Autumn Heroes: Growing and Cooking Root Vegetables

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Enjoy fall and winter root vegetables for fresh food even during the cold months.
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Turnips are easy to enjoy oven-roasted with olive oil and herbs, mashed with butter and garlic, or turned into a hearty soup.

Mother Nature has a knackfor providing us with something delicious and nutritious to eat fresh during every season. For fall and winter, homegrown and locally grown offerings include plenty of root vegetables. These cold-weather superstars range from sweet to nutty to spicy, providing the base for many meals and even desserts.

Root Vegetable Recipes

Artichoke Heart and Jerusalem Artichoke Pasta Recipe
Carrot Ribbons with Sorrel Pesto Recipe
Three-Layer Parsnip Cake Recipe with Cream Cheese Frosting

Of course we all know about potatoes and carrots, but you might be surprised at the wide variety of edible roots.

Taproots: burdock, carrot, celery root, chicory, jicama, maca, parsley root, parsnip, Peruvian parsnip, radish, rutabaga, salsify, scorzonera, skirret, turnip-rooted chervil, turnip

Tuberous roots: earthnut, kudzu, mauka, prairie turnip, sweet potato, yacon, yucca

Rhizomes: arrowroot, galangal, ginger, ginseng, licorice, lotus root, turmeric, wasabi

Corms: arrowhead, enset, konjac, malanga, taro, water chestnut

Stem tubers: Andean potato, crosne, groundnut, Jerusalem artichoke, mausha, oca, potato, tigernut, ullucos, yam

New Roots

Try these lesser-known roots to expand your seasonal eating options.

Celery root: This starchy fall and winter seasonal veggie tastes like mild, sweet celery. It’s easy to grow in almost any climate and is becoming more available in markets. Peel the fuzzy brown skin, then dice and braise, roast or boil. Try this: Mash half boiled potatoes and half boiled celery root, then stir in milk or yogurt, butter, roasted garlic, salt and pepper.

Maca: This sweet taproot native to the Andes is getting easier to find thanks to its superfood-level nutrient density. You can find dried maca in the bulk section of your natural foods store, or online through Navitas Naturals—add it to smoothies and baked goods.

Salsify: Salsify roots are beloved by European chefs for their delicate oysterlike flavor. This fussy root is difficult for novice gardeners to grow, but can be found at fall farmers markets. Choose medium to large roots that are not heavily forked, and store them in cool conditions, where they’ll last throughout the winter. Try it steamed, roasted, boiled or fried. Keep recipes simple to enjoy the unique flavor. For example, sauté peeled roots in butter until soft, then season with salt.

Growing Root Vegetables

Root vegetables are easy to grow for gardeners at any level. In most parts of the country, roots you plan to harvest in the fall and winter need to be in the ground by mid- to late-summer. If you live in a warmer climate, you have additional time. Whether you’re going to squeeze in a few roots this year or are already planning next year’s garden, use these tips for root gardening success. 

1. Plan what to grow. Make sure you grow what you love to eat by first making a list of the root vegetables your family enjoys most. Next, ask gardeners around your area about the root vegetables that grow most prolifically; garden center staff or farmers market growers might have good advice on choosing crops that pay off big. If it’s your first time growing something like turnips or kohlrabi, start with just a few plants and ramp up next season if your family loves it. If you want to plant something you’re not used to cooking, buy a few and try out some recipes so you’ll have them in your arsenal when the garden starts pumping out plants.

2. Plan when to grow it. About three months before your first fall frost, you can sow seeds directly in the garden for the following plants: beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, radishes and turnips. You can also set out transplants of kohlrabi and bulb fennel. Some roots, such as potatoes, are best planted in spring; they’re considered cold-season standards because they’re so hardy, they can last a long time in a root cellar or refrigerator. To learn more about how to plant every kind of root crop, including lesser-known gems such as burdock and scorzonera, try our garden planner.

3. Plan for best results. Feed the soil by working finished compost or aged manure into the top half-inch or so of your garden beds to give new plants the best possible start. Once plants are set out, apply plenty of mulch (grass clippings, hay, rotted leaves) between plants to keep the soil underneath cool and moist, and to help prevent weeds from taking hold. Always keep root vegetables well-watered. This is easiest if you install soaker hoses in the garden beds. Even a short spell of dry weather can take a toll on root veggies. To help deter pests during the height of summer, suspend lightweight row
covers over new seedlings.

Read more: For more on growing root vegetables check out A Guide to Root Vegetables.

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