Listen to this podcast on unusual root crops such as oca, crosnes and jicama.
In our culture potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes and sweet potatoes are favorite roots in many gardens and on many tables. But, there are other unusual roots that are worth growing in your garden. Here’s a few to try.
Crosnes (krones) is a mint family root, related the lamb’s ears perennial. It’s called Chinese artichoke for its artichoke-like flavor. Unfortunately, the small white roots look like an insect grub. But once you get over the shape, crosnes are tasty and easy to grow. In China, they are pickled and, in Japan, they’re dyed red for a New Years snack. They taste best roasted or sauteed.
Oca is an Andean root related to the houseplant, oxalis. In Peru, it’s second only to potatoes in importance. The small tubers can be yellow, purple or red and are eaten in many ways, just like potatoes. Start oca tubers after danger of frost has passed. Grow as you would potatoes all summer and protect the plants from a fall frost. They form their tubers around the fall equinox. The longer they can grow in the ground, the bigger the tubers. Harvest when the foliage eventually dies back and cure in a dry, light garage or room for one week to diminish the acidity and increase the sweetness of these tubers.
Jicama is a Central American root vegetable that needs about 150 frost free days to produce. It’s probably best grown in warmer parts of the state. It has a crunchy sweetness and is eaten raw in salads or cooked. Jicama is a vining vegetable, so grow it on a south-facing pergola, trellis or fence. You can even grow it in a container. The leaves are toxic, so pests and animals tend to avoid this plant. Come fall, keep it growing as long as possible to produce the biggest roots.