Welcome to the final installment of my four-part series, Sanctuary Gardener’s Favorites. I’ve already shared my favorite nightshades, legumes, and cucurbits. (If you missed any of them, see the links at the end of this post.) Today, I will share with you my favorite root vegetables and greens.
Root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes, are usually cool weather crops. Here in Charleston, we have to be concerned about the weather being too warm to grow them, rather than too hot. These types of crops do well when planted in the fall, but we can also plant them in late winter – early enough for them to mature before it gets too warm.
I’ve grown several varieties of carrots, but I keep going back to this one as my main carrot crop. I seem to get the best germination from this variety, and they grow well in our climate. The six-inch roots are bright orange and have a wonderful carrot scent when pulled from the dirt. The taste is sweet (lingering in your mouth for up to a half hour!), and the root has very little core so it’s very tender. I eat them raw, cook them in various dishes, and have even dehydrated them.
My first beet crop was Detroit Red, the standard beet. However, after several attempts, I realized I wasn’t having good success and tried Early Wonder. I think part of the issue was my soil (it gets better every year, thankfully), but I don’t think Detroit Red likes my garden climate. The Early Wonder beet has performed much better. Although I still don’t have the germination rate I would like, this beet has grown the best for me so far. The magenta red root of this very old heirloom is sweet and roasts well. The greens are also good sauteed like other greens.
Like most of you, I love purple top turnips. However, I’m not going to discuss that variety here because most everyone grows it, and it’s the standard turnip in the grocery stores.
The Golden Globe turnip wasn’t a variety I wanted to grow. I couldn’t find purple top turnip seed locally one year, so I grabbed the only turnip seed package I could find – the Golden Globe – and I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. This turnip is similar in size to the purple top turnip, but it doesn’t have the familiar bite. The root is a golden color throughout, with a mild taste that is almost buttery when cooked. If you don’t like the sharp taste of most turnips, this variety is for you.
My all-time favorite radish is the watermelon radish. I love it so much, I planted an entire bed of it this fall. (They’re great keepers if you refrigerate them in tightly sealed zipper baggies.) This Chinese variety, also called red meat radish, grows to the size of a small turnip and takes about 60 days to mature. It has a mild bite to it and looks wonderful in salads. The root is green or green-tinted cream outside with bright rose red flesh surrounded by a ring of cream inside.
When cut, this radish resembles a slice of watermelon!
If you’re looking for a quick maturing, mild radish, this variety is wonderful. Maturing in just 30 days, this radish has a 2 inch bright purple root with a crisp, white center. The taste is mild and can even be eaten by itself on a veggie tray or as a palate cooler after spicy dishes. I now grow this variety in my garden every year.
I have lumped together both summer and fall crops from various families and called them greens. Whether spinach, kale, or lettuce, I have a favorite…or two.
I started growing this heirloom because it holds up to hot weather better and longer than most spinach, and it does perform well in my garden. The large, textured leaves are tender and sweet enough to eat raw in a salad; but they’re also good sauteed in olive oil and garlic. I harvest by the leaf (until the end of the season), and the large plants continue growing well into the spring, even after several harvests.
Although this variety is a member of the same species as chard and beets, it is more like spinach in its shape and taste. The great thing about this variety is that it will grow ALL SUMMER in our Charleston heat! I planted it this past spring for the first time, and it never bolted no matter how hot it got. The leaves are tender when harvested young, and taste just like spinach when cooked (or eaten raw).
I love this kale! The plants are compact and grow large, curly blue-green leaves that are delicious in soups or cooked with other greens. This variety is very cold hardy, and I’ve grown it from fall through spring, harvesting by the leaf until the spring planting.
I grow several varieties of lettuce, and it was hard to pick just one or two favorites, but these are the varieties I will grow every year.
From the first time I grew this loose-leaf variety (and tasted it), I was hooked. It germinates faster than other varieties I grow, and it is a colorful plant in the garden. The red leaves have a light green base and maroon-bronze tips which add wonderful color to salads. This lettuce is very light, soft, and almost buttery in taste.
Reine des Glaces
This crisp head variety is a newcomer to my garden. I am growing it now for the first time, and I have already decided it will be in my garden every year. The stunning, lacy green leaves are pretty enough to grow in my front yard, and they have a wonderful flavor. According to the seed packet description, this variety is slow to bolt and holds up well in the heat. I will plant this in the spring and see how long it will grow.
For many people, escarole isn’t a crop they would even think of growing. However, this Italian cook needs escarole for chicken soup, escarole and beans, and even salads. The only variety I will grow is this one. The plant grows thick, slightly curled green leaves with a white heart. You can harvest this by the leaf or full plant. Eaten raw, the leaves have a slight bitterness. However, all bitterness is removed when cooked.
I’ve had good success growing this variety, and some plants actually come back the following year. The large leaves are deep green and can be eaten raw or cooked. The stems are white and become quite tender – and tasty – when roasted. I will plant this variety every year.
Now you have all my favorites for the Southern garden….for now. I am constantly trying new varieties, looking for better performers and new favorites. If you have any varieties you like to grow year after year, please share them with me in the comment section.
And stay tuned for future updates to my favorites. A gardener can never have too many favorite crops.
MORE OF SANCTUARY GARDENER’S FAVORITES