Monday, November 12, 2018

Getting Radicle

Watermelon radishes pulled the day before the low hit 10 degrees.

Not exactly at the top of the list of everyone's favorite vegetables.

But don't we all grow them anyway?
They're one of the first vegetables we can plant in the spring, and one of the last we can plant in the fall. They grow quickly and readily -- practically foolproof -- making them a great thing for a kid's garden or any first time gardener.

You can slice them into salads, use slices of large ones to dip out guacamole, carve them into roses as cute little garnishes, and... uh... and... Well you can eat them raw as a spicy snack.

Oh. come on. Can't you come up with anything else?

Radishes provide numerous nutrients -- vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. And they help support the body's detoxification system, so eating radishes can help clear out the toxins you've built up from all of the not-so-good-for-you stuff you've been eating. They are especially good at removing bilirubin from the blood, which is the stuff that builds up when you get jaundice. So I'm presuming they're helpful in keeping your liver healthy.

Like you, I always grow radishes... for salads. I'm not so much into carving radish garnishes. However, in Oaxaca, Mexico, Dec. 23 is Noche de Rabanos -- Night of Radishes, when everyone gets into the act of carving great displays out of radishes. This began more than 120 years ago, when merchants carved radishes as part of their magnificent vegetable displays to attract shoppers on their way home from Christmas services. Now it's tradition.

But carving isn't the only thing you can do with radishes. Why not roast them?
Because you never thought of that... right?

Well I didn't either until recently when someone mentioned roasting radishes, or I read about it somewhere online. Anyway, I tried it and love roasted radishes. It's so easy, too. Just slice, or halve, or quarter the radishes (depending on their size), toss them with a high quality oil -- I recommend avocado oil or good quality extra virgin olive oil. Lay them out in a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, sprinkle on salt and pepper (you can sprinkle on other seasonings if you like), and roast at 400 degrees for about a half hour, or a few minutes more, turning or stirring halfway through. They're great warm or cold. Make a big batch and heat them up in the toaster oven.

I'll be roasting most of my radishes from now on. Now I am glad that I had such a bumper crop of radishes this fall.

Radishes can be found in many colors and shapes -- red, pink, purple, white, multi-colored, small round, big round, long ones and really long ones. Spring radishes tend to be smaller and mature more quickly. Winter radishes tend to be larger and take just a little longer to mature, although you can harvest them at a "baby" size.

On the left you can see why they're called "Watermelon" radishes, also "Red
Meat" radishes; because of the pink-red centers, the white exterior rings and
green skin. On the right are Cherry Belles, maybe some Crimson Giants.
These are about to be roasted!
I usually grow Cherry Belle, a spring radish, in both spring and fall. Supposedly that's the variety you're most likely to find in the grocery, but mine always carry so much more heat than those I've bought at the store. But roasting -- or cooking them some other way, such as in a stir-fry -- dampens the heat. I also grow Watermelon radishes (a winter radish). They don't reach the size of watermelons, but they do get pretty big. Some sources say that they can reach the sized of a softball -- never seen one that big, but I've seen some slices from some pretty big ones on restaurant plates. I don't think any of mine have quite hit the tennis ball size, but they've gotten much bigger than ping pong balls. I should thin them more diligently. A bit wider spacing would get me bigger radishes.

I also grow daikons -- great big, long, white radishes that you plant in the fall. One year I tried a spring planting and they just kept bolting instead of enlarging their roots.

The green leaves of radishes are edible, as well. I've never been that fond of radish greens, or maybe it's just that I have so many other types of greens available when the radish greens are large and lush, so I've never bothered with them much. But today a sauteed some green onions in ghee (clarified butter), added the chopped radish greens, along with some turnip greens and radicchio, then sprinkled on salt and pepper. When the greens were cooked I added lime juice. Now I wish I'd saved more radish and turnip greens. Maybe the daikons will come through this bitter cold to provide more fresh greens.

Radishes do best in moderately rich soil, with sufficient moisture, and cool weather.

The word "radish" comes from the Latin "radix," meaning "root." So radish is just another word for root. Go figure. Radishes are a prime example of a tap root. Another word derived from radix is "radicle" (no, I didn't misspell "radical" in the title), the first tiny root that emerges from a seed.

This is a great time of year to pick up lots of roots, from radishes to rutabagas, turnips and sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, even celeriac, burdock, etc. It's a good time of year to get to the root of things.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Rutabaga Moon

This is the top of one of the rutabagas that I pulled last week before the deep freeze.

You see what you see.
I have no apology.

It takes some cheek
To show that kind of freak,

And make bun puns.

(Slinking away...)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Snow Show

I walked out my bedroom door yesterday morning, ready or not to greet the day.

