Root crop report

Before our "polar vortex" hit earlier this week, I dug up the last of my root crops. Once the temperatures dip well below freezing, it's just about impossible to get them out of the ground so I knew it was a "now-or-never" situation.

I dug up leeks, beets, carrots and parsnips. I'm pleased with how well everything grew and thought you might like to hear what the final results were, since it's how I decide what to grow in the next gardening season. There's also storage information at the end.

Leeks - I mentioned this on my Facebook page recently but it bears repeating here. I normally grow 'King Richard' leeks because they mature fairly quickly (about 75 days) and develop thick stems. This year, I had some free seeds from a British gardening magazine I picked up so decided to try a completely different variety. It was Bluegreen Autumn 'Porbella'. I'd never heard of it before. They were slow-growing and I never could find out how many days it would take for them to reach maturity. By the time I harvested them this fall, most were thick enough but certainly not as robust as 'King Richard'. We've enjoyed some of them in leek-and-potato soup so far and will use the rest in a special casserole recipe or two. However, next year, I'll definitely grow 'King Richard' again!

Beets - I grew two varieties, 'Golden' and 'Detroit Dark Red'. While 'Golden' are a beautiful color, I'd have to say the 'Detroit Dark Reds' grew much better. The roots are more tender and even though I planted the seeds in the spring, the roots didn't become pithy or tough. I've heard beets grow better when planted in mid- to late summer and harvested in the fall. I just might try that next year. I'll probably just grow 'Detroit Dark Red', too.

'Tendersweet' (L), 'Starica' (R)
'Purple Haze'
Carrots - This year, I grew 3 different varieties: 'Tendersweet', 'Starica' and 'Purple Haze'. As you can see in the photo to the right, 'Tendersweet' (on left) has long, slender roots... so long, in fact, that they were a challenge to get out of the ground without breaking the roots! Some of them were over 12 inches long, which was impressive. They grew really well. 'Starica' (on the right) -- which I also grew last year -- has the stubbier, but still nice, roots. The next photo shows the 'Purple Haze', which I readily admit I grew for the novelty of it. The roots are dark purple on the outside and orange on the inside. What I don't like about this variety is that the dark purple actually stains just about anything it comes into contact with (sink, cutting board, fingers, etc.). I don't feel the need to grow them again. They did have a decent flavor, though, and if you're looking for something novel, it's a good choice! Just don't place them next to any other type of food that will absorb that deep purple color. I'll plant 'Tendersweet' and 'Starica' again next year... well, unless something interesting catches my eye, of course!


Parsnips (to left) - I have grown parsnips for years and just love their sweet, almost nutty flavor. This year, I grew 'Albion' and, as you can see, it was very successful. The roots are all a really nice size. That was just from a single 8-foot-long row, with the plants spaced nearly 4 inches apart! I'm going to write more about growing and eating parsnips later this week, but I'll leave it at this: if you you've never given them a try, you owe it to yourself to pick some up at the grocery store or farmer's market and see what you've been missing! Stay tuned for more info on them...

Storage of root crops - If you're wondering how I store the above types of  root crops, I generally rinse the soil off the roots, let them set in a cool, dark area for a day or two, put them into plastic bags and keep them in the refrigerator. A root cellar would work great, too, but that's not an option for me. One other possibility is to store them in single layers, separated by damp sand, either in a plastic tub sunk into the ground or kept in your garage. Some folks sink a small metal or plastic trash can into the ground. No matter what, store them in single layers just in case some develop mold. That way, you won't lose everything.