Every early morning I tour the gardens to see how everything fared through the night--did a resident deer or rabbit chomp on the radicchio or the kale? Have the tomatoes ripened enough to pick for lunch? Will the filet beans be ready for dinner? What's ready to be pulled, weeded, watered... I look carefully at every plant to check for fruit, for insect damage, for new growth, admiring how quickly they mature, how showy they are. But not the root crops. They withhold much of their information--I know how to read a potato's flowers for signs of wonderful new spuds ready beneath the soil's surface; I know how to judge the thickness of a carrot's fronds, the drying of a garlic's outer leaves to tell whether it's worth pulling for lunch. But really, it isn't until I pull the entire vegetable that I know what's up in terms of health and growth and readiness for harvest.
That's the charm of a carrot, a leek, a beet--the secret, the delight, the wonderment when I pull the stem and out comes a gorgeous vegetable. Even after many many years gardening, I never fail to be surprised and delighted by these buried treasures. And potatoes?! What fun to dig with my hands--yes, I do--to find the tubers of varying size and shape, growing away beneath the plant, hidden from view.
When my daughters were young, I gave them each a square of the garden to plant as they liked, and they both wanted lots of carrots because they were such fun to harvest-- such surprises--and they tasted better than any supermarket carrot ever could. And it's true. They are so deliciously sweet and flavorful right from the garden that we rarely cook them in the summer, choosing rather to shred them into raw salads of the likes of Eating Well's lemony carrot salad.
All of you who are sure you don't have room or time for root crops in your tiny gardens or on your patios, did you know that you can grow carrots in a tub? Potatoes in a bag? Beets in a pot? It's not too late to plant fall carrots or beets--just pull out an old barrel or bucket, fill it with compost-y soil and get planting! And in a couple of months, you'll have buried treasure of your own.
Time to head out to the garden in search of today's lunch salad. i know there are tomatoes and basil to pick, lettuces and arugula, a pepper or two--I saw them all at dawn this morning. But the perfect couple of carrots? I won't know until I pull those thick fronds and see what they've hidden from me all this while. I can feel a pirate song coming on any second... Yo Ho Ho...