Root vegetables have been popular staples of many cultures for thousands of years, and come in many varieties. They can sometimes be challenging to plant since they grow beneath the soil, and require direct seeding into loose soil to allow their roots to flourish. Harvesting them also requires some finesse since their edible parts grow out of sight, and we often don’t know if the tubers or taproots are ready until we pull them out of the soil.
Generally, root vegetables are best planted during cooler seasons and in looser soils. “Most of these crops grow and taste the best when planted in July or August for fall harvesting. Plus, colors on the roots will develop more vibrantly in cool soils,” says Daniel Yoder, a research product technician at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in Maine.
While planting your root vegetables in a well-lit place is crucial, so is spacing their seeds and providing moisture for them to grow properly. “Provide low-volume but frequent, even moisture through germination,” Yoder says. “One big trick that a lot of people don’t think about is making sure you pre-irrigate your beds.”
Here are some great root vegetables that offer a lot of recipe variety, and should keep any beginning root veggie planter very busy.
First up are sweet potatoes, which are very hardy and relatively easy to grow, making them perfect for novice root gardeners. You can purchase their seeds at your local grocery or gardening store, farmer’s market, or online.
Although named “sweet” potatoes, they can be lower on the glycemic index depending on how they’re prepared and cooked. For instance, according to a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, boiling sweet potatoes will allow them to be within a low to medium glycemic index, while roasting them will raise them to a higher one.
Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin A, B5, and C, potassium, and antioxidants.
Carrots are not only one of the most popular root vegetables enjoyed the world over, they’re also one of the healthiest, whether juiced or pureed, eaten raw, sautéed, or steamed. Carrots contain antioxidants called carotenoids that give them their vibrant orange color.
Consuming carotenoids may play a crucial role in preventing or mitigating age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to a study published in Archives of Ophthalmology. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss.
Turnips have been cultivated by many cultures for thousands of years. They have a distinct flavor and they’re loaded with nutrients. Turnips can provide a substantial amount of vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, manganese, calcium, fiber, and vitamin B6.
Another great thing about turnips is that there are so many varieties that you’re sure to find some that suit your tastes. They come in the form of root bulbs with or without greens; their leafy parts are also very nutritious and delicious. And one of the best things about growing turnips is that you can harvest the greens multiple times while the turnip is still growing.
For the turnips themselves, you can boil, steam, sauté, grill, and even fry them up as you would potatoes.
Garlic is a root vegetable that originally hails from Iran and Central Asia. It is closely related to onions, leeks, chives, and shallots. One of the simplest plants to grow, garlic is popular among many cultures in soups, salads, sauces, and main and side dishes to amplify their flavors. Being one of the easiest root vegetables to sow and harvest at home is a good thing, since store-bought garlic is typically treated with chemicals to lengthen its period of peak freshness.
Each serving of garlic boasts a good amount of several important nutrients, including manganese, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. Garlic’s medicinal properties are mainly attributed to allicin, a defense molecule that activates once garlic cloves are minced, crushed, or chopped.
Beets are sturdy root vegetables that come in a wide array of beautiful colors, from scarlet to vibrant purples and oranges. Growing and harvesting beets are great ways to exercise, and consuming these nutritional all-stars can do wonders for your overall health.
For example, the powerful nitrates found in beets promote the dilation of blood vessels, which can help to lower blood pressure and therefore improve heart health. Beets add an alluring splash of sweetness and color to your favorite recipes, while providing lots of extra nutrition for you and your family.
This article was first published in Radiant Life Magazine.