Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Plan for root crops

Here I'll lay out a rough idea of how many of which roots I would grow and eat on this site on an annual basis. I'm only including truly perennial, plant-replant perennials, and self-seeding biennials. We've had very poor success with growing annual root crops (carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, etc), most likely due to a combination of slug pressure and our unwillingness to baby the tiny plants (tilling/killing the soil into a fine seedbed, weeding, and watering).

Seasonal availability

I've found from our harvests this year that we have plenty of roots in the fall, winter, and early spring, with jerusalem artichokes, skirret, mashua, and yacon forming the bulk of our harvests. Wapato, oca, and canna lily all have potential for providing substantial harvests, but I only try in this post to estimate the future contribution of oca. For now I'll assign wapato and canna lily to the category of "minor roots", which add some diversity to our diet and to the garden, without any individual species providing a significant harvest.

We need to plan most carefully for root harvests from mid spring through late summer. Annual roots could fill the gap, but I'm not planning for them in our future harvests.

Summer harvestable rootsMinor roots
PotatoEvening primrose
CamasSolomon's seal
Dandelion (year round)Lovage
Yellow asphodel (year round?)Sweet cicely
Cinnamon vine bulbilsCinnamon vine taproots
Scorzonera (year round)Sea kale
Grape hyacinthLily
Triteleia spEarth chestnut
Brodiaea spWoodland chervil
Dichelostemma spBurdock
Erythronium spDahlia
Annual rootsDaylily
Chinese artichoke
Canna lily

For details on these plants, see my notes on perennial roots part one and part two.


Daily average

I figure I could eat about 2 ounces per day of garlic, elephant garlic, shallots, and other perennial oniony bulbs. On top of the garlic, I'm targeting 12-14 ounces per day of other roots. I suspect I'll eat more roots in the winter, and fewer in spring and summer when I have more greens and fewer roots available.

Monthly root consumption

December - March (four months)

Harvesting skirret, jerusalem artichoke, and minor roots from ground as needed. All mashua, yacon, and oca should have been dug after the first hard frost; now eating them from storage.
RootPounds (all 4 months)
Jerusalem artichoke10
Minor roots5


Skirret and stored roots starting to sprout, so eating the last of them. Relying more heavily on jerusalem artichoke
Jerusalem artichoke12
Minor roots1


Not much available
Jerusalem artichoke (preserved via fermentation)10
Yellow asphodel1

June & July

Early potatoes & some other roots now available as summer drought kicks in. Harvest all camas to cook as one big batch.
RootPounds (total for two months)
Jerusalem artichoke (preserved via fermentation)5
Yellow Asphodel5
Cinnamon vine bulbils5
Grape hyacinth2


Mostly relying on starch-rich potatoes and cinnamon vine bulbils, with miscellaneous inulin roots providing some variety
Cinnamon vine bulbils8
Yellow Asphodel3
Campanula sp1
Grape hyacinth1


Similar to last month, but cinnamon vine bulbil production may have slowed down??
Cinnamon vine bulbils3
Yellow Asphodel2
Campanula sp1
Grape hyacinth1


Skirret available again!
Jerusalem artichoke8
Minor roots2


Assuming we don't get a hard freeze yet, so not harvesting mashua/oca/yacon yet
Jerusalem artichoke11
Minor roots3

Annual root totals

RootPounds to eatPounds to replant
Jerusalem artichoke56
Garlic/elephant garlic455
Cinnamon Vine bulbils16
Minor roots11
Grape hyacinth4

Land required

I won't try to give square foot requirements for each root, as I would mostly operate on guesswork. Jerusalem artichokes and mashua yield us about 3 pounds per square feet, and I suspect I could grow them together to make even more efficient use of space. Yacon, potatoes, oca, and skirret in the sun should all yield .5 pounds per square foot or more. So all in all I'll assume a conservative average yield of .5 pounds per square foot, giving a requirement of about 700 square feet of growing space.

Note on jerusalem artichokes

To make the inulin of our jerusalem artichokes digestible, I've started cooking them for 2-3 days as we run the woodstove (usually one fire in the morning, and one in the evening), so that they cook for at least 10 hours total. If we didn't have the wood stove running anyway, it wouldn't make nearly as much sense to rely so heavily on this root as a staple. (Though I still need to experiment with fermenting the jerusalem artichokes--many people do this, and I've heard it helps with the inulin.)

Roots as chicken fodder

Prioritize yield and ease. I think mashua and jerusalem artichoke make the most sense, though I have to admit that our chickens have not been very excited about jerusalem artichokes cooked for 1-2 hours til mushy. I haven't yet tried feeding them roots cooked for 10 hours, or tried feeding them mashua.

If chickens will eat cinnamon vine bulbils, and if the chickens don't peck the young shoots to death, these could work very well as a self-foraged summer starch.


Unknown said...

How do you store your J. Artichokes?

Mine get soft and brown really quickly.

Norris said...

Hi Steven,

We live in Portland, OR, where the ground rarely freezes, so we just leave the j. artichokes in the ground and dig them as needed. (Generally in batches of 3-4 pounds at a time, which I then cook as one batch for a few days on the wood stove.)


Unknown said...

Well that is why I eat them only in November and March. because between then, the ground is frozen like a rock in New England

Norris said...

It turns out our chickens are actually eating jerusalem artichokes raw! I'm now guessing they could eat an ounce per day per hen, but I'm just basing this on a couple of occasions where they've had access to large raw tubers and I've watched them happily eat them to nothingness.

Norris said...

I hadn't thought of this before, but it might make sense to preserve some winter roots for use in the summer, to spread out the availability. This may be easier than, or at least provide a good supplement to, growing annual or perennial roots for summer harvest.

Methods could include fermenting (friends had good success doing this with jerusalem artichokes), perhaps drying, and canning. This could utilize heat from the wood stove running in the winter anyway, and utilize free time over the winter. This kind of flips on its head the traditional annual based summer canning rush...but makes a lot more sense in a lot of ways!