PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
How to grow unusual root crops
Winter is the perfect time to grow root crops. Many of these benefit from cold weather as the chill causes stored carbohydrates to convert to sugar, creating sweet, delicious vegetables. Sow them from April onwards to ensure a steady winter harvest.
Kohlrabi is a delightfully odd-looking vegetable. Varieties range from very pale green to purple.
Growing tips: Sow seeds in seed trays and transplant when about a month old. They like full sun and welldrained, fertile soil. Keep weed-free and well-mulched.
Kohlrabi benefits from an organic slow-release fertiliser, such as Talborne’s Vita Veg 6:3:4. Add it to the soil before planting. Foliar feed with liquid fertiliser when new leaves start forming. Regular moisture prevents the bulb from splitting.
Pests and diseases: Protect young seedlings from snails and slugs with beer traps, brass barriers or organic snail bait. Harvesting and eating: The bulb is ready to harvest after seven to nine weeks – don’t let it grow too big otherwise it becomes woody. Harvest by cutting the bulb off at soil level. The leaves are edible, with a mild f lavour and chewy dense texture even when cooked. To reduce this, either slice leaves very finely or purée them.
The bulb has two fibrous outer layers that need to be peeled away. Kohlrabi has hints of both cabbage and turnip f lavours. It’s versatile and can be steamed, stuffed, puréed, stir-fried, made into chips or eaten raw.
Celeriac is grown for its delicious fat root. ‘Bianco del Veneto’ is a fibreless heirloom variety.
Growing tips: Its tiny seeds take a long time to germinate and are best sown in seed trays. Don’t cover as they need light to germinate. Set the seedlings slightly lower in the ground than they were in their seed tray.
Celeriac is shallow rooted and needs regular watering. To encourage bulb development, remove the outer leaves to expose the crown. Side dress with Talborne Organics’ Vita Veg 6:3:4 eight weeks after transplanting.
Pests and diseases: Watch out for slugs and snails. Protect as mentioned. Harvesting and eating: Celeriac takes four to five months to reach full maturity. Unlike many root vegetables, it doesn’t store large amounts of carbohydrates and is therefore low carb. It can be eaten raw (thinly sliced in salads) or cooked (roasted, puréed or added to soups). Either way the tough exterior needs to be cut off first.
Instead of the regular red radishes, try these more unusual varieties.
‘Hailstone’, as its name suggests, is pure white and round with a delicious mild, crisp taste.
The round ‘Spanish Black’ has a much bolder, more peppery f lavour than red radishes.
Daikon, a large white tapering radish popular in Japanese cooking, has a sweet, mild taste and crisp texture.
‘Easter Egg’ is round, ranging from pink to purple or white. Growing tips: All radishes grow easily from seed and benefit from being buried slightly below the surface – about 1–1,5cm deep. This and regular moisture encourages them to produce fatter roots. Thin them out so they have space to develop to a decent size. ‘Easter Egg’ and ‘Hailstone’ are quick to germinate, but daikon and ‘Spanish Black’ need more space and time to mature.
Pests and diseases: Cutworms, slugs and snails all enjoy radishes. Protect as previously mentioned.
Harvesting and eating: ‘Hailstone’ is ready after only three weeks, quickly fattening into round bulbs with an earthy, sweet taste. It’s best eaten raw. Start harvesting ‘Easter Egg’ after a month, but if you leave them longer they stay crisp. Daikon is ready after about 60 days. To prevent the tops from breaking off when pulling them out, gently loosen the soil around the root with a fork, holding the tops as close to the ground as possible. Young daikon are best eaten raw and larger ones can be lightly stir-fried or added to soups. The green tops are also edible. ‘Spanish Black’ takes about 55 days to harvest. Raw, it adds a hot bite to salads (peeling the skin lessens the heat). If they are too pungent, cooking tames the f lavour.
Unusual looking kohlrabi is delicious, healthy and easy to grow.
Kohlrabi benefits from regular moisture.
Although it looks gnarly, celeriac’s crisp, fat root is delicious.
A rainbow mix of radishes.
Daikon takes longer than normal radishes to reach maturity, but is worth the wait.