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Why we’re expanding our root crops | New World Seeds & Tubers

In case you don’t recognize it, the picture is of an Oca plant, showing the harvest of tubers underneath it. I’m almost finished transplanting Oca, which is not the usual practice in growing them, but was necessitated by a small disaster earlier in the year. Long story.

We’re not promoting Andean root crops other than potatoes; we grow them mostly for fun and to sell to people who really really want them and have conditions to actually grow them. They’ll be ready in November. Sorry; that’s their schedule; they’re all day-length sensitive and we’re quite far from the tropics!

One we might promote despite the usual problems with Andean crops might be Yacon (aka “Bolivian Sunroot”); I think this one might be worth the trouble. Grow wherever Dahlias are grown; it’s a similar plant with similar climactic adaptability.

Hopefully most of our customers can grow the root crops that we’re more serious about.

I’ve noticed that Rutabagas have gotten hard to find in American produce markets.

I don’t think they were ever popular except among immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany, and Scotland (“neeps”). Most other Europeans won’t touch them. In southern Europe to the extent they’re grown at all, they’re likely to be animal fodder.

Persians eat them. They boil up quantities of them, refrigerate them, and eat them as snacks.

Rutabagas are useful because

  • They store well–better than potatoes in cold climates
  • They are significantly more cold-hardy than potatoes. Grown as a summer crop you are unlikely to lose them to cold as you might potatoes in a late cold-snap. In some climates they can be replanted in August and overwintered in the ground.
  • They’re fairly substantial; you can eat them as a staple.
  • They’re a little less starchy than a potato, and rich in fiber. They score only 5 on the glycemic load scale.
  • They contain some B vitamins and are fairly rich in vitamin C, though I would guess quite a bit of the C is destroyed in cooking.
  • They contain some provitamin A, the yellower their flesh the more they contain

Rutabagas are reputedly a stable hybrid between a Turnip and a Cabbage, but the line between Turnips and Rutabagas is sometimes blurred, probably due to back-crosses. We’ve got a few crops in this category that people argue whether they are rutabagas or turnips.

Generally speaking, Turnips are usually harvested young and tender, and are not as substantial as a Rutabaga. They typically don’t keep as long either. They’re typically white-fleshed, though at least one variety available has yellow flesh. Skin color varies, but is typically white, sometimes with a green or purple top.

Turnips usually have the milder flavor; Rutabagas are usually a bit cabbagey-tasting. Either can be fairly sweet but Rutabagas tend to be a little sweeter, probably because they tend to be harvested more mature.

I’ve always had either one cooked. Rutabagas are probably a bit tough to use as a raw vegetable, but baby turnips would probably work.

One of my quests is for root crops useful for non-leafy salads. The idea is to have something that stores better than leafy crops do, and is therefor available locally over a long season, versus imported greens. It’s also to have raw vegetable dishes that are more substantial than a leafy salad, to go with a lighter and healthier entree.

Some of the bigger, milder, turnip-like radishes might be useful for that purpose. Something like a typical Chinese radish, big and off-white green with green shoulders.

Salad is what I have in mind for Yacons. They’re sweet, but not sugary, and crisp. South Americans already use them in salads, especially fruit salad.

I’ve had a devil of a time finding Rutabagas because Americans rarely eat them anyway. I’m trying to find enough variety so that we can identify varieties with fine-grained, preferably deeply-colored flesh, and good flavors. So far I’ve got about 4 varieties and am working on a 5th. If you know of good ones send us recommendations.

Turnips have been easier to find; we’ve got a good variety of those. I’ve also got some Asian varieties of both turnips and turnip-like radishes.

I’ve got a few odds and ends like Salsify, Scorzonera (some people say the greens on this one make good leafy salad, whereas the root they say is disappointingly bland), and a few other odds and ends including Maca (yet another Andean vegetable–sometimes called “Bolivian Ginseng”). Not sure how coldhardy the Maca is so it will have to wait until spring.

I have been lazy about growing carrots. I would like some coldhardy varieties known to overwinter well. Those tend to be rare in the USA; I’m trying to see what I can import from Europe.

I’ve only got one beet variety, the Lutz, because it’s the one known to overwinter well. The whole point is to grow crops that are easy to store.

We’re a little behind growing out root-crop seed OTHER THAN potatoes (we are one of the few suppliers of True Potato Seed (TPS)), because we’ve been busy with the potatoes and grains this year. We should have a few rutabaga and turnip seeds for sale by late winter, and more varieties coming online for fall planting next year, spring planting in two years. Sorry, folks, most of them are biennials. Luckily we grow our crops in a part of the world where winters are cold enough to vernalize them, but not cold enough to kill them.

I’ve had Skirret for a while but it’s been an orphan looking for a home. I wanted to plant it at our farm, but the ground was not ready and in any case I didn’t have a suitable spot–it’s a perennial though usually grown as an annual. Might work better as a perennial though, because reputedly you get fatter, less fibrous roots that way. Anyway, I can’t sell any until I get a good crop of seed; we’re not licensed as a nursery and in any case it’s easier for me to handle seeds than plants or roots. For lack of better solutions they’re all planted out in my back yard at the moment.

Oca, Mashua, and Ulluco TUBERS (not seed–everything except Oca is sterile!) will show up in small quantities in November for a few folks who need them early; the rest of you can get them late winter. Yacons will start showing up next year.

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7 Responses to “Why we’re expanding our root crops”

  1. Red Cored Chantenay overwinters reliably until May in my gardens east of Portland in the Columbia Gorge. I also grow and store in situ Lutz, Turga parsnip, Joan rutabaga, and Golden Eckendorf mangel.

    • Thank you for the valuable feedback. I’ve got the Lutz Beet and the Joan rutabaga; I’ll have to look up the parsnip and the mangel.

      My impression is that mangels are usually fed to livestock, which is interesting because prices for livestock feed have been going up, and I suspect that some folks are going to start considering growing their own livestock feed. At least one website suggests the Eckendorf is palatable enough for human fare as well.

      I like parsnips but I’ve never bothered to grow any. I’ll probably add them to my list as I get other root crops under my belt.

  2. Hello!
    Nice to see that you grow Rutabaga. Here in Sweden we grow them alot and eat them often as a dish called rotmos, which is potatoes, rutabaga and sometimes parsnips and carrots, boiled together and mashed.
    There are several kinds them available, but the most coloured would be “Vige” (a norwegian type) has a really dark red-bronze neck, Brora (english) also has a red neck as well as Magres (also english) and Sollrot (old swedish) also red. These seems to be the most coloured found in trade.
    In sweden we called them K√•lrot (cabbageroot), but in south-swedish old-dialect they are “rotabagge”.

    Thanks for your good work!

  3. I grow Purple Top rutabega in Mississippi. I normally sow them a little thick, then thin when the leaves get about 6 inches tall. The greens are good cooked by themselves or mixed 50/50 with mustard greens. II normally cook a big stock pot at a time and freeze the leftovers in quart freezer bags. Don’t forget to include the potliker and work the air out of the bag before you seal it. When the rutabegas are mature, peal the rind and slice them like steak fries. Put a little flour and seasoned salt (like Lawry’s) in a bag. Put the rutabegas in the bag and shake to coat. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake them in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Better than potatoes.

  4. Good luck with the ocas. Do your plants flower regularly?
    I like skirret and feel that it could, with some serious effort, become a northern adapted arracacha analogue. It is certainly very hardy, although I lost my plants to verticillium wilt this summer, ironically in a very dry spell. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of variation in the plants I’ve seen, suggesting that the gene pool is pretty narrow.

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