Root Crops

Vegetables and Herbs Suitable for Home Gardens

assorted root vegetables

Root Vegetables from a purely botanical point of view are divided into multiple categories and sub categories. From a gardeners point of view they are generally categorized as Tubers such as potatoes, Bulbs such as Onions and Garlic, tap Roots such as carrots, parsnips, beets and Herbs such as ginseng and horse radish.

Root vegetables generally serve as a plants energy storage organ, they shore up carbohydrates which we in turn consume as starches and sugars.

Potatoes are commonly known and commonly grown in the Western World, they are are a staple in many cultures. Potatoes are aggressively rooting plants, they thrive in full sun. They will produce the best crop when planted in a light, loose, well-drained but moisture retentive soil. Potatoes are generally grown from slips, which are segments of the potato tuber that have sprouted 'eyes'. They can be planted whole or cut into halves, or, quarters on larger varieties, with each piece containing an eye [sprout] or two

There are over 4,000 varieties of potatoes. Novelty, heirloom, hybrid and even wild potato varieties. Russet Potatoes, Red Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes [But not Yams], Yellow Potatoes, Purple/Blue Potatoes, Fingerling Potatoes, Petite Potatoes and the common White Potatoes. See - Potato Varieties

Onions are the most commonly grown bulbous vegetable, they, like potatoes - are multi-cultural herbaceous gastronomically prized bulbous roots. The National Onion Association divides Onions into 3 primary categories Red, White and Yellow Onions for culinary purposes and fall and spring onions for seasonal availability. They can also be grouped by taste which leaves Sweet or Pungent. Grouping onions by Storage qualities is another method. Storage onions are the pungent strong flavored ones . Commercial growers favor these varieties because they store for longer duration's and can be shipped greater distances.

Odd ball members of the Onion family include Leeks, Scallion and Walking Onions. Walking Onions produce Onions from a stalk above the soils surface in clusters as opposed to standard onions which produce subterranean onion bulbs.

Garlic, sometimes classified along with Onions - is not an Onion. It is most commonly used as an additive - flavor enhancement in many cuisines. Garlic is fairly easy to grow with a little patience. After a lengthy growing season garlic will produce a multitude of bulbs.

Garlic should be planted in the fall prior to anticipated harvest, it can also be planted in the early spring as soon as the ground is workable, but Autumn is best. Planting in the Autumn leads to bigger and more flavorful bulbs when you harvest next summer - that's where the patience comes in.

Elephant Garlic is related to true garlic, leeks and onions but it's not truly Garlic. In appearance it looks like a giant garlic, but is actually more closely related to Leeks. It has broad flat leaves and forms a bulb comprised of extremely large cloves The bulbs can weigh more than a pound each. A single elephant garlic clove is commonly as large as a whole bulb of true garlic.

Unlike true Garlic, Elephant garlic doesn't need to be divided periodically. It can be left in the ground without fear of rot and over winters nicely, it is a perennial.

Carrots like potatoes and onions once again are multi-cultural and they are also a very ancient food source for Humans. Carrot cultivation can be traced back to the early bronze age, at least 5,000 years ago. In all likelihood the first Carrots cultivated by man were Purple and yellow varieties See - Purple Carrots

There are four major groupings of Carrots - Imperator, Nantes, Danvers and miniature radish style carrots. Various members of these groupings fall into several sub-categories - early, main-crop, and storage varieties. Carrots are also cataloged by their size, shape, and color.

Carrot plants thrive in deep, loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Avoid stony, cloddy or trash-laden soils as they increase the incidence of root defects. Because raised-beds usually have loose soil and receive little compaction from foot traffic, they are an ideal location to grow carrots. See - Carrot Varieties

Parsnips have a unique taste. They have the sweetness of carrots but a higher starch content creates a flavor reminiscent of potatoes.

Parsnips are very similar to their cousin, carrots. They are sometimes difficult to get started, poor germination rates and a relatively long germination period can be discouraging, but once they get going they are little different from other root crops. You must use Parsnip seed that is not more than a year old.

Beets, Like Carrots, beets are a very ancient crop first cultivated by man in the post hunter-gatherer era. Growing beets will give you delicious, colorful roots and nutritious greens. They grow quickly and have many different varieties from deep reds to yellow or white bulbs in varying shapes. They are hardy and can survive frost and near freezing temperatures, which makes them suitable for northern gardeners as well as an excellent long-season crop.

