Rooting for Spring: Quick-Maturing Spring Root Vegetables

Deirdre Armstrong

Deirdre Armstrong › Deirdre Armstrong and her husband Phil own Harvest Thyme Herbs, a 6 acre specialty produce farm in ...


Spring has taken its sweet time to arrive here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and our chefs are as anxious as we are for something new and fresh and green. This week we finally have some warmth and sunshine, and I can’t wait to get outside and plant some of our most highly treasured spring crops: root vegetables.

Root crops don’t normally come to mind when one thinks of spring vegetables. But quick-maturing radishes, salad turnips and green garlic can be planted in the cool ground and harvested in as little as 25 days (radishes) to 45 days (turnips and green garlic). They stay sweet and crunchy because they’re pulled before the hot weather sets in, and it gives the impatient gardener a quick crop in the same ground that can then be planted to summer vegetables.

Here are the root vegetables that have consistently done well for us, and win rave reviews from our chefs. Happy planting!

Spring Radishes

These crunchy, colorful treats are the fastest growing spring root vegetable, maturing in 30 days or less. Sow seeds ¾ inches apart in a shallow ½ inch trench and thin to 1 ½ inches apart. Keep well- watered and harvest promptly to avoid the radishes becoming pithy or hot. Eat the thinnings in salad or float in a flavorful chicken broth spiked with soy sauce and sesame oil. Varieties to try include the elegant, cylindrical “French Breakfast” radish, with red shoulders tapering to a white root; “Pink Beauty,” a bright pink, round radish; “Purple Plum,” with gorgeous purple skin; and “White Icicle,” a tapered, slender white root.

Salad Turnips

So-called because of their sweet, tender roots, salad turnips are mild enough to eat raw, with delicious greens that can be added to salads or lightly braised. Sow seeds 1 inch apart for baby turnips, and thin to 2 inches apart for larger roots. These would be lovely as part of a Pinzimonio platter, that Italian celebration of raw vegetables served with the very best extra-virgin olive oil you can find. Whole turnips can be roasted and served on a bed of their lightly sautéed greens. Quick-pickled turnips are a tasty accompaniment to a charcuterie platter (see recipe, below.) Varieties to grow include “Tokyo White Market” turnip, with crisp white flesh, and “Scarlet Ohno Revival,” with scarlet roots and glossy foliage.

Green Garlic

Garlic that is meant to be harvested as mature, dry heads is planted in the fall from garlic cloves. We plant successive rows of cloves in the spring that grow into “green garlic,” plants that look like scallions, but have the unmistakable aroma and taste of garlic. Our chefs love to pickle these, make pesto, or chop and saute them as a bright-tasting alternative to garlic cloves. Plant cloves pointy- side up and shoulder-to-shoulder in furrows 4 inches deep. We just buy inexpensive supermarket garlic heads and break them up into individual cloves, leaving the papery skin intact. Use a garden fork to lift the plants when the leaves are 8 to 12 inches long, usually in 45 days or so.

Here are two great recipes for enjoying (and preserving) these spring root vegetables. I adapted the recipe for Pickled Pearl Onions & Turnips from Food & Wine Magazine, the recipe for Quick Pickled Spring Garlic comes from my good friend Chef Ian Boden of Glass Haus Kitchen.

Pickled Pearl Onions & Turnips

12 ounces pearl onions, peeled

12 ounces baby turnips, tops trimmed

3 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ cups champagne or white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons coriander seed

6 large garlic cloves, halved

4 long green or red hot chiles, halved lengthwise

16 dill sprigs

Quick Pickled Spring Garlic

1/2 lb cleaned spring garlic

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon coriander seed

1/2 teaspoon black pepper seed

2 each fresh bay leaf

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 teaspoons sugar


Pickled Pearl Onions & Turnips

Blanch vegetables by plunging onions and turnips in boiling water for 1 minute, then dunking them in ice water until cooled. Drain and pack evenly into 2 clean quart Mason jars. In another jar, combine the salt, sugar, vinegar, coriander and garlic. Shake until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add 2 cups of water and pour the brine over the vegetables. Tuck the chiles and dill between the vegetables. Add enough water to keep the vegetables submerged. Close the jars and refrigerate overnight or up to one month. Makes 2 quarts.

Quick Pickled Spring Garlic

In a small pan over low heat lightly toast all dry spices until they become aromatic. In a separate non-reactive pot, bring all of the liquids plus the salt and sugar to a boil then remove from heat and add your toasted spices plus the bay leaf. Tightly pack the spring garlic into an appropriately sized sterile mason jar and pour your brine to an ½ inch shy of the lip. place lid of jar on top and lightly tighten the ring. Allow to sit at room temperature till the button of the jar seals. If it doesn’t seal it isn’t a problem, just tighten the lid and let sit in refrigerator. Once sealed, store in a cool dark place. These pickles taste best if you allow them to sit for a week (unrefrigerated), but will hold for a year plus.

Seed Sources:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Wild Garden Seed

What are you planting for your spring garden?

Photo Credit: Deirdre Armstrong

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