Beet it

Before we get down to the dirt, I want to come clean about something: I hate beets. I mean, I hate them. HATE. I once made a flow chart for my mom to keep on her fridge, demonstrating how beets aren’t food and should stop lying to the masses. I harbor grave doubts about Australia en masse because of the national fondness for sneaking beets onto every damn food they can. There was a Sesame Street song about sugar beets that has, to this day, an unparalleled ability to cause instantaneous rage.

I hate beets. And yet, I bought a pound of golden beets at the grocery store last weekend. I can’t explain it, except maybe I thought taking them home to wither from neglect in my refrigerator might be a good way of expressing my contempt directly.

But this post isn’t about beets. It’s about potatoes. And I love potatoes. Not so much the eating of them – I mean, I eat them, without complaint and often with great enthusiasm. But what I love about potatoes, really, is growing them.

If you’ve never done it, it’s not too late – in most areas – to throw down a tiny fall crop for practice. Just chuck a chitted tuber in some out-of-the-way dirt, let it sprout and vine and take over everything until the plant dies back, and then dig up your bitty baby harvest of awesomeness. Boom! you’re a farmer.

For the real magic, though, you start these puppies in the spring:

chittin' on the window sill

chittin’ on the window sill

Seed potatoes are cheap and, at least around here, pretty easily available. I like to grow a variety – this year, I started Royal Purples, Russian Bananas, and Rose Apple Finns. I admit without reservation that I picked the Finns because of my dog’s name, and the Russian Bananas because it sounds just very slightly dirty if your sense of humor hasn’t matured since age 12. (Pro tip: mine has not.)

I leave the seed potatoes out in the sun for a few days until they’re nicely sprouty, and then I toss them down into about 6″ of straight compost…in a trash can. Just a standard-issue cheap plastic trash can, that’s had holes drilled into the bottom and about 6-10″ up the sides.

Cover the seed potatoes with more compost, and wait for the magic to start.

see?  magic!

see? magic!

Once the sprouts have all got at least 2 sets of leaves on them, add another layer of something dirt-like. It can be more compost, or it can be garden soil; I’ve even heard just using wood shavings is fine. Anything, really. Just bury all but the top set of leaves.

middling

And repeat. Repeat and repeat again, until the bin is full, or until you go away for a long weekend and now there’s so many leaves that you start to worry things will go weird if you bury them again. They won’t, but it’s fine to panic and stop whenever you want. They’ll keep growing, right up and out of the trash can.

Three little taters, all in a row

Three little taters, all in a row

Water when the dirt looks dry, and otherwise, ignore the heck out of them. Once the leaves start to yellow, stop watering, and once the leaves and stalks look damn near dead, it’s potato time!

You should have potatoes pretty much top-to-bottom in the can, of all manner of sizes. Getting them out is dirty work, but not terribly arduous – dig in with bare hands to start with, and when that stops being satisfyingly result-oriented, just tip the thing over and marvel at your bounty.

harvest

Today was the day my stalks finally looked dead enough, and my patience finally wore thin enough, that I decided to upend my entire potato crop, and let me tell you, it was an awesome one. From 6 seed potatoes, and with very little real effort, I got a good 15+ pounds of potatoes.

Like I said: BOOM. FARMER.

But meanwhile, back at those beets.

There I was, with time on my hands, dirt under my nails, nothing planned for dinner, 15 pounds of potatoes in various shapes and colors…and one bunch of beets in the fridge.

Ugh. Fine. Challenge accepted. Enter: the potato salad. With secret beets.

dawg

Step one: peel beets and cut them into bite-sized chunks. Give a roughly-equal quantity of potatoes the same treatment. You could probably not peel the potatoes, but I found it very comforting to do so, having just dug them out of the DIRT.

Heat the oven to 375. Toss the potatoes and beets with a liberal sousing of olive oil, and then sprinkle with coarse sea salt. For 3 large beets and about 5 potatoes, I used about 3T of olive oil and 2t of salt.

Cook in the top half of the oven for 45 minutes, stirring once at about the halfway point.

As soon as they come out of the oven, toss with about 2t of plain white vinegar.

Step two: saucy!

essentials

In a large bowl, I mixed 1/2c mayonnaise, 2T of mustard, and 2T of vinegar together with a whisk. Crucial points here: I really like vinegar. I also really like mustard. If you don’t like either, replace with an equivalent quantity of buttermilk, or, 1/2 the quantity of plain old milk. Add 1/2 t of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.

