Monday, September 29, 2008

Relishing Radishes

I remember reading a Yahoo-groups post once about how easy it is to garden; the writer said that “if you can grow radishes, you can grow anything,” implying that growing radishes was just about the easiest job on the planet. That writer obviously was not gardening in NW Georgia. Some people in my family really like radishes, so those were among the first veggies I tried to grow. That first year of growing food out in the front yard, the tomatoes did great, as did nearly everything else—except the radishes. I tried Cherry Belles, Sparklers, and Champions, thinking that finding the right variety would solve the problem, before giving up on radishes.

Well, about three years ago I started thinking about growing radishes again, after picking up an old cookbook at a local used-book store. The book was part of a TimeLife series on international cooking; the particular volume I bought was published in 1968 and titled The Cooking of Provincial France. One picture in the book is of bunches and bunches of what appear to be French Breakfast radishes,harvested when very small, with a note about their being eaten with butter and salt. Another picture was of a four year old boy, out on a picnic, eating an open-face butter and radish sandwich. It had never occurred to me to eat radishes that way, even though I eat cucumber sandwiches (both with cream cheese and with butter), and I eat cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise and thin slices of carrot for lunch fairly often.

Happily, it is finally easy to grow radishes in my garden. The soil in which I originally gardened had been just about as friable as brick paving--it's a miracle that anything grew--but after years of adding organic matter and years of mulching, the soil has become more radish-friendly. So, now I grow French Breakfast radishes and harvest them small. They grow pretty well for a few weeks in the fall and a few weeks in the spring; otherwise, it is either too hot or too cold. My first fall planting of radishes for this year, from seed sown in late August, is ready to eat, and I have three additional plantings coming up, enough to keep us supplied with small, pungent radishes for a few weeks. This morning, for a midmorning snack, I ate a butter and radish sandwich. It was delicious.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


The peppers have decided to put out a last blast, for which we are grateful. The boys in my family consider peppers to be a "food of the gods." The pepper pictured above is a poblano, but the Anaheims, Jimmy Nardellos, and California Wonders are all doing as well--they are covered with little peppers. However, the okra and eggplant are just about done. As the cooler weather stops production of the summer vegetables, the fall veggies kick in. We will be eating Tom Thumb lettuce in just two or three weeks!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Old and in the Way

Sometimes a gardener has to be ruthless. Late summer is one of those times. The reason is that, in a small garden anyway, summer crops are still taking up all the space in the garden, and may be producing. However, by now, some of that production has slowed way down, and the best way to get more food from the garden is to rip those old plants out, bury them in the compost heap, and plant some Fall crops in their place.

Over the last few weeks, that is exactly what I’ve been doing—pulling out the Roma and the Burpee Tenderpod bush beans, the Greek and North Carolina Pickling cucumbers, the zucchetta, last year’s chard that is finally starting to bolt, and all three kinds of melons. In their place, I’ve planted some Fall veggies:

lettuce—Tom Thumb, Oak Leaf, and Bibb
spinach—Bloomsdale Longstanding and Space Hybrid
collards—Georgia (I don’t like these, but my husband does)
chard—Perpetual Spinach
carrots—Little Finger and Jaune du Doubs
chicory—Della Catalogna
beets—Early Wonder Tall Top
broccoli—nine little plants from the Home Depot
pak choi—unnamed variety from Bountiful Gardens
radishes—French Breakfast and Muncheiner Bier

I will continue to make little plantings of French Breakfast radishes for a while, and in October I’ll plant the garlic and the potato-onions. That should just about finish my Fall vegetable planting.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why Beets?

A guy I was explaining my garden to a couple of weeks ago asked, after hearing all the different vegetables growing out there, “Why beets?” That is a good question, especially considering that I have had to put some effort into learning to like them. It turns out that beets are growing in my garden for more than one reason.

In order to avoid the buildup of disease problems, it is recommended that plants in the same family not be planted in the same spot for a few years. Since so many of my favorite foods are in just a few families (for example, the tomato family includes peppers, potatoes, and eggplants), I needed to increase the variety of my planting. The effort to rotate crops is complicated by the size of my garden: it’s small. So, when I first considered growing beets, it was because the garden needed more plants that weren’t related to the tomato, broccoli, and cucumber families to add to the rotation. Beets are related to chard, which I wasn’t growing at that time, and spinach, which I was.

What tipped me over the edge, into actually growing beets, was a work-related trip. A person in my group made a reservation for us at a Very Nice Restaurant, and I ordered the vegetable plate. The description of the meal included “greens,” which made me a little wary (I have tried to like collard greens for a long time, with no luck), but the greens were a wonderful surprise. They were tasty (no collards!) and included beet leaves.

The very next spring, I planted beets—Detroit Dark Red—in the garden. I went looking for recipes on the internet, found some to try, and I've been enjoying beet leaves ever since. The roots, I’m still working on, but last time I ate them (May of this year!), they weren’t too bad. Maybe this fall’s beets will be delicious!
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