I have a very short spring, especially this year. Usually I get my summer corn out in the beds in late February and harvest by late May. This year was an odd one. We froze all the way out into March and it was heavy freezes, too. Very bizarre for my part of the world, and I ended up getting my spring veggies in really late.
It’s now almost June and it is usually way too hot to be growing anything that likes cool weather. However, just like our weird spring our temperatures have been in the 80s this week. Usually we’re in triple digits by now.
I put a few things in that really did well this year. The turnips, daikon radish and Chinese mustard were especially happy. A lot of people have favorite spring vegetables. If you really like salads then growing lettuce might be your thing. For me, I’m not really into fresh leafy vegetables. I prefer thicker leaves like sweet potato leaves and chard, that I cook. About the only thing I eat fresh is kale and that’s because I can’t stand it cooked. But crush kale leaves with some lemon juice, freshly ground pepper and parmesan cheese and I will come running for it.
So, for me, growing lettuce is just not a good use of space. In fact, with threats of food shortages: I want as many calories as I can get in the spring, which steers me towards root vegetables.
The problem is that brassicas like turnips get bitter in the heat and there’s no fix to bitter turnips. So, even though I could try and grow them longer, I tend to pull everything early, before our oppressive heat kicks in. This year I grew a few new varieties and I was really happy with them.
I really recommend growing root veggies instead of say: peas. Peas are a pain in the butt to shell. If you want to grow a legume wait for summer and put in beans. So, because I have limited time and space I grow as many root vegetables as possible and I recommend you do too.
I get harlequin beetles and they destroy brassica leaves, but leave beet greens and chard (and I prefer both to brassica leaves) alone. So, if you follow my advice and you have a glut of root vegetables, how can you use them?
Something most new gardeners are not aware of, is that: things like radish (including daikon radish) and Chinese mustard roots can be cooked. Once you cook them they lose that spiciness and gain a sweeter mellow flavor. If you want the spiciness cook them less, if you want to have something more like a potato or turnip: cook them from the beginning along with everything else in your recipe.
You can also change things up by making match sticks with raw root vegetables and creating a refrigerator pickle or a ferment (like kimchi).
My personal favorite way to enjoy root vegetables is to cube and bake them with butter and herbs. I really enjoy eating any root vegetable (or mix of them) like this.
You can also bake root vegetables and then mash them like potatoes. Or add them to fill in a meat or veggie based soup.
Another way to use root vegetables is to slice them thin, and fry them (into something akin to potato chips) or bread them and fry them.
The problem with recipes is that you restrain yourself with specific ingredients. When the reality is that you can use many root vegetables interchangeably and get something unique and wonderful each time.
So instead of looking up a specific ingredient and what you can do with it, know that there is a broad range of things you can do. It might be better to think about what you want your end product to be. Are you interested in making it tonight? Do you want something that you can ferment or pickle to eat at your leisure? Or do you want to can your produce for long term storage?
With root vegetables all of these options are possible. This is why they are my favorite things to grow in spring and fall. I really encourage you to broaden your root vegetable experience and look around this summer and find new seed varieties to try this fall.
Red potatoes, garlic, onion and thyme. Trust me, there’s a million ways to cook and enjoy root vegetables! You just need to start with an idea and a goal.
See you out in the garden! Crazy Green Thumbs