Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Harvest Time - Rewards For The Effort

Dear Folks,

I'm back and harvesting! I was almost surprised at the bounty still available in the garden after my time away. (I have been on and off since January acting as caretaker and companion to my cousin who went through several surgeries including heart valve repair - she is doing great, I'm happy to report and the repairs did what they were intended to do!)

So back to the garden, my darling Deane and I have a bountiful garden of trees and everything else. Mostly I take care of the everything else and he babies the trees. Since I'm the 'expert' on all the everything-else-edibles, he was taking care of things, but doing no harvesting of roots and shoots. (He is, however, a master-weeder!)

So back to the garden and I found my horseradish project plants almost 3 feet high, and the garlic ready to harvest, along with potatoes and summer apples (the peaches and apricots have been an on-going harvest since the beginning of May).

Pictured clock-wise beginning in the upper right is one of the garlic head plants - I have about 70 plus others to harvest this week Potatoes red, white and blue so appropriate for memorial day (and healthy eating - the color 'taters have more antioxidant than just white or yellow). One huge horseradish plant - more about growing that below, and several summer apples in the small white bowl.

Just in time for Memorial Day these garden gems and staples are going into our dinner menu today. Warm apple pie, colorful potato salad, grated horseradish for the steaks, with a touch of garlic.

If you look at the charts for planting in the low desert, horseradish is listed as "not adapted" meaning it can't be grown here. Well, to me that is a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down, to be taken on. Growing up I was around grandmothers (including my own) who grated their own horseradish for Polish meals. I wanted to do more than just grate it, I wanted to grow it.

I had tried growing it before, with the usual and customary planting schedule. I had the opportunity to purchase a horseradish plant a couple of years ago in the fall, and decided if the problem was the heat for growing the horseradish, then the idea was to flip the seasons as we do with so many other edibles here in the desert. It worked!

Last spring I harvested a miniscule amount for grating and kept 5 less-than-pencil thin roots for replanting in the fall. I enjoyed about 1/4 cup or less of grated root last year and replanted the saved roots in October at the same time I planted the garlic.

The results are evident - a huge plant with large roots. They took a while to get going but once they started they just kept going to the size pictured above. I have 4 more plants to harvest, and will keep some good sized roots for replanting in October. Oh boy!

Here is what I discovered: The roots, while perennial in cooler areas are not hardy during our summer, so the trick is to plant in October and harvest in May/June before the plants start to die back. Dig up all the roots, keep what you want for use and notch healthy looking roots as follows: Slice straight across the top to identify the top and cut a small sliver from the end on an angle so you can tell top from bottom for planting. Clean as much of the dirt off as possible. Dry very well, and roll in a slightly damp paper towel, place in sealed plastic bag (or you can use a glass jar if you like) and store in the refrigerator crisper until October 1st.

Growing conditions are as for other winter edibles. Well-draining soil, water regularly but allow to dry out between watering, keep the area weeded and find a location which will get 4-6 hours of direct sun all winter long. I grew mine along side my garlic, same conditions.

Harvesting and storing seed potatoes from the potato patch is easy. Keep healthy potatoes for replanting on January 1st or thereabouts. Store in cardboard in the crisper. Do not store onions with them. In fact it is a good idea to dedicate a crisper drawer to storing things like potatoes, horseradish and garlic heads (see below). The potatoes and garlic should not touch each other or themselves -- keeps mold off of them.

Since so much of garlic in the stores is from China and Asia, I really felt the need to see if it was feasible to grow my own here in the desert. Yes, it is.

The scapes (flower stalks) were harvested 3-4 weeks ago (they are edible), then the heads are ready to harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow and die back (about this time of year, give or take a couple of weeks). You must hang the garlic to dry out of direct sun -- here it takes about 2-3 weeks to dry, then it is ready to use. Save some of the heads for replanting in the fall. Initially you can keep them on the counter, but then move them to the crisper for long-term storage. You can also crisper-store garlic you can't use right away, but you must use or plant them as soon as you remove them from the crisper. Plant by separating the cloves (do not peel) pointy side up.

Is it worth it to grow potatoes, horseradish and garlic when the growing season is so long? Obviously each of you needs to determine that for your family. It is incredibly rewarding to harvest these staple foods from your own garden. What a project for the children to learn where their mashed and French fried (or baked) potatoes come from!

Have a wonderful Memorial Day, Happy Gardening and Cooking the Bounty,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady