.
Here are a few fun beet varieties to try.
You really need to try it. http://thefreshdish.com
One of my favorite root vegetables is Parsnips. We don’t have them as much in the U.S. as our European brethren, but with chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey becoming popular, they are sure to see a rise in interest. I say jump on the parsnip train now!
We had them at my Grampa Wilson’s house. He was transplanted to Napa, CA from rural Pennsylvania and he was 4th generation Pennsylvania Dutch. We had parsnips regularly and goose for Christmas. I carried on with the parsnips but it’s hard to find goose as a general rule. I love that parsnips can be substituted for potatoes in many dishes and some people would not be able to tell the difference in the least. I know that I had friends in high school that had never heard of a parsnip and never knew that was what they were eating with their lamb when they they suppered at our house.
Another of the root family that often gets maligned. Radish can be lovely and so sweet when grown in a cool climate. They are great to grow in the very early spring before it’s warmed up enough to put out any of your heat lovers. Plus they come in an amazing variety of colors that will add a visual punch to any dish. Try radish this year.
Philadelphia White Box
There are also several Daikon radish that are super fun and beautiful. Great in stir fry as well as in salads.
Try these pickled! Recipe at the end of the post.
Recipe for Pickled Daikon
- 1 pound daikon radish
- 1 1/2 cups rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon pickling salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper corns
- Star anise (optiona)
Prepare a small canning pot and 2 pint jars. Place 2 new lids in a small pot of water and bring to the barest simmer.)
Slice daikon into thin rounds using a mandoline, food processor or knife. Keep the slices around 1/4 inch thick so that they retain some crunch.
Combine rice wine vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
Divide peppercorns between your two jars.
Pack daikon slices into jars. One pound should fit perfectly into two pint jars. Top with boiling brine, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. For a more complex flavored pickle, now is when you add the star anise to the jar.
Tap jars gently to remove any trapped air bubbles. If necessary, add more brine to return the headspace to 1/2 inch.
Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes (start your timer when the water returns to a boil, not when the jars first go in).
When time is up, remove jars from canner and let cool on a folded kitchen towel.
When jars are cool enough to handle, remove rings and test seals by grasping edges of lids and carefully lifting jars. If lids hold fast, seals are good.
Store jars in a cool, dark place. They are ready to eat within 48 hours, but can be kept up to one year. The longer they set, the more mellow and cohesive they become.
Enjoy this fun Daikon pickle treat.
I have only barely touched on the variety that is available for nutritious, interesting root crops. I hope you find something you like.
Whatever your space and flavor will allow, you should definitely try a root crop at some point in your gardening career. You won’t be disappointed I’m sure.
Have a Paisley Carrot (or other root crop) day!~KeriAnne