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Onions, ginger, potatoes and carrots

Onions, ginger, potatoes and carrots

It’s time to dig into a fascinating subterranean subject: root vegetables. According to the boring dictionary definition, root vegetables are edible plant roots or modified stems that have evolved or been bred to act as energy storage organs for the plant as a way of storing up sugars, starches, other carbohydrates and nutrients.

But that’s like describing vintage champagne as grape juice that’s a bit fizzy. The fact is, root veggies aren’t bland at all. If all you’ve ever experienced is ground ginger off the spice rack or horseradish out a jar, then you’ve never tasted them. Fresh ginger has a symphony of tastes that can make Asian dishes soar and when you have a bit of fresh-grated horseradish with your roast beef, your eyes will water… with pleasure!

Fresh Horseradish

Fresh Horseradish

These are what we mean by staple foods. Root vegetables are among the most versatile, diverse and nutritious things that can come out of your garden. A properly mixed crop of root vegetables can not only give a beautiful harvest of fresh, colourful bulbs and tubers, but can set your table with dishes packed with vitamins and other nutrients.

A lot of what we call “root” vegetables are actually modified plant stems, but taproots are the real deal. A taproot is an enlarged root that’s broad at the top, fleshy and tapers off at the bottom. From this, little fibrous roots spread. Some tasty varieties of tap roots include beets, radishes, turnips and…

Did you know carrots aren't always orange?

Did you know carrots aren’t always orange?

…Carrots! They are such a sweet, crunchy and low calorie treat that even my dog tries to sneak them off my daughter’s plate. Did you know that carrots aren’t always orange? It’s true. They can come in any color from white to purple. It wasn’t until Dutch plant breeders in the 17th century got going that we had the long, orangey treats we have today. At the store, we have several seed packs of heirloom carrots in a rainbow of colors.

Okay, here’s one you might not know. A bulb is a root vegetable, but not a root. That’s right. It’s a fleshy, globe-like stem that lets plants like tulips and dahlias survive the winter. It also gives leeks, garlic and elephant garlic (no, it’s not the same) their crisp, pungent goodness.

Copra Onions

Copra Onions

Ah, the onion! People have been eating onions for at least 5,000 years. The Egyptians had a prayer, “Lord, give me bread and onions” and the builders of the pyramids were fed them. And ancient Greek athletes used to eat huge quantities of onions while training.

There are gorgeous varieties of onions: Walla Wallas, Copras and Red Zeppelins as well as the more familiar yellow, white and reds. All parts of the onion are edible and you can eat them on their own or as an ingredient in salads or soups; boiled, fried, or roasted, the list is endless!You want to talk onion nutrition? Onions are packed with antioxidants and have potential anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, anticancer, and antioxidant properties. Onion extract may even reduce scars.

Walla Walla Onions

Walla Walla Onions

If you want to have a go at growing onions, remember that they’re a cool-weather plant and if it’s too hot they grow and flower too fast. This means it’s best to start them indoors to give them a headstart on their four-month growth cycle. Plant them as soon as the ground is workable and you can harvest in early summer.

The root vegetable most of us are familiar with is tubers. They are another modified stem, but instead of bulbs, they come out as a starchy growth for both storing food and reproduction. They include yams, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts and one of my favorite comfort foods, potatoes.

Austrian Crescent Potatoes

Austrian Crescent Potatoes

Potatoes are bursting with goodness. They’re the egg of the root world and a person can live healthily on potatoes with just some milk or butter to make up the vitamins A and D that potatoes lack, so pass the mashed potatoes!You can even be adventurous with your garden-grown spuds. Branch out from the comfortable Russets and Reds and you’ll find the delicious and cool new varieties we have at The Plant Farm. Austrian Crescents are rich, firm fingerling potatoes prized by chefs. Viking Purples are vibrant, deep-purple mid-season potatoes. They adapt well to many types of potato dishes, but I think they’d make an awesome mash.

Viking Purple Potatoes

Viking Purple Potatoes

With potatoes, carrots and onions growing in your garden, you have the foundation for hundreds of delicious dishes to feed your loved ones. To get the best seeds and starts, and skilled advice from our knowledgeable staff, come down to The Plant Farm. We can get you set up to grow a successful root vegetable garden. Here’s a delicious tuber-and-bulb-based recipe to tempt your taste buds:


Sweet Onion and Potato Bake

6 potatoes (or 12-15 Austrian Crescent Fingerlings), do not peel
2 large sweet onions, such as Walla Walla onions
1 stick butter (or 1/2 cup of oil for lighter option)
1 tsp. salt (or salt substitute like Mrs. Dash)
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 clove garlic
optional: for added kick add 2 tsps. of mustard or play with other spices you enjoy.

Slice onions and potatoes about 1/4″ thick. Create alternate rows of potato and onion in casserole dish. Melt butter and add seasonings. Pour over potatoes and onions. Bake in a 400 degree oven, covered for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes.

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bare-root-trees…Bare root that is. You knowledgeable shoppers know that getting a good bargain means you skip the pretty packaging and grab the good deal when it appears. It’s exactly the same with bare root season. We’ve mentioned in previous blogs that buying the bare root version of plants is an excellent way to save money, but there’s more to it than just stretching your dollars.

Kip Litehiser

Kip Litehiser

For instance, there’s the outstanding variety of plants available in bare root form. According to Kip Litehiser, our edibles expert, bare root season is when you’ll find the best selection of your favorite edibles like cane berries, grapes and blueberries. “It’s also a superb time to start working your soil,” he says. “The soil is starting to warm up, even at night, so you can get your bare root edibles into the ground, so they can take off. And we’re all itching to get our hands in the dirt.”

Ryan Sanders

Ryan Sanders

We’ve also just heeled in the rows and rows of ornamental trees (above) and shrubs we’re offering in 2013. When I talked with our Landscape Design expert, Ryan Sanders, to get his top pick for this coming season, he said, “I like the dappled willows. They are a year-round visual interest with variegated leaves that are creamy white to soft pink in season. In the fall and winter the branches are a brilliant red; a very eye-catching ornamental specimen.” He also suggested the flowering plum and cherry trees because of their early, beautiful spring blossoms.

Dappled Willow

Dappled Willow

Another great reason to buy bare root is that the plants have a larger root mass, which means they are ready to spread out and establish themselves in the soil right away. This translates into healthier, happier, more productive plants. Ryan had a couple of other bare root tips, like picking up a transplant fertilizer. Working the fertilizer into the soil before planting helps reduce transplant shock and gives your plant a good initial food source. Staking your newly-planted bare root trees until they are firmly rooted in the soil will also increase success.

Mary Archambault

Mary Archambault

I’ll give you one more reason. My favorite, in fact: it’s so much easier to transport and handle the bare root plants. Without the extra soil and pot, even I can lift them into the car and work them into the soil at home by myself. Mary Archambault, one of our Certified Professional Horticulturists on staff, told me she was able to transport three bare root fruit trees in her little Saab recently.
One drawback to the bare root season is the limited window of opportunity. These babies are going to start waking up soon and when they do we have to send them back to our production team and start potting them up. bare-root-blueberriesThat means now is the time to grab that great deal. Come check out the selection and talk with our knowledgeable staff members like Mary, Kip and Ryan!

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