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5 Fun Root Varieties to Plant in Late Summer


It feels like summer is finally in full swing. You’re on a first name basis with the ice cream man, and now your teeth don’t chatter when you jump in the neighborhood pool. The electric meter spins like a pinwheel on a windy day. This time of year, root varieties like turnips and carrots may seem as out of place as an Emperor Penguin in Myrtle Beach, but in the Southeast, late summer is an ideal time to seed an assortment of colorful, and tasty root vegetable varieties that will be ready to harvest in the fall. 


Rutabaga (Swedes) Brassica napus napobrassica

Like turnips, rutabagas are cold resistant, and frequently prepared by boiling, steaming,  mashing, roasting baking, or frying. Their yellow to deep gold flesh has a rich, buttery flavor, that makes a hearty winter dish, when when mashed and served together with potatoes.The greens can be cooked like, kale, and they’re a good source of vitamin C, and believed to have the same anti-cancer qualities as turnips. ‘Gilfeather’ is an iconic, 1860’s  heirloom variety from Vermont with an exceptionally sweet root, and tender, sweet tops that are cooked as greens. ‘Laurentian’ is an excellent winter storage variety that was developed in Canada before1860.

This North American favorite, has a globe shaped, pale yellow root with a delightfully fine texture, and flavor. Direct sow in holes 1/2” deep, thin seedlings to 6” apart, in rows 12” apart. Rutabagas prefer a light, fertile soil with low nitrogen levels, and be sure to correct boron deficient soil by incorporating trace minerals.

Beet Beta Vulgaris

Until the 1800’s, beets were referred to as ‘blood turnips’, and grown mainly as a winter storage crop. Large, tapered roots were typically slow roasted to enhance their sweet flavor. The Beet has come a long way, since then, and cultivars have been developed that are sweeter, and more tender - just as tasty served hot or cold, sliced in salads, or steamed or boiled.

‘Detroit Dark Red’ is a popular, heirloom variety developed in 1892. The red and white rings of the pre1840, Italian heirloom ‘Chioggia’, make a fun garnish or an excellent choice for recipes that call for a white beet.

‘Bull’s Blood’ is a popular variety, often grown for the famously tender leaves, that are harvested long before the root develops. Sow seeds 3/4” deep, thin to 4” apart in rows 12” apart. Seeds must be kept evenly moist, and sown when extreme heat of summer has passed. unlike other root crops, beets benefit from added nitrogen. Mulch to control weeds, and keep seeds evenly moist.


Turnip Brassica rapa rapifera

One of several varieties, including broccoli raab and chinese cabbage, that were developed from an ancient cross breeding between kale and swedes. Modern cultivars have been selected for a globe shaped root, that varies from sweet, crisp flavor used in salads, to a more richer texture, cooked like potatoes in soups and stews.

Turnip greens  are high in phosphorous, calcium, and potassium, and both roots and greens are rich in vitamin C and folic acid. Sow seeds 1/4” deep, thin seedlings to 4” apart, in rows 12” apart. ‘Purple Top White Globe’ is a popular heirloom variety, developed before 1880, and the standard market and home garden cultivar. This white turnip has a purple shoulder at the top,and is best harvested when roots are about 3” in diameter.


Carrot Daucus carota

Yellow and purple carrots were first recorded in the 10th century, and since then, they've been used to make everything from syrup, jelly, and dye, to wine and liquor. For teh first few hundred years of cxultivation, carrots were purple.

Carrots grow best in light, sandy loam, that is free of rocks, and you can lighten heavy soils with peat moss or leaf mold.Remember that too much nitrogen favors top growth, and causes roots to become rough and branched, and that it's important to maintain high levels of potassium and phosphorous. Sow seeds 1/4” deep, 3 seeds per inch, thin to 2” apart, in rows 12” apart, and keep seeds evenly moist. Some growers cover newly seeded rows with burlap, or cardboard  to help keep seed rows from drying out on hot days.

‘Cosmic Purple’ is a spicy, purple skinned carrot with orange flesh, that adds a fun pop of color to salads and stir fry dishes. ‘Chantennay Red Core’ is a stocky, dark orange, French heirloom dating from the late 1800’s, that grows in heavier soils, better than other carrot varieties. 


Radish Raphanus sativus

A popular, fast growing root variety that has delighted with it’s crisp, spicy flavor for ages, radishes were given as rations, to workers building Egypt’s Great Pyramid. And, because they’re ready to harvest in as little as three weeks, radishes are especially fun for children to grow. By 500 B.C., radishes had made their way to Asia, where selection over many generations, produced larger, cold resistant cultivars, ideal for slicing and cooking in soups.

Modern favorites include the pre1885 heirloom,  ‘French Breakfast’ , and ‘Easter Egg’ - a round radish, in a colorful mix of white, red and purple. Time tested Winter storage varieties include the pre1824 heirloom, ’Black Spanish Round’, and ‘Migato Rose’. Plant salad-type radish seeds 1/2” deep, thin to 2” between plants, in rows 6” apart. For Winter storage varieties, allow 4”-6” between plants.Radishes can be planted in between rows of slower growing varieties, to maximize space and help control weed growth. 

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