Step three: Toss the still-warm potatoes into the sauce, and stir til coated. Scissor-snip 2 green onions – smugly plucked from the garden, naturally, or store bought if needed – into the bowl and toss again. Let the whole mess sit at least 30 minutes, then eat or refrigerate.

It’s not pretty, but…

ugly

…it turns out: beets, when roasted together with fresh-from-dirt potatoes, tossed together with a little salty, fatty magic, and liberally vinegared…they’re kind of edible. They’re kind of good, even.

WHO AM I KIDDING. THEY WERE AWESOME. I AM STILL EATING WHILE I TYPE, AND IT JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER.

I still hate beets, though.


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Secret bonus prize for reading all the way to the bottom? I found some funny shaped potatoes today. Like super funny. Like…FUNNY. That thing I said up there? About being 12? That’s a generous estimation.

yep.

yep.

YEP. THAT HAPPENED. IT’S COOL. IT’S NATURAL. YOU GET USED TO THESE THINGS WHEN YOU’RE A FARMER.

Humble Harvest Brag

Jenn may have sacrificed all of her carrot seedlings on the altar of Wily Damn Dogs. Clearly, I suffered from no such catastrophe:

so. many. carrots.

so. many. carrots.

Because we are educated, classy, and lady-like, we exalted in my homegrown success in the most dignified way possible, and thought we should share the genteel joy:

txt

It’s ok, I can’t hear the sounds of PG-13-language-disapproval over all the awesome fresh-carrot crunching.

Garden Weather

grow up!

grow up!

The weather in Seattle has been A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Also read: hot, sticky, hot, sweaty, sunny and otherwise meant for shorts and mai tai drinks. Certainly not working.

Garden Paradise

Garden Paradise

The sunshine has done wonders for my garden and it is growing like gangbusters! Everyday I am able to harvest a few little special somethings.

Lemon & Cute Cucumbers!

Since Gunnar Rabbit ate most of all the lettuce, I haven’t tried to replant any of that and have just let my little piece of dirt do its own thing.

Which means I have six foot tall tomato plants and ever creeping lemon cucumbers.

So special!

So special!

I’m working on something special for Shannon, at her request, and I hope to have it available to you soon. Hint: it’s for nerd gardeners like us!! But I think it will be a great tool for our future plans and plantings.

So Pretty!!

So Pretty!!

In the meantime, while trying to stay cool and out of the sun, I’ve been working onĀ  few loose end Pin-jects (pinterest projects?? No?) and hope to have a few up and ready in a few days.

A REAL ROMA!!

A REAL ROMA!!

Something about summer weather just makes me want to drink and chill out… and watch my garden grow.

-jenn

on a roll

You guys, I am ready for tomatoes.

No, I mean it. I started plants indoors in February. I nurtured them carefully, hardened them slowly, and shook my fists at the sky when 3 of them got taken out by freak May hailstorms. I selected only the snobbiest, most pompous-yet-charming varieties, and when I started finding little baby fruits on my Bloody Butchers and San Marzanos last month, I literally called half the people I know to crow about it.

The tiny baby fruits of a month ago are fat and sassy and gloriously striped and whimsically shaped and all together just heirloom as fuck.

Was that the first fbomb we’ve dropped here? Sorry, but I don’t care. Tomatoes are serious business. THESE tomatoes are serious business.

heirloom

as

bomb!

I’m sure you see the other unifying feature of these tomatoes: they’re green. THEY ARE STILL GREEN. Here I am, absolutely perishing for the taste of garden-fresh perfectly sun-ripened tomatoes, and instead, I have a mini-farm chock full o’ things that are only barely edible if breaded and fried.

NOT COOL. I have done my time in the waiting room, and I am ready to see Doctor Tomato already. Not to mention, everything else in my garden is going gangbusters – I’m crawling in carrots, overwhelmed by onions, and let’s not even talk about the lettuce.

Yet here I remain, a few tomatoes short of a salad.

I cracked this week, and dove face first into the only cure I know: a $9 jar of spaghetti sauce.

Let me say this again: A NINE DOLLAR JAR OF SPAGHETTI SAUCE. Jar. Jarred sauce. for $9. That is ALMOST TEN DOLLARS.

This is why we can’t have nice things, or more accurately, why I flinch every time I open a bank statement. Because I budget and I plan and I scrimp and I save, and then I go $9-jar-of-spaghetti-sauce crazy. But you know what? Doesn’t matter. Tastes like tomatoes and sunshine. This is summer in a jar, and the closest I can get to tomato happiness until the lazy green jerks in my garden get their sunburn on.