"Wow." I said, finding no other words. "Wow."

Snow had started falling the previous afternoon, picking up its pace as the evening darkened. I knew I would find snow on the ground, but did not anticipate the view that greeted me.

The snow was a wet one. It billowed on the ground where low-growing plants had not yet died back, and clung to tree branches, starkly white against the deep green of the red cedars. It piled on the horizontal wires of fences, and weighted down the white row covers on the low tunnels so they sagged like horses who had borne too many riders,

According to my husband, the sun broke through the clouds the very moment I opened the bedroom door, as if the universe had been waiting to gift me with this view. Almost as if it wanted to make up for the fact that the temperature on our hilltop would drop to a mere 10 degrees Fahrenheit that night.

I forgave the universe (the forecast being for "just" 15 degrees that night) and almost immediately grabbed my camera. I headed outside, with my feet still bare (I didn't go far), to snap some shots before the snow disappeared.

As predicted, the wind arrived shortly after that and I watched snow-laden branches of the cedars begin moving like waves on the sea. I was mesmerized and momentarily considered taking a video. But photos and videos never capture the true magic in a moment, only memories can. So I stayed in my chair and watched. Then the wind rose higher and began shaking snow from the branches. Today, hardly a flake of snow is left.

I will wait a few days before checking to see if all the blankets, hay and other coverings saved the cabbages and kale and lettuce from death by freezing. We harvested some stuff during the days before the deep freeze, lettuce, rutabaga greens, bok choy, radishes and kale -- just in case. I opened one little tunnel with the intent of just letting most of it go -- but the turnips were so beautiful that I pulled them all, salvaging a couple dozen or more baby turnips the size of my thumb or larger. I saved a few of the turnip greens, too. I'm not that fond of turnips, either root or green, but I like them well enough to eat a few, for the diversity. And when something is that beautiful I can't just let it go.

So, did three days effort (when I wasn't feeling well mind you) save my cabbages and rutabagas, or was it all in vain? Regardless, it was worth the effort. At least I tried. I made the effort. I've done other things in my life that did not come to fruit, but I'm satisfied in that I made an attempt. And so, after I'd spent time laying blankets and scattering fluffy piles of hay, it did not matter so much what the aftermath will look like. I felt better both mentally and physically having done the work. That is enough.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Last Whiff of Summer

Summer is definitely over.

Nothing blooms in the prairie or the garden, except a few straggling asters, such as the pale lavender ones above (trust me, in the prairie they're pale lavender), surprising atop browned stalks among browned prairie grasses, as well as a few white asters. The last whiff of summer. They might be natives or introduced varieties, I can't tell them apart. So many aster species exist, and often the only way to distinguish them is by a few subtle differences.

In the flower bed an aster is the last to maintain a few sparse blooms. Maybe it's aromatic aster? But the online pics don't look quite right. I might have mis-remembered it's name.

The summer vegetables are gone. The peppers have been roasted and frozen, and the plants quietly decompose in the compost heap

The last crisp, brown corpses of tomato plants have been removed. In their place tidy beds rest, covered in either hay mulch or short green oats and clover. I love the tidiness of season's end almost as much as the rampant growth of high summer.

Cabbages, lettuce, and other cool-love vegetables do their thing under white-draped low tunnels.

We had a couple of nights of freezing weather in the middle of October, followed by the most wonderful Autumn weather. Even the dark, rainy days were glorious. I've been able to work outdoors with just a light jacket, even in my shirt sleeves.
Goldenrod seed head in the prairie.

But that has changed. I'll need a coat today, and shoes. Freezing is in the forecast again. A bit deeper this time. Today I'll start adding layers to the fall-winter vegetable garden, pulling back row covers, harvesting some, then spreading row cover over the top of the plants, and closing the tunnel again. I hope this gives enough extra protection to keep things from getting burned.

Most of the tunnels are covered with a bit heavier row cover that they call a "frost blanket." It holds just a couple of degrees of extra warmth, which is all that is needed at this point. I will go through and determine which beds are covered with the lighter version and decide whether I need to replace it with frost blanket. In a couple of weeks I'll have to decide whether to add more layers of protection, or just harvest everything and give it up to the season.

But that will be then. Today I'll focus on what I know needs to be done and watch the season deepen. My mind and body follow the season, settling deeper into a resting state. I sleep a bit later. Feel sleepy earlier in the evening. I lack creative energy. That's fine, I tell myself. This is a period of restoration and gestation. Those creative seeds I've planted will spend their time evolving in my subconscious, and when the time is right, they'll send down roots and poke up shoots. Like the seeds in the ground, I must give them time.

Let winter do its job.