Skip to content

Roots of My Labor

January 13, 2011


Pretty much this is why I try to grow my own food.  The chain of custody doesn’t have too many links in it.  I don’t worry about my kid eating any of the food we grow here, even in its natural state.  Whether it is carrots or meat and milk, we know where it has been.

I suspect this is why many people don’t want to grow their own food.  It’s dirty and hard work.  But this is the real deal.  Our cold weather disappeared with a warm front – it felt like a spring day today.  Just like a root cellar, I have to check on the roots in the garden, watching for vole or freezing damage and just generally to gauge just how the supply is holding out.

I like the snow insulation we have been having as of late, but it does give the voles a free rein too.

Della and Ruthless.

On the digging agenda today was roots for Jane, the kitchen and specimens for seed production.  It’s been quite a journey growing roots for the milk cow as a grain replacement.  I started when Della was a young cow, the first was carrots, it proved easy to grow an extra 300 row feet and store them because they keep in the soil in our location until April.  Dig as needed.  And then the epiphany, when I read in an older copy of Feeds and Feeding about Channel Island farmers growing parsnips for winter feed for their cattle.  Perfect!  Since Guernseys are a Channel Island breed.  Parsnips are even more frost resistant than carrots and keep as well, sometimes until May.

Parsnip stecklings for seed.

Immediately when I read that about parsnips, it made perfect sense, the more deep-rooted a plant is, the more minerals that plant has access to, which in turn makes for a more nutritious vegetable.  You can see in the photo above just how much deeper that parsnip grew compared to the carrot.  Root crops fell from favor when farms became more mechanized and grain was easily harvested and shipped.  And root crops were and still are considered peasant food and not nearly as romantic as corn and other warm weather crops, after all they just sit there quietly doing their job of harvesting sunlight.  No fanfare, no quaint planting methods or tricks, just plain ol’ roots.

I have to say though, that the no muss, no fuss roots that take us through the winter, carrots, rutabagas, beets, potatoes, celery root and parsnips definitely have a place on my survival list.  Or at least my vegetable list… .

What are your favorite vegetables that take you through the winter without fail?

46 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 11:52 pm

    Our collards are holding up well and the freezes seem to have sweetened them. Still lots of kale, chard, and beets as well. But my fave is Yukon Golds from the cold room! 🙂

    • January 14, 2011 2:05 pm

      Risa, I have to say potatoes are my favorite too, along with onions – both everyday fare here!!

  2. January 14, 2011 4:05 am

    My favourite are carrots. They are so sweet and your own definitely have more flavour.

  3. January 14, 2011 4:36 am

    Onions and winter squash. But we can not store outside, with the -20F temps. These are the things that store the best in our root cellar. Also I store garlic and potatoes. I tried to do carrots in a sand box but that didn’t work.

    I tried to do cabbage in an outside hay bale cellar, that was a flop also. But the first year I grew cabbage, I couldn’t get it harvested before a hard frost. So I covered it with sheets and piled a single leafs from hay bales over them, like teepees. In the spring when I could finally get these off them, I was very surprised to find the red cabbage had survived pretty well.

    I can over winter parsnips, but there’s no digging them, especially this year, as the ground’s frozen 2’+ down. I harvest 3/4 of them after the first hard frosts and dehydrate some and freeze the rest. They aren’t as sweet as spring ones, but they are nice roasted.

    I wish I could do the roots like you do, as the cows and chickens would love them.

    • January 14, 2011 2:09 pm

      Pam, we don’t have one place to easily store everything, the onions and garlic are in the canning room, the squash in an unheated bedroom, potatoes in the barn, and the rest of the roots in the garden. I couldn’t imagine storing enough roots to feed a cow through winter if I couldn’t store them in the row.

      Red and Savoy cabbage have been the hold outs here also, although we don’t get as cold as you for sure. Thank heavens. I’ll just keep my rain.

  4. January 14, 2011 5:08 am

    My husband and I have it on our 2011 to do list to put in a cold frame so we can harvest greens, such as kale and types of lettuce, throughout the winters to come.

    • January 14, 2011 2:10 pm

      Allison, you will be glad you did, there is something about harvesting through the winter that is very satisfying.

  5. January 14, 2011 6:01 am

    Love the picture of Della and Ruthless….so sweet and yet so sad. Glad you have the memories and this awesome picture! As far as what crops keep us in winter…..well let’s just say I hope our gardening does better this year than it did last year…..:-o

    • January 14, 2011 2:11 pm

      Kristen, me too – although that day (Della’s first) was pretty exciting, we were all quite taken with her and that continued on to the end.

      Hey, Next Year is our favorite saying around here! 🙂

  6. Lucy permalink
    January 14, 2011 6:04 am

    I’m thinking along the lines of a cold frame as well.

    The photo of Ruthless and Della brought tears to my eyes.

    • January 14, 2011 2:13 pm

      Lucy, it doesn’t take much extra for a little season extension and the rewards are tremendous!

