More Root Vegetables

Potatoes are popular, but why not try a few of the vegetables listed here in your next garden?

By Lynn Coulter

Beets, spuds, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips and other underground crops are rich in many nutrients, including healthful fiber, folic acid, vitamins A and C, and assorted minerals. Most are also low in calories and packed with slow-digesting carbs that provide energy.

Potatoes are the root crops most of us grow, but why not try a few of the vegetables listed here in your next garden? They’re guaranteed to bring new and delicious flavors to your table, and with the following tips they’ll be all the easier to grow.

Gold or Yellow Turnips

We’re most familiar with white or cream-colored turnip roots, but these root vegetables are also available in varieties with buttery yellow or golden flesh. The edible green leaves are a good source of vitamin K, calcium and lutein.

Turnip seeds germinate quickly in soil that is kept moist. When the plants are up, water regularly to encourage lush greens and to prevent splitting or cracking in the roots. Flea beetles or other small pests may chew holes in the leaves, but the damage usually isn’t serious, as turnips grow and produce vigorously. The tops and roots taste better after a couple of light frosts, which stimulate sugar production, but harvest before the first hard freeze.

Purple, Gold and White Carrots

Carrot breeders have developed a rainbow’s worth of colors in recent years. But surprisingly, purple and yellow-gold carrots were known over 1,000 years ago in Afghanistan, and 700 years ago in Western Europe. While orange carrots are a well-known source of vitamin A, purple carrots are rich in anthocyanins, a class of pigments that act as antioxidants. Snowy white carrots are said to be sweeter and juicier than their orange kin, and contain phytochemicals, which may help lower the risk of some health problems.

Note: you may want to bake your purple carrots, or eat them fresh, as cooking releases their color into water.

Carrots need deep, loose soil that drains well, yet holds moisture. Plant the seeds directly in the garden in early spring, making two or three plantings about three weeks apart, for a longer harvest period. Thin to every 2”. Water and weed regularly. Pull or harvest with a spading fork when the carrots reach a usable size.

Red and White Beets

‘Chioggia’ is a delicious beet with alternating rings of sweet white and red flesh inside. It’s an Italian heirloom that made its way into the United States during the 1840s. Its mild taste makes it a good choice for pickling, boiling, freezing or baking.

Plant beet seeds directly in the garden after the last spring frost, in loose, fertile soil amended with good organic material. Thin to every 4” in rows 12” apart. Sow every two or three weeks for a steady harvest, and keep the soil uniformly moist. Cut the greens for use as desired, but let the roots grow to about 2” in diameter before harvesting.

Celeriac

Celeriac is the knobby root of celery. While it tastes mild, like celery stalks, celeriac has a different texture and must be peeled to reveal the white flesh inside. Try it in soups; in a platter of mixed, roasted winter vegetables; in slaws or salads; or mashed with potatoes.

Most gardeners find celeriac easier to grow than celery. Start the seeds indoors, 8 weeks before the last frost. When the seedlings are ½” tall, and daytime and nighttime temperatures consistently remain above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to harden them off, or slowly expose them to outside conditions, to avoid transplant shock. Do this by placing them outdoors in a sheltered spot for a couple of days, and gradually giving them more sun over a period of about one week. Then plant the seedlings every 6” to 8” apart in your garden, in rows 18” apart, in full sun. Celeriac likes moist, fertile, slightly acidic soil. Keep the roots covered with soil or mulch as they grow. Harvest when the roots are about 2” in diameter.

Parsnips

Although they’re related to carrots, parsnips aren’t as brightly colored, and have a sweeter cooked flavor. They’re packed with soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar. They’re also a great source of folic acid and potassium.

Plant parsnips in early spring, in loose, deep, fertile soil. Parsnip seeds are finicky, so sow thickly, about ½” deep, in rows spaced 18” to 24” apart. Use fast-sprouting radish seeds to mark the rows, since parsnips are slow to germinate, and pull the radishes as soon as they reach a useable size. The spaces they leave will allow more room for the parsnips.

When the seedlings appear, thin to 2” to 4”. Water and weed regularly, but don’t cultivate deeply, as this might injure the roots. Parsnips are ready for harvest when they’re about 2” in diameter. Parsnip is sweeter and tenderer after it’s been exposed to near-freezing temperatures for 2 to 4 weeks.

Rutabagas

Rutabagas, which are cousins to turnips, take on a mild, rich flavor after they’re touched by fall frosts. You may have heard them called Russian turnips, Swedish turnips, yellow turnips or winter turnips.

Rutabagas produce the best roots in cool weather, so time your planting accordingly, and sow their seeds about 3 months before the first frost of winter. Plant in ordinary, loose, rock-free soil that has been amended, if needed, to hold moisture. Sow the seeds 8” apart and ½” deep, and water regularly, so the roots don’t dry out and split. Hand pull weeds, or shallow hoe, to avoid injuring the feeder roots. Harvest when the roots are grapefruit-sized. Some gardeners overwinter rutabagas by covering them with mulch.

Sources for seeds:

W. Atlee Burpee and Co., http://www.burpee.com/

Victory Seeds, http://www.victoryseeds.com/

Territorial Seed Company, http://www.territorialseed.com/

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, http://www.johnnyseeds.com/default.aspx

Parks Seeds, http://parkseed.com/default.aspx

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