Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Life, Interrupted

One advantage to planting vegetables in raised beds is keeping weeds at bay. Even a separation of a few inches can save tons of aggravation.

Unfortunately, I do not have raised beds. I've tried to maintain some separation between my vegetables and the "yard" by digging a shallow trench around the vegetable beds. But the weeds are only a little deterred.

Finally, I could not bear to look any longer at the Chiogga beets I planted at the end of March. They were being overrun with crabgrass and other undesirables. Trying to separate the weeds from the beets and remove the weeds by hand proved to be more work than I could spare. In the end, I got my forked spade and lifted everything out of there.

I was careful to shake the soil back into the vegetable bed. What emerged from the tangle of greenery were these lovely little beets you see above, none of them any larger than a ping pong ball. Life interrupted, for sure. But I will try to salvage something of them.

After washing the beets carefully, I put them in the oven on a baking sheet to roast very slowly at 250 degrees. Big mistake, I think. They didn't cook so much as dry out. Still delicious, even with the skins on, mind you. But I think I would have been better off just slicing them raw and dressing them very simply with some extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Then, to rub salt in the wound, I arrived at a place in Fields of Plenty, my latest favorite tome on renegade farmers, where author Michael Ableman describes the root crops at a farm in Wisconsin:

"The Chiogga beets, an Italian heirloom with pink outer flesh and concentric pink and white circles inside, would normally be delicately proportioned at about 3 inches across. Here, they are the size of my fist, and nearly perfectly round. The rows of golden beets are full, with none of the gaps typical of this poor germinator.

"I rub a beet against the leg of my jeans, take a bite, and pass it on to Aaron. I am only slightly distracted from its dense, rich texture by the soil that is still attached...Although it's true that anyone can grow a beet, not everyone grows them like I see them here. To consistently produce volumes of perfectly formed roots, week after week, is not easy. I am humbled by these beets...."

Ableman marvels at the exceptional tilth of the farm's loamy soil and the "years of experimentation and refinement of skill" that went into the raising of those extraordinary beets.

So I should say it is probably not just the weeds, but the soil and the years of experimentation and refinement that are still an issue for my beets. Just more work to be done...


Kelly said...

It's true, it is a refinement that occurs over years. The soil should be deep, loamy, maybe even slightly sandy. Not too rich with manure, or the roots will fork.

I find a short steam (10-15 minutes) followed by slow roasting (tossed with a bit of olive oil) works best with small beets.

New here, and loving your blog.

Ed Bruske said...

Excellent tip, Kelly. I can see how the steaming would work. Still, I think I'll try the babies raw one time to see how that is.

I don't plan on adding any sand to my soil. But I do think regular application of the compost we make here eventually will produce a soil that beets will like...

Joanna said...

I roast them in a hot oven for half an hour, with olive oil, garlic and thyme. If they're big, I cut them up, so that they can cook quickly. Delicious.


cookiecrumb said...

If you wrap them in foil with a small spritz of water, seal well, and then oven roast, you should get tender beets. Peel them after they come out.
And, yet. Sliced raw babies? Awesome, and so cute.