Vermont Garden Journal: Growing Unusual Root Veggies

Jan 5, 2018

In our culture, potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes and sweet potatoes are favorite roots in gardens and on tables. But there are other unusual roots worth growing.

Crosnes (or krones) is a mint-family root, related to the lamb's ears perennial. It's called Chinese artichoke for its artichoke-like flavor. Unfortunately, the small white roots look like an insect grub. But once you get over the shape, crosnes are tasty and easy to grow. They taste best roasted or sauteed. 

Oca is an Andean root related to the houseplant, oxalis. In Peru, it's second only to the potato in importance. The small tubers can be yellow, purple or red and are eaten in many ways, just like potatoes. Start oca tubers after the danger of frost has passed. Grow them as you would potatoes all summer and protect from frost in the fall. Harvest when foliage eventually dies back and cure in a dry, light garage or room for one week to diminish acidity and increase the sweetness.

Jicama is a Central American root vegetable that needs about 150 frost-free days to produce. It's probably best grown in warmer parts of Vermont. Jicama has a crunchy sweetness and is eaten raw in salads or cooked. This is a vining vegetable so grow it on a south-facing pergola, trellis or fence. You can even grow it in a container. The leaves are toxic so pests and animals tend to avoid it. Grow it as long as you can in the fall to produce the biggest roots.

Now for this week's tip:  assess your seed-starting supplies now while you have free time. Consider purchasing new pots, more seed-starting soil, heating mats and new lights for the growing season.