Archives for posts with tag: vegetables

The first beets are in! After lording it over my gardening sibs (who demanded time-stamped proof), what to do with the first beets of the season?

I love all-things-beets. But the first beets get the unadulterated treatment. I simmered them til almost tender, skinned them, and ate a bowlful for dinner. That’s all: Beets, a spritz of butter, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. You can almost feel the iron coursing through your veins. Move over Popeye! (and if you know who Popeye is, well, you’ve dated yourself)

One lone beet survived the initial beet-fest. I thought through my beet possibilities. Beet goat cheese dip, from our friends Ruth and Tim? Mandoline-thin slices of beet topped with salad and goat cheese? Or perhaps a knockoff of a quinoa salad I had at Virtue Feed & Grain in Old Town Alexandria?

Done. I love quinoa and the Lone Beet provided the excuse to reinvent Cathal Armstrong’s recipe.

Beet Quinoa Salad

Cook one cup quinoa according to package instructions. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, dice one beet into small ruby-colored cubes and snip a handful of chives. The restaurant’s recipe calls for paper thin slices of radishes, but I substituted apple slices since my radish crop had ended. The former gives the salad a peppery bite; the apple instead added a little sweetness. Mix up a lemon vinaigrette. Gently mix the quinoa with the other ingredients, salt & pepper to taste. Then sprinkle with goat cheese. Enjoy. Serves 4 as a side dish.

Share your favorite beet recipes, because we are about to come into a beet bonanza!

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA. Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

It begins. Another season of gardening is under way. The first tender shoots of vegetables are just starting to peep out of the ground: beets, spinach, rainbow radishes, lettuce and two varietals of carrots.

A new season brings new characters to our community garden. Our neighbor, Bonnie, has retired to Florida. She left behind a giant rosemary bush that managed to survive the awful winter. The new tenant farmer hasn’t shown his/her hand yet.

Debbie, a new gardener last year, built wooden terraces and carefully tended her plot. But she was evicted by the Alexandria city overseers, because she actually lived over the border in neighboring Arlington (along with several others). Too bad, since she actually took care of her plot, which is more than we can say about some of our fellow gardeners. People fall in love with the idea of gardening, and when reality sets in, many abandon their plots and let the weeds take over.

We chatted with our friend Anne, who has gardened at Chinquapin longer than we have. One of her new garden neighbors is a chef from the steakhouse Charlie Palmer. We tittered at the chef who knows so little about the food he cooks. He took a set of onions and planted them in one clump. He’s already put in some tomatoes and peppers, a risky move this early.

Obviously, we community garden veterans have our eye on the chef. Stay tuned. The season is just beginning and the plot thickens…

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

I just got off the phone with my mom, who asked about this week’s blog post. I told her I was just too dispirited to write about the garden, which is shaping up as the worst we’ve ever had.

We’re normally tired of tomatoes by now, and this year we’ve barely eked out enough for us and a handful of select friends (you know who you are). I’ve put away exactly three pints of tomato sauce for the winter. It appears we’ll be buying 99-cent canned tomatoes like the rest of America.

Those fancy grafted tomatoes we bought from Oregon? No better than anything we bought locally, and in fact, one has already gone belly up. It might be a sign – why buy tomato plants from Oregon, where the climate is far different from ours, rather than tomato plants hardened locally. Never again.

I bought some broccoli seedlings while CRR frowned – and sure enough, they’ve turned brown and dried up.

Even the horseradish is suffering.

It hasn’t been a complete bust. We had a decent beet crop. The peppers have dutifully produced (though not a single jalapeno yet!). The “mystery” volunteer plant turned out to be pumpkin, which has produced two promising fruits. We’ve got a second beet crop coming along, about two inches tall.

Come to think of it, there are still some promising signs. And maybe next weekend, we’ll sow some lettuce and spinach for a fall harvest.

A gardener, like a farmer, is ever the optimist. The next best crop is just around the corner.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

When Thomas Jefferson first visited England, a British nobleman sniffed that TJ looked like “a tall large-boned farmer.”

Which is exactly what he was.

As a young man, Jefferson carved Monticello out of a mountainside high above Charlottesville. After his presidency, he planted beautifully laid-out ornamental gardens, designed on the drawings he sketched into notebooks during his European travels.

But Jefferson was, at heart, a farmer. He grew 125 varieties of fruit trees, half of which were peach trees. He planted gooseberries and currants that Lewis and Clark discovered along the Missouri River. He tried to grow grapes for wine, but the French cultivars failed to thrive – and likely would not have pleased the palate for fine wine he developed in Paris anyway.

His kitchen garden was 1,000 feet long – more than three football fields. Overseeing the garden was Jefferson’s favorite pastime in his retirement. He considered it a horticultural lab. He meticulously kept a Garden Book, noting planting and harvest dates, names of plants, number of seeds planted. He sorted “fruits” from “leaves” and “roots.”

What did TJ sow? Many varieties of English beans, pumpkin from Africa, French lettuces, Roman broccoli, kale from Malta, New York corn, Swedish turnips, Prussian peas. He planted 40 varieties of kidney beans over the years, before finally settling on two favorites.

Monticello gardens

Monticello gardens

And of course he kept the seeds sorted in a special cupboard.

In the twilight of his life, Jefferson relished his agrarian roots at Monticello. “Tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener,” he wrote.

For more about TJ’s gardens, check out these videos from Monticello. And you can buy seeds and plants descended from his gardens online.

I think a visit to the estate of my favorite president may be in order as his gardens awaken from the earth.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Oh my aching back. That’s a sure sign that Garden 2013 is underway.

The Black Seeded Simpson and Mesclun lettuce went in first, along with Teton spinach. The first lettuce should be on our dinner plates in 30 days. The spinach will follow in two more weeks. My calendar is marked.

After that, we settle in for the Long Wait.

We planted two kinds of carrots. Yaya and Sweetness III are variations on Nantes carrots, the hybrid that we like for its sweetness and long cylinder shape (none of that tapering tip!)

We planted a whole row of Detroit Supreme red beets, a traditional deep red varietal with a high yield. Then we threw the dice with a blend that promises Golden beets as well as Chioggia, the beautiful magenta and white striped beets. Close your eyes and visualize the gorgeous salad these three beets will produce.

beet salad

beet salad

For the first time, we planted parsnips, the Harris Model, which Jung vows will be “heavy-shouldered” and creamy white.

We aren’t giving up on cucumbers, bewildered at our inability to produce crunchy cukes when our gardening neighbor enjoys a bonanza. This year we went with Muncher. “Strong vigorous vines are prolific yielders.” We shall see. I planted nine hills next to steel posts and netting, in hopes they will climb away from whatever ailed their predecessors.

We’ve put in about 20 percent of the peppers and tomatoes. More about those next week.

Meanwhile, I hope my back heals enough in the coming days to allow the flower gardening to commence next weekend! Our perennials are looking great, but there are annuals to plant and mulch to spread. A gardener’s work never ends…

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.