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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 12/13/2010

Groundwork: Rooting to the last

By Adrian Higgins

Editors' note: This is the last Groundwork blogpost of the season.

At the author's Glover Park community plot, the fork waits for the thaw. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

We were counting on the weather holding for another week or two, but successive freezes have frozen the ground and flattened our greens. That's gardening at the very edge of the growing season, and it's time for even the die-hards to call it quits. In a month, we'll be ordering seeds, planning the 2011 season and even starting some of the earliest veggies indoors for spring. But for now, I'm waiting for the ground to soften up so I can harvest my carrots. They survive the ordeal surprisingly well.

Mine were sown in late summer, perhaps too late, and are all at baby stage. What they lack in girth, they make up for in flavor.

They don't need peeling, just scrubbing a little, and cooking for five minutes or less. They are as sweet as candy, almost too sweet. You could stand a more robust carrot taste. Most people don't really know the simple pleasure of baby carrots: You might eat some on occasions in good restaurants, but the "baby" carrots sold In most supermarkets are nothing more than old carrots ground into small nubbings. Moral: Get that ground ready for spring, and raise your own.

Carrots Napoli. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

I like to grow varieties of the Nantes type, which reach deep into the cultivated soil and strike a perfect balance between sweet and carroty, even as they reach maturity. This year I am growing Napoli, developed for fall and winter cultivation and one of the largest of the early-season Nantes.

Carrots are directly sown in the garden, and I backfill the little rows with potting soil or screened compost to avoid the type of soil crusting that can block seedlings. Sowing in rows also helps in distinguish seedlings from weeds that are sprouting merrily in late summer. A carrot plant needs space to develop correctly, so thinning is really important to get the desired article.

The carrots you keep should be spaced two to three inches apart. They can be harvested throughout the winter as long as the ground is not frozen.

The bok choy is pretty much finished. It will take a few degrees of frost, but last week's dip to around 20 degrees was enough to render it useless and mushy. The lettuce is flaccid, too, and it will be interesting to see if any come back. In heading types, the inner leaves are somewhat protected and are still edible. If you allow the lettuce to remain, it will in time produce fresh growth from its crown that will be tasty. I suspect I will pull mine before then, though, to work the soil in late winter in preparation for a new crop of lettuce and carrots in the spring.

Lettuce and mesclun will rise again. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

The mustard greens and mesclun mix (including Asian mustards) look pretty beaten down, but will spring back once temperatures remain above freezing for a few days. The cold seems to have turned the mustard leaf even hotter.

I'll see you in a few weeks. Like the carrot, I'm going to ground for a bit.

Roasted Root Vegetables With Honey-Mustard Glaze

8 servings

MAKE AHEAD: The vegetables can be roasted a day in advance. Reheat in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

From Smithsonian Garden education specialist Cynthia A. Brown.

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon powdered mustard, such as Colman's
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Have a large roasting pan at hand.

Combine the carrots, parsnips and rutabagas in the pan; dot with pieces of butter. Roast for 5 minutes to melt the butter, then stir to coat evenly. Return to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the honey, the Dijon-style and powdered mustards and the minced rosemary in a medium bowl. Pour over the vegetables in the pan and toss to coat evenly, then return to the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges of the vegetables have browned.

Serve warm.

By Adrian Higgins  | December 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork, Recipes  | Tags:  Adrian Higgins, Groundwork, recipes  
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