Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

The Roots of the Matter

by Susan Littlefield

At this time of year, many gardeners are digging up buried treasure. We're not talking about pieces of eight, but those delicious root vegetables that have been fattening up underground and are now ready to unearth for some delicious eating. While the harvest of carrots, beets and the like may have begun earlier in the season, fall is a time when many of the root vegetables produce their most bountiful crops. And, given the right conditions, many of these tasty roots can be stored for enjoyment later in the fall, sometimes even into the winter months.

Roots Line-up

Root crops are those vegetables that develop their primary eating part below the surface of the soil. While they all need fairly similar growing conditions, botanically speaking they are a mixed bag, representing several different plant families.

Carrots One of the most familiar of the root crops, carrots are in the Apiaceae or carrot family. They are nutritional powerhouses, full of the beta-carotene that our bodies covert to Vitamin A, a well as Vitamins K and C. Carrots are available in a range of sizes and shapes, from small, round ball types to long, slender, pointed Imperator varieties.

Beets These members of the Chenopodiaceae or goosefoot family not only deliver delicious roots but edible and nutritious greens as well. And while we may describe things as "red as a beet," these veggies are also available with golden colored flesh.

Turnips, rutabagas, and radishes All these cabbage family members provide us with tasty roots. Fast-maturing radishes and turnips are great choices for both spring and fall planting, and like beets, turnips also can be grown for their edible leaves. Earthy rutabagas take longer to mature and store well.

Here are just some of our root crops to try in your garden:

'Ruby Queen' Beet — This popular canning variety has a fine, buttery texture and uniform, dark-red interior.

'Scarlet Nantes' Carrot (68 days) — These 6-inch long, blunt-tipped carrots have a sweet taste and uniform orange interior.

'Imperator 58' Carrot (77 days) —Long, slightly tapered roots have a medium orange color.

'American Purple Top' Rutabaga (100 days) —Purple-topped, globe-shaped roots have creamy yellow flesh with a fine flavor.

'Seven Top' Turnip (40-50 days) — This variety is grown only for its dark green leaves, which are harvested when they are young and tender.

'Chinese White Winter' Radish (60 days) — With square tops and blunt tips, these 8-inch long radishes have creamy white skins and crisp, solid, snowy flesh.

'Sparkler' Radish (25 days) — Almost round, with bright scarlet skin and crisp, tender white flesh, this quick maturing radish is popular with home gardeners.

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