Turnips , True turnips are sometimes called summer turnips, to distinguish them from rutabagas, "turnips brother from another mother" that is indistinguishable from turnips other than their growing season. Rutabagas do best in colder weather and are often called winter turnips but can be grown either in spring or fall. Turnips do best in well-drained, well cultivated soil on a sunny site. Partial shade is acceptable.

Radishes are one of the fastest and easiest grown crops commonly grown in North American gardens, some varieties go from seed to salad in as little as 3 weeks. They are popular in salads and as snacks. They can be used as a marker crop when sown lightly along rows of slower germinating vegetables.

As with all root crops you should avoid excess organic materials and manure or fertilizers high in nitrogen. Excess nitrogen will encourage lush foliage at the expense of the roots.

Celeriac is a little known relative of celery. Celeriac is grown for its crisp tasty roots rather than its stalks. It has a taste similar to celery with a subtle fruit - nut like Flavor.

Jerusalem Artichoke is not related to true artichokes. It is in the sunflower family and closely resembles the common sunflowers. Also known as sun-choke. Jerusalem artichokes edible portions are the tubers that grow on its roots, they resemble misshapen potatoes and are sometimes called Casava.

Ulloco comes from the Andes mountains. It is a perrenial tuber similar to potatoes, but smaller and more colorful. So far as taste is concerned it is like a cross between potatoes and beets. Ulloco remains firm and crisp even when boiled. Yacon and Mashua are similar tubers from the same region.

USDA hardiness zones 8-11 are suitable for growing Ulloco tubers. They are grown in the same fashion as potatoes, from starts, other tubers. Growing from seed is possible but not recommended.

Jicama has the texture and crunch of a water chestnut, a mildly sweet taste and is quite juicy - not dry. The Jicama tubers can be eaten either raw or cooked. Above ground portions of the plant, which includes the foliage, flowers, seeds and stems should only be eaten by followers of Dr. Kevorkian - they are highly toxic - even deadly in some cases.

Growing Root Vegetables: A Directory of Varieties and How to Cultivate Them

Salsify is a biennial root vegetable related to Dandelions, it is best grown in cooler weather. It can be sown in early spring, and even when there is still chance of a frost, it takes time to mature - up to 150 days [120 to 150 days], and is best harvested in the early to mid Autumn for the highest quality.

The carrot like roots of salsify are what it is grown for. The root is similar in appearance to Parsnips being whitish, long and tapered. [There are also purple and Black varieties] The texture of salsify is soft - not crunchy like parsnip or carrot root. The taste is very mild and has been compared to oysters, it tastes very little like any other root crops.

Horseradish is generally relegated to the never never land of the culinary realm. Fresh garden grown horseradish however has a unique burning zesty zingy taste that can clear your sinuses and redden the whites of your eyes. It's a very easily grown plant that thrives in most conditions.

Horseradish is cold-hardy up to Zone 3, it's a perennial that grows best where there's ample cold weather to force dormancy.

Truffles are not a root crop but they do grow under ground. They are a subterranean fungus / a mushroom that grows on tree roots. They develop in varying shapes below the soils surface, and are not always easy to locate.

When cultivated, the roots of oak or hazelnut saplings are inoculated with truffle spores and then planted. Hazelnut trees are the most commonly used. The tree will produce nuts above ground, and you can also harvest truffle below the surface.

Herbs and Spices from Roots

Ginger is a well known spice derived from roots - rhizomes of the ginger plant. Ginger is most commonly started from rhizomes or cuttings . It is a tropical plant that can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 12.

Ginseng is a perennial herb that reaches roughly 1 - 2 feet at full maturity. Mature harvestable plants should have at least three leaves, each bearing five oval jagged edge leaflets. Blooms are a greenish-yellow and appear in midsummer, followed by visually appealing red berries. The berries are edible and healthy but not very tasty

Turmeric is a common ingredient in many Indian and middle eastern cuisines. It is used as a substitute for ginger to which it is closely related and is found in many recipes that call for curry as well. It is also known as Indian Saffron although it is not remotely related to true saffron.