To assuage my guilt over the sauce, I made garden meatballs, so that I had SOME fruits of my labors to chew on. What’s a garden meatball, you ask?

Well. It’s a meatball. With things from your garden. HELLO.

These aren’t pretty – as evidenced by the total lack of pictures! – but they’re yummy, and they’re flexible, and actually ridiculously healthy, especially if you, like me, eat your meatballs and sauce entirely sans-spaghetti.

What you need is:

20 oz of ground turkey – fat, lean, whatever. Sub non-turkey if you want. Use more or less if you prefer; 20oz is just how Jennie-O likes to pack her birds

1 egg, beaten

10 Tokyo White heirloom bunching onions, whites and tops OR 1 probably-too-small-to-pick-but-too-impatient-to-wait Walla Walla onion (or one small-ish standard issue grocery store onion) – minced as fine as you can manage. Go on, feel like you’re a chef!

1 grated Chantenay Red Core carrot (or about 1/2 cup grated grocery store carrot)

about 1T minced-up carrot tops (or about 1T fresh parsley, or 1/2t dried parsley)

about 1T each fresh oregano and thyme (or 1T dried oregano, and skip the thyme, because dried thyme feels like twigs. Unless you like eating twigs.)

Liberal sprinklings of garlic powder, salt, and pepper

Preheat your oven to 350, and put the spaghetti sauce of your choice – $10 craziness or otherwise – in a large pan over low heat. Add all the herbs and vegetables to the meat, and stir-and-squish with a fork until well distributed. Pour over the eggs, and smash it all together with your hands, like you are some kind of deranged sculptor whose chosen medium is meat. Roll 2″-ish balls and bake on a cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes. You don’t need to worry about how well-done the meat is; they just need to be cooked well enough to hold their shape. Don’t worry if white goo escapes – it’s normal. Plop meatballs hot into the sauce – with or without the white goo, which may be egg but may also be magical meatparts, and honestly, I think I am better off if I don’t ask. Cook at a slow simmer for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour. Stir occasionally – very occasionally, say every 10 minutes or so. Bask in your warm, rustic summer-scented kitchen for the intervals between stirring.

Serve over noodles, or better still, straight up in a bowl, with a side of spoon. Either way, best eaten in the sun on the back deck, while you gaze down magnanimously on the abundant green tomatoes you TOTALLY don’t need.

For now, anyway.

four-legged farming

It’s probably not surprising that right now, my favorite rabbit holes for inspiration are garden-related. I’m particularly, if mockingly, fond of the myriad delights the internet has to offer any time you do a quick search of “pet-friendly gardens.”

While I’m grateful for the lists of non-toxic plants this produces, it tickles me most of all to see the great lengths people go to when trying to design landscapes that will appeal to their furrier family members.

Maybe I’m a minimalist, and maybe my poor pets are woefully underpampered, but, honestly…it doesn’t seem that complicated to me. My three step plan for creating an irresistible dog oasis goes pretty much like this:

First, build some raised beds. We are trying out the ever-popular Square Foot Gardening concept this year, so 4×4 squares installed close to the house were the order of the day.

boxes

Feeling uncrafty, power-tool-pathetic, and all around lazy? These were no-tools-required kits from Home Depot for about $25 each. Small price to pay for a whole lot of easy, I say!

Next, add dirt to your newly built beds. Pretend the dog in the background is just hanging around, and not at all furtively watching your every move. If you do happen to make eye contact with the dog, you make sure and express, in word, gesture, and telepathy-suggestive brow-furrowing, that these? These newly-minted freshly-dirted garden beds? Are for VEGETABLES, not DOGS.

justadd

Notice I am saying nothing about digging down, or removing the grass. Because I didn’t. Because lazy. I did throw down some pretty spiffy weed cloth, which I plan on yanking out before next year’s planting. Because, if I haven’t mentioned, lazy.

Finally, turn your back. A second or two should do it.

garden

INSTANT DOG-FRIENDLY GARDEN, FOLKS. INSTANT. No lavish landscaping, palatial dog houses, or fancy fountains required.

Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for most of us, the trick is building a pet UN-friendly garden, at least if you want said garden to produce anything other than muddy footprints. I could tell you some stories about fishing Jasmine out of the zucchini bed, and how I finally gave up and accepted that the dog just Does Not Approve Of Courgettes. However, my trials and tribulations in the land of canine trespassers and trampling have NOTHING on the excitement Jenn has had this year, so I’ll leave it to her to share all the tips, tricks, and tragedies there.