Root vegetables are an important garden crop, not only because they are nutritious, but also because they can help maximize your growing area by giving you two crops for the space of one. Let’s take a look at the various benefits of root crops and which ones to grow based on your needs.
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Root crops are known for their high nutrient value, and these nutrients are found both in the roots and the leaves, giving us two nutrient-dense harvests in one space. First we’ll take a look at how to choose a root crop for your needs. Skip to the bottom for growing tips and recipe ideas.
Root Crops with the Best Edible Leaves
Although root crops are usually grown for their root production, they produce an abundance of edible greens that can reduce food expenses and catapult the nutrient density of meals.
Here are my favorite root vegetables to grow for their leafy greens (chosen for their nutrient density, ease of harvest, and their usefulness in the kitchen):
- garlic (scapes)*
*To harvest garlic scapes, grow a hardneck variety. I love chesnok red.
Root Crops with a High Yield
If maximum yield per square foot of growing space is important to you, the following root vegetables are the ones to plant.
Easiest to Grow Root Veggies
Beginners and busy gardeners: These are the easiest to grow. You may not get the largest crop with some of them, but you’ll be successful, and that’s a great place to start.
- sweet potatoes
Root Crops to Plant mid-Summer for a Fall/Winter/Early Spring Harvest
The following are root crops that I sow July through mid August, grow them throughout the fall, and harvest them in the winter and early spring. As the temperatures get colder in the winter, you may need to consider frost protection such as row cover or a cold frame.
Root Crops that Store the Longest
The following root crops are harvested in summer and fall can store for a long time to give you fresh produce in winter.
- turnips (the purple top variety stores the best)
*Onion varieties are categorized by their ability to grow in different day lengths (short-day, long-day, or day-neutral). In my area, growing zone 6a, I choose day-neutral varieties. For more info on choosing the right kind of onion for you, see this article and this one.
Best Root Crops for Nutrient Dense Carbs
Many root crops can replace grains in meals without sending your blood sugar through the roof (aka the good carbs!). Since most of us can’t grow grains in our own backyard, these are the roots that I use often for my grain-free, low-carb meals.
These crops are also good to have around for basic emergency preparedness like for power outages or winter storms that may affect your ability to buy and store food.
- sweet potatoes
Although most root vegetables can be eaten raw (save potatoes and sweet potatoes), they are often enjoyed more when cooked (FYI I love grating fresh root vegetables over a salad–all the nutrition without the taste).
In an emergency situation, you’ll want to have a rocket stove (it can cook a whole meal with just twigs as fuel!) or other outdoor cooking source to prepare your root vegetables. Keep the following supplies handy in case of an emergency: A cast iron skillet (here’s mine), a healthy fat to grease the pan such as ghee or coconut oil, bottled/filtered water for rinsing, and a vegetable peeler (I just purchased this one and it’s awesome!). Saute root veggies until soft and season with salt.
For some people, nutrient density will be more important than the productivity of a certain root crop or how long it stores. Aside from being a source of healthy carbs, root vegetables are also extremely high in vitamins and minerals. The following tubers top the charts in nutrition:
My Favorite Root Veggies
The following are the root vegetables that I think are absolutely delicious and versatile in the kitchen, and which I enjoy growing the most.
- carrots (Red core chantenay carrots do pretty well in my clay soil)
- daikon radishes
- sweet potatoes
I love the edible greens of beets and daikon radishes, and think the roots are delicious when roasted. Here’s my video about roasting root vegetables:
Carrots of course are good to have around for a healthy snack. Garlic helps season food and saves you from needing to buy high priced herbs and spices from around the world.
Sweet potatoes are probably my favorite vegetable to grow since they store well and are simply delicious. They can be finicky in northern climates (they like it hot), but I’ve had great success with a variety called Georgia Jet.
Interesting, Lesser Known root crops to try
There are plenty of lesser known root vegetables that didn’t get highlighted in this post, but are definitely worth checking out. They have many of the same qualities as more common root vegetables, in that they are nutritious, many of them store well, and can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.
- celery root
- fennel bulb
- parsley root
- shallot bulbs
I try to grow at least one lesser known root vegetable in my garden each year to broaden my palate. You never know what you’re missing until you try it!
Resources for Growing and Harvesting Tips + Using root vegetables and their greens in the Kitchen
If you’re ready to get started growing some of your own root vegetables, the following resources can help you to be successful and know what to do with them in the kitchen.
Along the lines of using the tops and bottoms of root vegetables, this post by Family Food Garden has some good tips.
- This post of mine covers it all: Growing & Harvesting Beets Year-Round + Recipes
- Carrot Woes: Germinating with Burlap by 104 Homestead
- See my Tips for Growing Carrots and my Growing Fall and Winter Carrots to get started right.
- Planting Carrots that will Grow Long and Straight by Grace Garden and Homestead
- 6 Ways to Preserve Carrots by Homespun Seasonal Living
- How to Dehydrate Carrots by Grace Garden and Homestead
- How to Freeze Carrots by The Rustic Elk
- Spicy Carrot Sunflower Soup by Homespun Seasonal Living
- Superfood Cole Slaw Recipe by Joybilee Farm
- How to Grow Garlic by Common Sense Homesteading
- 10+ Ways to Use Garlic Scapes by Grow a Good Life
- Lacto-fermented Garlic Scapes by Learning and Yearning
- My post about When to Harvest and How to Store Garlic has some great tips, even how to use leftover garlic plant matter to repel pests in the garden!
- Making Fermented Garlic and Ways to Use It by Learning and Yearning
- My post How to Make Garlic Powder will help you preserve your garlic when you’ve grown too much or would like a convenient way to use garlic in the kitchen without any prep work.
- How to Grow Kohlrabi by Little Sprouts Learning
Try my Cream of Greens Soup, which uses any combination of edible greens. Add your choice of protein and you have a complete, nutrient-dense meal.
Greens and herbs can be dried! This post by Little Sprouts Learning will show you how.
- Growing Onions from Seed – 5 Tips for a Great Harvest by Common Sense Homesteading
- How to Harvest, Cure, and Store Onions by Common Sense Homesteading
- Growing Early Potatoes in Cold Frames by Stoney Acres
- Growing Potatoes Using the Hilling Method by Stoney Acres
- How to Grow Potatoes in a Bucket by The Homesteading Hippy
- How to Store Potatoes Most Efficiently by Grace Garden and Homestead
- How to Can Potatoes by The Homesteading Hippy
- How to Make Dehydrated Potato Flakes from Scratch by The Homesteading Hippy
- Lacto-Fermented Radishes and Turnips by Attainable Sustainable
- Radish Leaf Pesto by Attainable Sustainable
- Growing and Using Rutabagas by Homespun Seasonal Living
- Rutabaga and Daikon Peanut Slaw by Homespun Seasonal Living
- Growing Sweet Potatoes by Attainable Sustainable
- Early Greens: Sweet Potato Leaves by Attainable Sustainable
- See my post Harvesting, Curing, and Storing Sweet Potatoes to make sure your sweet potatoes last through the winter!
- My post Bacon and Turnip Scramble is a delicious breakfast recipe.
- Braised Turnips and Apples Recipe by Homestead Honey
- Recipe: Turnip Hash Browns (I eat these hash browns as a breakfast or side dish. Dee-lish.)
For information about storing root vegetables without a root cellar, see this post by Melissa K. Norris.
What are your favorite root vegetables? What is your primary motivation for choosing which root vegetables to grow?