Purple Haze carrots

It seems that when we are sequestered indoors, our bodies yearn for warmth, both internally and externally. We naturally crave those earthy flavors of root vegetables such as carrots, beets, parsnips and even rutabagas. So, plan a visit to the winter farmers’ market or raid your own root cellar for any combination of delectable root vegetables. Cook up your roots into a rich soup (with the added sweetness of a butternut squash), dish up a bowl, cut a slice of rustic bread, and pull your chair up next to the fire.

Start planting roots crops

It’s time to start planting root crops. They are perhaps the easiest of vegetables to grow. Cool season crops, they bracket the garden season or can be planted multiple times for yield all season long. You can put the seeds into the garden as early as possible. The seeds will not be harmed even by heavy frost, so as soon as the thaw starts, get them out there. If your garden is prepared, you can even cast the seeds on the snow to get the earliest start as soon as they hit the soil.

Purple Haze carrots

Don’t forget fall planting

At the other end of the season, start planning the fall crop in July. Carrots and beets go in around the middle of the month, turnips the first week.

Easy to grow

Root crops grow well in any spot in the garden that receives six to eight hours of sun. The most critical element to healthy growth is preparing the soil deeply to have good tilth, with nothing to impede the growth of the roots. We’ve all seen carrots with forked roots – this usually is due to the tender root hitting something it cannot grow through so it moves off at an angle. The soil should be of average fertility and the plants should be mulched to keep the soil moisture even.

Chioggia beets

Plant frequently

Planting every two or three weeks will keep you in carrots and beets all season. My favorite beet is Chioggia, an Italian beet that is creamy white or pink with dark rings. The best feature is that these beets will stay tender all season, not becoming woody as some beets do when left in the ground.

Spiralized Chioggia beets

And now for the soup: 

Winter Root Vegetable Soup

Root vegetable soup

You really can use any combination of vegetables. Vary the flavors with different combinations and add herbs to give you further nuances of flavor. This soup is creamy, savory and slightly sweet, an amazing comfort on a cold winter evening. 

Use one cup of vegetables for each serving. This recipe serves  6-8 although you can cut it half easily. It also freezes well. 

Beets, carrots and parsnips ready for roasting

6-8 cups root vegetables (any combination of carrot, beet, parsnip, rutabaga, turnip, salsify, celery root, sweet potato, butternut squash) cut into ½ inch pieces

2 cloves garlic

¼ c. olive oil

1-2 t. salt as needed

¼ – ½ t. fresh ground black pepper (to taste)

1 small sweet onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 quart chicken or vegetable broth

½ t. dried or 1 T. fresh herbs of choice – basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a low-sided broiler or jellyroll pan, place vegetables and drizzle with about two tablespoons of olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until all vegetables are tender when pierced. Sprinkle with salt immediately upon removing from the oven. 

Roasted vegetables ready to puree

While vegetables are roasting, in a large pot over medium heat, saute onions and celery in the remaining olive oil, stirring until the onions are translucent. Add pepper, herbs and stock. Bring to a simmer. Stir in roasted vegetables and heat through. Puree with an immersion blender or in small batches in a food processor or blender. If soup is too thick, thin with water, more broth, or creamy it up with half and half or coconut milk. 

Ladle into bowls, grate fresh pepper on top and drizzle with fruity olive oil. Serve with crusty, rustic bread and a crisp cabbage salad.


Pump, juicy garlic cloves ready to be planted

Garlic goes with anything! In fall, sauteeing a minced clove with sweetened kale, chard or Brussels sprouts makes the ordinary sublime. And that doesn’t even begin to describe what happens to the last of the tomatoes when garlic is introduced into luscious sauces. Home-grown garlic is wonderfully intense, unlike the garlic you find in the grocery store.

Plant garlic now

If you haven’t planted your garlic yet, it’s time to get it in the ground for next year. It’s important to plant early enough in fall to give the bulbs plenty of time to develop a sturdy root system yet not so early that they put out leaves in fall. If they get a good start, they will send out healthy foliage the following spring and you will be harvesting garlic in mid to late summer.

Garlic and terroir

Garlic is known for its affinity to the soil (called terroir), meaning that if you can purchase garlic bulbs from a local source, you will usually have larger cloves right away. Ordering it from another region of the country means it may take two or three years of repeated planting before you begin to get large bulbs.

If you don’t have a local source, garlic bulbs are available at most garden centers and nurseries. Supermarket garlic is often treated with a sprouting inhibitor, which takes a long time to wear off and can slow growth.

Hardneck and softneck garlic

Hardneck garlic

I’ve always had the best production from hard neck types of garlic and, although this type doesn’t keep quite as well as soft neck, the flavor is more intense. Hard neck garlic sends up a tall stalk in the middle of the leaves in early June. The stalks are topped with curly seed heads called scapes, which should be pinched out to allow the plants to put more energy back into the bulbs. The scapes are edible and can be used in any way you normally use garlic cloves. Soft neck garlic has no central stalk and will keep for six to nine months if properly cured.

Spanish Roja garlic, one of the tastiest

How to plant

It’s hard to give them up to the garden, but I save the biggest cloves from this year’s crop for planting next year’s garlic. Prepare the garden bed with a fresh covering of compost and dig a trench about two to three inches deep. Soybean meal is a good slow-release fertilizer that can be sprinkled in the trench (make sure it’s from non-GMO soybeans if you are growing organically). If you have rich soil, this is not necessary. Put the blunt end down, about three to four inches apart in rows about a foot apart. Water in well and cover with three to four inches of straw or leaf mulch to keep the weeds away and the ground moist. If your garlic sprouts in fall, don’t worry. It will go dormant and then start up again in spring.