Root Vegetables - roots, bulbs, tubers
Root vegetables are really down-to-earth types of vegetables. They are typically easy to grow, easy to store, and offer a good variety of flavor, texture and color.
Drawbacks of this type of vegetable include location at ground level and sometimes well underground. This means the vegetable needs to be pulled up or dug up, and that can be an effort.
It also means that you'll need to be prepared to clean them off.
Let's look at some of the root crops to see what might strike your interest. I'll keep the discussion at the general level as a good introduction to root vegetables and their benefits. We can always get into details later when planning our garden.
Common Root Vegetables
Here are root vegetables common to vegetable gardening. If you find one that interests you, then you might give it a try. The general types are arranged alphabetically.
Beets are a good standard of the root vegetables. They can be prepared several ways and offer roots, stems and leaves for our consumption. There is nothing quite like beet greens sauteed in butter.
Most of us are familiar with pickled beets, but just try them sauteed in butter for a real treat. We're also used to seeing red beets, but they come in white, gold and striped as well.
Carrots are a well known member of the root vegetables family, but they aren't what they used to be. The carrot family today can be long and lean, short and stout, or a nice medium size with a healthy diameter. They can also be a traditional carrot orange, or appear as yellow, white or purple.
They are commonly used raw in salads, or mixed with steamed potatoes and cabbage to complement corned beef. They can also be pickled with other vegetables, or prepared as a side dish all by themselves. Peas and carrots, carrots and onions, or just carrots sauteed in butter make a nice part of a meal.
Less commonly known in the world of root vegetables is celeriac. It's a type of celery grown not for it's stems, but for its root. The root has a nut-like flavor and grows to baseball size or larger. It needs a bit of peeling before cooking, but is delicious sauteed in butter.
Celeriac, like other root vegetables, is also a good type of vegetable for storage.
A favorite in the kitchen is garlic. It's a favorite of mine, and I enjoy it in many ways. Garlic is a bulb that grows much like an onion. It splits and divides itself to reproduce the plant.
Often sold as a bulb for you to break apart and plant, garlic can also be sold and planted as seed.
Garlic can be used as a seasoning in many dishes, or as a spread for bread. I also like eating garlic on a cracker after it's been baked for a while. Raw garlic is hot and has quite a bite. Cooked garlic is smooth and flavorful.
Garlic can be minced, chopped or dried and powdered for later use. In my book, it ranks right up there with onions.
Green onions have several names. They go by scallions and bunching onions. We eat all of the greens above the shaft, the white portions of the shaft, and the bulb-like portion that grows below ground right next to the hair roots.
They aren't exactly a root crop, but they're close enough for me.
Horseradish is one of the less commonly known and grown root vegetables. It is more properly called a weed because of its ability to grow in almost any environment, and find its way into places where you don't want it. This persistent root is often planted inside bottomless barrels to keep it from spreading through root propagation.
The hot pepper root of the horseradish plant is used to make a sauce or spread for sandwiches and meats. Beware, if you try to process this yourself, it can be an adventure. Be sure to do it where there is plenty of ventilation.
Kohlrabi is an one of the interesting types of root vegetables because although we eat the root, the portion that we eat isn't grown below ground, but rather just above the surface of the soil.
Only the tap root penetrates deep into the soil to provide nutrients and support for the baseball size vegetable that sits just above the surface.
Kohlrabi is a cool weather plant that is good when eaten raw or cooked. Just trim off the stems, slice off the hard top and bottom, and peel it much like a thick apple.
Leeks are very similar to bunching onions in that we don't really eat the root. With leeks, we don't eat the green leaves that are on the very top of the shaft, just the shaft and the bulb right above the hair roots. Leeks can be a good over wintering crop, and they are certainly very cool weather hardy.
Use leeks in soups, stews and some sauteed dishes in the place of onions.
How about onions? Another bulb type vegetable, onions come in various shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. Some are hot and get your attention, while others are mild or even sweet.
Onions require a long growing season, and some are designed to winter over for harvest the next spring and summer. Many types are good keepers as well.
The colors of onions varies a bit from a reddish purple to yellow to white. Onions are generally sold as bulbs, but can also be sold as young living sets as well as seed.
Onions tend to be round or tear drop shaped, but can also be rather squat shaped as well. Generally, the more flat or squat shaped the onion, the milder its taste.
Parsnips are one of the root vegetables that perhaps many of us haven't tried. They have a flavor all their own, and they are great in soups and stews. Some varieties are especially sweet.
Parsnips are very much like carrots, except they are cream or white in color. This is one vegetable that you might be digging up throughout the winter, or in the very early spring to enjoy with a hearty stew.
We certainly can't leave potatoes out of the discussion, even though they aren't truly one of the root vegetables. They've been a reliable standard for centuries, but they're a tuber, not a root. Tubers are growths that form on the roots.
It might not be appealing that we eat an underground plant growth, but that's what we do.
Potatoes come in a range of colors, shapes, sizes and flavors. The standard russet potato that you find in the store is a bit bland when compared with some of the red potatoes, yukon gold, blue potatoes and others.
Growing potatoes is most often done using seed potatoes, but it can also be done from seed.
Perhaps the easiest root crop of them all is the radish. I remember planting radish seeds as a kid and watching them grow from a tiny seedling to something that we could eat. Radishes grow in about 30 days, and they are a good cool weather performer.
Radishes vary in color from yellow to red to purple to white, and just about every combinations of those colors. The flesh is usually white, but there are varieties with pink or reddish flesh.
Some radishes have a bit of a bite to them, and others are very mild. Radishes have a good deal of fiber and are almost exclusively eaten raw.
The rutabaga is a relatively fast growing and good keeping member of the root vegetables. They are often grown for use in soups and stews, and can be kept in the cellar or left in the garden for a winter harvest in milder climates.
Mature rutabagas are about the size of a softball or a bit larger, and they have a purple top with yellow flesh.
Shallots are a smaller and milder version of an onion. They are much more subtle and delicate in their flavor, but are grown and harvested much like onions. In terms of size, the shallot much more closely resembles garlic than it does onions.
Turnips are a good root crop if you like both a root vegetable and a green. Turnips have a unique and mild flavor, and are great eaten raw with a dash of salt. Turnips can be a little woody if not grown properly, but usually they are sweet and consistently crisp in texture throughout.
The greens of a turnip can be harvested by simply slicing some off of a row of turnips that are left to grow. They are best prepared as you would a green like collards. Put a little dash of cider vinegar on them, and you have a nice dish of greens.
Basic Requirements of Root Vegetables
Root vegetables generally need loose, well drained soil, but aren't typically demanding in terms of soil richness. Many are naturally cool weather plants that perform well in the spring and fall.
If you plan to harvest late into the season, just leave your root crop in the ground and mulch heavy. You'll be surprised at how well the root vegetables can take lower temperatures if given a little protection.
Enjoy vegetable gardening, and try some new varieties of root vegetables to make good use of their hardiness, unique flavor, and suitability for various dishes.
Done with Root Vegetables, take me back to List of Vegetables.