      Poor Della, I am sure she knows she is missed, Jane is a good diversion though, and she has her Mama’s devil streak, but she is a good girl. 🙂

  7. January 14, 2011 6:13 am

    Can’t claim any, yet, since I didn’t get a garden in this year. Hopefully will fix that in 2011. But eating locally gives me roots and kale, so hopefully I’ll have that much…Am thinking of setting up a system of deep trays on wire shelving in the south-west facing mud room next winter, and trying for arugula, spinach, miners’ lettuce. Temps seem to be staying around 45 in there, so I think I should be able to get some greens.

    On a related note: I’ve never been able to keep rosemary in a pot. But this year I got 2 of ’em that I pulled inside – both are root bound and should be miserable. But one is in bloom (north window!) and the other (south window) kicked out 2.5 inches of fresh growth since I brought them in, in early Dec. I’d wondered how I’d survive w/o rosemary, I used so much of it in CA. Maybe I won’t have to.

    • January 14, 2011 2:16 pm

      Hayden, congrats on the rosemary, that’s amazing growth for winter!

      Greens on the shelf sound great – those cool weather crops keep on chugging away almost down to freezing. Here’s to 2011!!

  8. January 14, 2011 7:33 am

    Zucchini is typically our bumper crop. I cut/grate/dice up every bit that we don’t use in the summer and pack the freezer with it. We enjoy it in stir-fry, minestrone, zucchini bread, etc. all year long until the next crop starts popping up. 😉

  9. January 14, 2011 7:37 am

    I’ve had decent luck with carrots, but I’m still working to find varieties that do well up here in NW Iowa. Our growing season is so short and the winters come hard and early.

    I tried parsnips for the first time this year. I didn’t get the timing quite right though, because the ground froze shut before I could harvest most of them. I’m hoping they survive the winter and I’ll have something to harvest when the ground thaws. *Cross fingers*

    Turnips grow really well, but I wish we had livestock that liked to eat them. I have trouble using them up, no one in my house really enjoys them. I am trying to save seed from them this year. I have 4 that I left in the ground over winter and I’m hoping they’ll give me seed this summer.

    Kohlrabi also grows really well, I like ’em but hubby thinks they taste too much like turnips.

    Try try again, I’m sure I’ll find something that works well for my family.

    • January 14, 2011 2:20 pm

      Jennie, it’s always a trial to find what people will eat and what they won’t. I like kohlrabi raw but not cooked, and we hardly can grow turnips here because of root maggots, rutabagas do much better. I could eat them everyday, but I dare not try serving that at dinner every night 😉 Lots of our trials end up going to the dogs literally. They don’t seem to mind, they will eat just about any vegetable except green beans and celery. At least they aren’t fussy 😉

  10. January 14, 2011 7:39 am

    The most interesting books on roots that I have seen:
    Weaver, John E. and William Bruner. Root Development of Vegetable Crops.
    Weaver, John E. Root Development of Field Crops.

    Available in the Ag section from

    • January 14, 2011 2:21 pm

      EJ, thanks for the link. I like illustrations in Solomon’s latest, showing why proper spacing makes all the difference. Not real popular though in intensive gardening circles, but made a huge difference in my yields.

  11. January 14, 2011 7:52 am

    Well….. I’ve been experimenting and this is what I’ve found. I just grated up carrots stored in a bag( plastic), kept in the frig. from not this last season, but the 2009 garden season. Now while I admit that they were growing hairy rootlings and new tops they are still firm and quite sweet. Besides we used them ( grated and steamed) for poultry dietary suppliment( makes beautiful orange yolks) We also use beets, turnips, parsnips,onions, garlic and fennel bulbs as our root crops for our use as well as suppliment for the poultry, to this we add pumpkin, squash, zucchini, onion, garlic, herbs and potatoes( all grated and steamed) and boy howdy do they love to see their hot mash coming when it’s cold outside.

    Carrots and spuds are our favorite storage root, this last season we also stored turnips in the root cellar and so far they are keeping nicely. I also stored them( mulched in ground) and hope with our warming trend this weekend to be able to get out and see how they are fairing.

    The one root crop that stores the shortest for us is Sunchokes. I’ve tried several methods of storage and in the frig they keep for about 2 months, all other methods results in shriveled tubers*sigh*

    Blessings for your weekend,

    • January 14, 2011 2:25 pm

      Kelle, we are pretty spoiled here for sure, it rarely freezes deep enough to freeze the veggies, and the sunchokes never freeze in the soil, when other things do.

      The chickens are still getting chickweed here, every time it has gotten below freezing we had a nice snow cover, so everything is as green as a gourd. 😀 Doesn’t always work that way, but I’m not complaining!

  12. January 14, 2011 8:29 am

    Kale, which I like to serve in my favorite pasta dish. Except I didn’t plant enough of them last fall.

    • January 14, 2011 2:26 pm

      Paula, it’s hard to have enough isn’t it? My kale got a little nipped and then broken down by the snow, but it’s still hanging on.

