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Groundwork: The beet generation


Bread poppies and larkspur are among the flowers that add whimsy to the vegetable garden in the overlap season of early June. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

We are still in the midst of that heady season of overlap in the vegetable garden, when the spring harvest is being gathered but the warm-season vegetables are either launched or still being started. If you consider that the gardening season starting in January, as it does with seed ordering and starting, we are now almost midpoint in the year, even though the cultivation and harvest will continue until October and beyond. In the next week, the hours of daylight will start their long, slow retreat, and yet the hottest days are still ahead. It's a strange paradox.

But enough of the cosmic pronouncements of Madam Higginski, astrologer to the veggie plot. Let's take stock of what's ready for the table in mid June: to wit, the last of the snow and snap peas, lettuces, currants, chicory, kale, kohlrabi, dill, collards, broccoli, chard and arugula. June is also the month to take the year's first harvest of beets. This close relative of the Swiss chard has spent the past four to six weeks developing its buried, swollen stem, and is ready for the table.

At Green Spring Gardens in Northern Virginia, Cindy Brown and the gardeners this year have grown four standard varieties: Bull's Blood (also grown as baby leaf beet), Detroit, Red Ace and Golden Beet. The last, sumptuous in its rich saffron color, does not have the intense beet flavor of the others, Cindy reports. Beauty has its price.


Black Hawk lettuce shrugs off the heat beneath the snap pea trellis. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

If you missed the beet boat, no worries. As with many cabbage family plants, this fabulous vegetable works even better when grown for the fall. It can be started from seed in about a month and the transplants set out in late August. This can be done in a greenhouse, under lights indoors, or in seed trays kept outdoors in a shaded and protected area. You don't want the trays where they will receive rain, which will produce waterlogging and a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Cindy advises against trying to directly sow the seed in the garden in the dog days, when watering demands will be onerous and seed germination spotty.

Put six week-old plants in around Labor Day for a harvest in October. Here's the really nice bit: You can leave the beets in the ground to be taken as needed over the winter until the following April.

The lettuce has begun to stretch and bolt, though a variety named Black Hawk is heat tolerant and happy to resist bolting for a little while longer. It also look fabulous, a deep burgundy color. Worth noting.


Not a flying saucer, but a novel trellis for beans. (Adrian Higgins/The Washington Post)

Just to show that there is still much ahead in the garden, Cindy and volunteer Jeffrey Zinn have put up a pair of playful supports for two long-season crops, the Malabar spinach and the asparagus bean. Each support consists of a 10-foot length of 1.5-inch PVC piping, hammered into the ground a couple of feet, topped with a disc. (A bicycle wheel works well). From this aerial hub, eight strands of twine are tethered, each one brought down to the ground and anchored with landscape staples. The effect is of a maypole. Growing vining veggies on trellises and the like extends the real estate into the air, sort of like a Manhattan skyscraper. It's a great way to increase your yield in small and big garden alike. It also adds a lot of whimsy and character to the garden. Growing one's own food is a fundamentally serious destination, but getting there can be a whole lot of fun.

-- Adrian Higgins


Roasted Beets with Oranges

6 servings

Roasting draws out beets' natural sugars. Adding the orange zest, herbs and citrus updates this salad-bar staple.

From gardener Cynthia A. Brown.

1 large navel or seedless orange
2 pounds beets, preferably a mix of red and golden beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have a large baking sheet at hand.

Grate the zest of the orange to yield 1 tablespoon, then cut the orange into bite-size chunks, discarding any pith and membrane.

Trim the roots and stems (if attached), leaving an inch of the stems intact to prevent beets from bleeding. Scrub the beets and pat dry with paper towels.

Place the whole beets on a large square of aluminum foil; two squares if using red and golden beets. (The square(s) should be big enough to completely enclose the beets in an envelope.) Drizzle the beets with the oil and sprinkle with the orange zest and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the thyme sprigs on top of the beets.

Fold the foil squares to completely enclose the beets, then place the packet(s) on the baking sheet and roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the beets are fork-tender.

Open the packets carefully to avoid escaping steam; let cool, then discard the beets' skins. Cut the beets into thin slices and place in a stain-proof serving bowl. Add the orange sections and chopped dill; mix gently to combine.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Per serving: 100 calories, 3 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 13 g sugar

By Adrian Higgins  |  June 14, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork  | Tags: Adrian Higgins, Cindy Brown, Groundwork  
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Comments

Great article. Out of curiosity what vegetables are people still planting now? I recently moved to a house with a large back yard and cared out a 16x24 foot area to start a veg garden. Since Im starting late in the season can anyone recommend things to plant now? or should I just wait until 2011.

Posted by: tomsbombadil | June 20, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

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