Every year, a gardener marks the progress of his/her garden by those subjective benchmarks most important to them – and for me, my garden has just passed its first significant benchmark – our first baby beets!
You will seldom see real baby beets in the produce section of Safeway – I mean the kind with tiny bulbs on the bottom, and the greens still attached – I think the closest I’ve seen them come is maybe mid-season beets with some scraggly greens attached. But it’s a rarity. You may see them more, if you have a functioning local Farmer’s Market – I’ve seen them up in Portland’s Saturday market in June, and it’s significant that ours are only now beginning to bulb – we are having just a super-late season this year.
No, for most of us, if we want baby beets – or baby anything, except maybe lettuce – we’re just going to have to grow them. And if you have not yet experienced the taste of a baby beet, there’s probably nothing I could say that’d suffice to fill that gap. So just let me say that I treat baby beets like a completely different vegetable than tennis ball sized beets – Mind you, I love them both, but there is no comparing them. Baby beets fill your mouth with an overflow of rich, sweet, and delicate flavor – and the tender greens are different enough to make them a complete ‘nother veggie, and superb in their own right.
A mature beet tends to lose it’s baby sweetness and pick up some earthy overtones that add to its character – I love them roasted, chilled, and used in salads, or sauteed with just a touch of garlic and butter. Secret to roasting beets is to avoid cutting into the flesh of the beet before cooking – leave an inch or so of leaf stalks sticking out, and don’t cut the root off either – that way you get no “bleeding” and a perfect roast (or boil). And I find it amazing that most ginormous beets can still be cooked perfectly tender, with enough time in the pot, and just as long as they haven’t been in the ground for 6 months plus.
And I guess that our lousy summer weather is really just about perfect for the beet – they are apparently loving it, ’cause they look quite nice. I think we all tend to complain a lot about things that others would love to have as we do. So, I’ll remind myself of that as I enjoy our baby beets.
Another vegetable that our weather is good for is garlic. It’s an over-winterer – it gets planted in September, and just about breaks the surface of the ground before the sun disappears and our really nasty weather begins in earnest. Then it just sits there and waits – and it waits, and waits, and waits – it’s waiting for the soil to begin to warm just a little – cause when that happens, it means the sun is spending more and more time out each day. And one day I look at the garlic and am amazed to see that it has strung to life and reached up to gather in as much of that returning sun as it can. In less than 2 or 3 weeks, the garlic grows from a 6 inch stub to a sturdy 2 foot high lance, to take it’s place among spring’s earliest arrivals.
For the next two months, the garlic does its primary growth – then one day, a spike appears from the heart of its top – at first it just looks like another leaf, but in a few quick days, it’s apparent that this shoot is different. In a week, the shoot has sprung to about 15 inches, and begins to have a cute curl, which sometimes even continues until it has curled into a double twist – Very Cute! And if you look closely at it, you can see the beginning of a bulb at the end of the shoot. This is what’s known as a garlic scape, and although it is much ignored, if captured when young, a garlic scape can be one of spring’s most luscious contributions. It makes a very special addition to a salad – or almost any vegetable dish. But its season of perfection is very short, and if you wait too long, the scape can remind you more of a garlicky tree branch than a flavorful morsel.
Come mid July, depending on whatever type you chose to grow, the garlic begins to bend its head – that’s the sign that harvest time is nearing. It’s best to be sure not to water them anymore, for fear that they do not dry properly – proper drying will extend their storage life – a very good thing. Mine, whether it was because of the type, or the lousy weather, or whatever, did not begin to suggest they were done growing until early August – and I have just now completed pulling them from the ground. Their old home will become part of this coming winter’s garden for something new – maybe Brussels sprouts, or kale, or a new Asian green.
You’re looking at half of our garlic harvest! – At this point every year, I realize the reality of a huge garlic harvest, and two questions capture my thoughts: 1- What are we going to use all these for? 2- How are we going to use them all up by the new year (by that time, the remainder will be soft and tasteless)? There is no good way to preserve garlic – this is especially true once you’ve experienced the hard, juicy crunch, and the biting kick of really fresh garlic – nothing from a jar or the freezer will suffice at that point.
I’m open for ideas folks – what would you do with all this garlic?
Photo credits: garlic scapes – goinglocal-info-com