  13. January 14, 2011 8:53 am

    OH! Gosh! A spring like day…boy I hope it heads our way for a short while. Cold and snowy here again. A sort of melt yesterday with SUN! Oh, how I love the sun. We have had a long year of almost no real sun and lots of wind.


    • January 14, 2011 2:27 pm

      Linda, it’s warmer here than Miami! We were down to T-shirts yesterday, and it felt warmer than some summer mornings. Feels pretty good! I am liking that we are using less wood and hay too.

  14. January 14, 2011 9:02 am

    Beets are probably my favorite roots. Parsnips are right up there though. Have you tried leaving your potatoes in the ground over the winter like your other roots? I know you do the straw bale ‘cellar’…

    • January 14, 2011 2:29 pm

      Ben, I haven’t just because they seem to rot more easily, and I am always worried about blight if I leave them. But Ayers Creek in Gaston does and has good results.

  15. January 14, 2011 9:03 am

    We’re very warm here so we can grow a lot during the winter but my favorite winter crop I can’t live without is greens. Kale, Japanese Mustards, Tatsoi… I love them all! (Almost all, don’t like collards, but then collards grow well in the heat too). During the summer when it’s too hot to grow greens I crave them.

  16. Chris permalink
    January 14, 2011 9:06 am

    Do you happen to have a photo of your daughter and Della all grown up together? Wouldn’t that be sweet to see that next to their “baby” photo!!

  17. Bob permalink
    January 14, 2011 9:12 am

    Curious what your feeding regiment is for your cows and how you incorporate the turnips, or are they just a treat? How much do you have to cut them up to help the cows eat them?



    • January 14, 2011 2:41 pm

      Bob, I am just feeding carrots and parsnips and only to Jane. Brassicas tend to bind up iodine, and would defeat the purpose of feeding kelp. Plus brassicas (turnips, cabbages, etc.) flavor the milk and not in a good way 😦

      At this point they are a treat, but she will get more once she is grown. And I don’t grow enough to feed the other cows.

      She’s a baby so I am cutting them in coins for her, so she won’t choke. But I sometimes use a root grinder specifically for that, shown in this post:

  18. January 14, 2011 10:18 am

    You know, I do love my parsnips but have never really given much thought to how healthy they must be. We love to use them in soups and “terribly bad for you” parsnip tarts.:) Our hands down most reliable vegetable from start to finish has got to be beets. I have had some that stored for an incredibly long time and still retained good flavor. Oh, and thanks for the tip on that book.

    • January 14, 2011 2:44 pm

      Mike, my mom ruined me on parsnips cooking them with sugar, yuck, but when I started really growing them for Della, and seeing how well they kept her condition, in addition to the ease of storage – I started to look at them in a new light. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, it’s all good 🙂

  19. January 14, 2011 10:29 am

    Little Ruthless darn sure was a cutie and probably is still 😉

  20. January 14, 2011 11:53 am

    Nothing in particular gets us through the winter, yet; but with luck it will be potatoes and onions, and probably carrots, too. Will have to research all that when we finally get down there. I know no one has root cellars or such. If I understand your post correctly, you pretty much leave everything in the ground until you need it?

    I like knowing about the parsnips for cattle. Thanks for that tip! 🙂

    • January 14, 2011 2:47 pm

      LindaG, onions, garlic, squash are stored in the house, potatoes in the barn, and the hardy roots that don’t freeze easily stay in the ground. Much easier that way, but not always a possibility depending on your location.

      Hopefully you can find some avid gardeners that will share their tips with you 🙂

  21. January 14, 2011 6:01 pm

    Your carrots make me think of my garden. I wonder if any of my carrots have survived through the winter. I’ll find out next week if all goes well. If I have any, I’ll chow down on one and savour the flavour.

  22. Jill B permalink
    January 14, 2011 7:52 pm

    I have to tell you once again how wonderful all of your pictures are
    and I can’t wait each week to see wordless Wednesday photos.
    Your food looks so delicious I want to eat at your house please.
    Bravo to you for raising all of your own food.
    Thanks for sharing your life with us. I personally love it!
    So Cal drive through just doesn’t cut it!

  23. January 15, 2011 11:39 am

    This is the first year that we have had a winter garden. It has been exciting and I plan on doing it next year. I would love to get some parsnips growing. I tried once in the spring and once for fall. I got nada on each try but I am going to try again this spring. My collards are still going from summer and the last of bok choy we fed to the pigs as it was pretty beat up from the slugs. We had a bit of root maggot problem on our kohlrabi and rutabaga too but it was never so bad that a little trimming didn’t fix.

  24. jeannette permalink
    January 16, 2011 4:23 pm

    i love parsnips. recently discovered this delicious recipe for parsnip soup, making it tomorrow.

    i also wanted to ask you if there is a salve you can make out of birch buds or bark.

    thank you, i love your spirit and your blog. your child’s name really is ruthless?

  25. Brad Brookins permalink
    January 17, 2011 6:25 am

    Would a cow raised on grain switch over to roots readily or do they have to be trained to eat a new diet? If so, how do you train her?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: