Groundwork: Carrot time
The big news at the vegetable garden at Green Spring this week is that a seven-foot deer fence has been erected. This will prevent deer from munching on pretty much everything. The prior practice has been to net crops individually, which is time-consuming and inconvenient. The fence also has a foot of netting that curls in toward the garden to keep out the rabbits, too. This structure should make everyone's life easier (excluding deer and rabbits). My advice is to put up a fence BEFORE the deer arrive and have established a browsing pattern. Still, this fence should keep them away. We'll see.
Both the fence posts and the netting are black, which means that when you put on sunglasses, squint and turn toward the sun, you can barely notice it.
The cabbage family plants, the brassicas, are really beginning to respond after a month or so in the garden. The Red Russian kale looks young and tender and delicious but big enough to devour, and the kohlrabis are beginning to bulb up. Also, the radishes are almost ready to pull, and the turnips, similarly, are close to harvesting before the heat turns them bitter. (Better as a fall crop).
It is time to sow carrot seed. There is an art to growing good carrots, but first you have to get the seed to germinate. This requires some skill. Carrot seed responds to warm soil but it must, must be continually watered once you sow it for even and full germination. That means spraying it a little at least once a day, and preferably twice.
Another difficulty is that the soil tends to crust above the seed, forming a physical barrier. You can get around this by sowing the seeds in a little furrow, a seed drill in gardenspeak, and then backfill the drill with a light potting soil or a seed-starting mix. This will also delineate the seed row so you can identify weeds outside the row as they germinate.
In some quarters, carrot rust fly maggots have rendered carrot growing impossible, but we seem blissfully free of this pest, and the only concern should be good culture. As root crops, carrots need deep, rich open soil. In feeding them, however, avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers, which promote root forking. The key to growing good carrots is thinning as they develop. This is painstaking work and best done when the soil is moist so that the culled seedlings can be pulled without uprooting the ones you leave.
You will need to thin at least twice: once when the seedlings are two to three inches high and then as they develop to allow three to four inches between carrots. (The more space, the bigger they will get). The rows should be six inches or more apart. Again, even moisture is key to good carrot development. Homegrown carrots are one of my favorite of all the vegetables. They impart a sweetness you just can't find in other carrots.
At Green Spring, Cindy Brown and Donna Stecker have sown seeds of Yaya, which is a new variety I am trying this year, a Nantes type that will be ready at baby stage in early June and as mature carrots in July. (The smart gardener sows fresh carrot seed in July for the fall). They have also put in Purple Dragon, a variety I don't know, but I suppose it's one of those novelty purple types. (What's wrong with an orange carrot, asks Britcrank Higgins?) They have also put in Napoli, an early-season Nantes of fabulous flavor (sweet) and color (orange).
Cindy and Donna and their volunteers have also planted loads of great lettuce varieties, including a baby heading lettuce named Tennis Ball. This is an heirloom variety favored by my favorite presidential veggie gardener (sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Obama), Thomas Jefferson. He immortalized its harvest in his garden book, "Anyone for Tennis?"
I am happy to directly sow my lettuces, but by installing well-established transplants, Cindy gets to orchestrate the colorful display of lettuces as land art. She also claims that the lettuce plants get larger that way. She may be right. As with carrots and lots of other things, from beets to tomatoes, the more space they have, they bigger and healthier they grow. The problem is the gardener's impulse to maximize every bit of precious real estate by cramming in as much as possible. At Green Spring Gardens, thankfully, the gardeners no longer have to plant extra for the deer. We hope. Stay tuned.
-- Adrian Higgins (Follow me on Twitter.)
This recipe combines the inherent sweetness of strawberries, the tartness of balsamic vinegar, the zing of shallots and the spicy smokiness of chipotle pepper to create a fruity sweet-and-sour sauce. It accentuates the carrots' earthy sweetness.
From Cynthia A. Brown, assistant director at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria.
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil or olive oil
2 or 3 large shallots, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 cup strawberries (hulled), rinsed and coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons raspberry balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon salted butter
1 pound carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut diagonally into thin pieces (3 cups)
Chopped chives or green scallion top, for garnish (optional)
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally until translucent.
Add the strawberries and cook for 3 minutes, stirring gently, until they begin to soften. Add the chipotle pepper, honey and balsamic vinegar; mix well. Remove from the heat.
Transfer the mixture to mini food processor and pulse to form a chunky sauce.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until their edges begin to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the strawberry sauce and stir to incorporate. Cover and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the carrots are tender. Garnish with chives or the green top of a scallion, if desired. Serve warm.
Per serving: 150 calories, 2 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 105 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar
April 26, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Groundwork , Recipes | Tags: Adrian Higgins, Cindy Brown, Groundwork, recipes
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