Getting Rooted: Pretty Potatoes, Colorful Carrots, Radiant Radishes & Beautiful Beets…

February 23rd, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Now that I have enlarged the potager, I’m planning a bumper crop of colorful potatoes!

Radishes and carrots make great companions, not only in salads, but in the potager as well (see pelletized carrot seed planting tip/velvet carrot recipe here, and read a carrot/radish companion planting article here)

Colorful Salad of Red and Gold Beets Arugula and Feta (Click here for recipe)

I’m getting back to my roots this week… My root vegetable roots, that is. The first carrots of the season were sown in the hoophouses last week, and I’ve just finished ordering a half dozen colorful varieties of seed potatoes from Ronnigers/Potato Garden and the Maine Potato Lady (potatoes are planted when the soil temp. reaches about 50° F, approximately 2 weeks before the last frost date. Usually that is early May here in southern VT).  I’ve been enjoying summertime produce all winter —potatoes, carrots and leeks in particular— pulled up from my cool root cellar. This year I plan on planting even more earthy jewels —in every color of the rainbow— to enjoy throughout the summer and harvest in fall for winter storage. Most root crops are planted early in the season, and some can be repeat-sown for a second, autumn harvest. So, I like to plan out this part of my garden very carefully.

Potato Hills in My Spring/Summer Potager: Here Planted with Early Crops & Flowers (incluing chard, nasturtium, peas)

Root vegetables grow best in deep, loose, sandy loam. I plant my potatoes in trenches and then hill them with soil as they grow. Potatoes may also be planted shallowly and mulched up as they grow with clean straw or other materials, or they can be grown in containers; including barrels, wire cages and bags. Other root vegetables —such as carrots and beets— are best grown directly in deep, loose soil or in raised beds. I like to grow my vegetables in wide, earthen mounds (similar to constructed beds, but with sloped sides, exposed for extra planting space) which give my crops an extra 8-12″ of depth at the root zone. There are many ways to grow vegetable crops, and how you choose to plant your garden depends largely upon your site. Raised beds offer many advantages for gardeners struggling with limited space and/or poor soil. Some vegetable growers choose to adhere to a strict ‘Square Foot Gardening‘ planting plan —popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book by the same name— while others continue to grow crops in straight, narrowly hoed rows. My approach to potager design is a somewhat looser; closely resembling French vegetable gardening in style, with cultural methods similar to those of garden author Ed Smith (I am a fan of his classic, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, and always recommend it to my garden clients). I like to encourage gardeners to experiment with their space and adopt methods of cultivation that work best for them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the most interesting horticultural innovations have come from creative, experimental growers.

Colorful vegetable crops delight the eye and jazz up the dinner plate

Last Year’s Delightful Potato Crop

I have two, somewhat overlapping careers. In addition to designing gardens and gardening professionally, I am also an exhibiting artist. And as a painter, my eye is naturally drawn to the full spectrum of color, form and textural possibilities in vegetable gardening. Sure, I grow orange carrots, red radishes and brown potatoes. But I also love electric yellow and rose-colored carrots, pink and white striped radishes, gold and ruby-hued beets, and potatoes in every color from yellow and pink to red, purple and blue. And why not? If I’m growing my own food, I might as well have fun with it. And with many colorful cultivars, the tastes are as deliciously varied as the hues.

This year I am planting Adirondack Blue and Red standard potatoes, and Peruvian Purple, Red Thumb and French fingerlings; among other varieties chosen for color, flavor and texture. As for other roots, I’ll be growing Atomic Red, Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Yellow carrots, in addition to the usual orange. And planned radish crops include French D’avignon, Watermelon, Purple Plum and Cherry Belle. As for beets? I am growing Golden, Chioggia and Merlin this spring, but if you know of something beautiful and tasty, let me know and I’ll put it in as a fall crop! I buy the bulk of my vegetable seed from several east coast companies; including High Mowing and Johnny’s and  I also order herbs, greens, flowers and gourds from Renee’s GardenBurpee, and Botanical Interests.

Pasta with Potatoes, Rocket and Rosemary (click here for recipe)

Getting the maximum productivity out of a vegetable garden’s usually-limited space is a goal most gardeners can relate to, and with a bit of creative planning, it is possible for a well designed vegetable garden to be both efficient and beautiful. If you haven’t visited this site’s “Potager” page in awhile (over to the left), you may want to click on over for a visit. I have been updating the page —and will continue to do so throughout the season— with links back to vegetable gardening articles and recipes for all of your beautiful garden produce. If you are looking for more potager ideas, I highly recommend the two excellent vegetable garden design books linked below, which I personally own and absolutely love…

Jennifer Bartley’s Designing the New Kitchen Garden is one of my favorite vegetable gardening resources. I highly recommend it. Bartley has a new book out, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook from Timber Press. I have not seen it yet.

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping is a title I chose to review for Barnes & Noble. This is a wonderful new book, filled with fantastic ideas for building a pretty potager all your own.

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Potato Leek Soup: The Antidote to Brrr ! Plus Tips on Storing Leeks in the Root Cellar…

January 10th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

potato-leek-soup ⓒ michaela medina - thegardenerseden.comPotato Leek Soup

Brrr is certainly the word. It’s really cold here in the northeast. I keep hearing rumors of rising temperatures, but so far they are just that – rumors. I take comfort in the fact that there’s a good snow-cover insulating the garden, and inside, my wood stove is cranking out some serious BTUs. But just to be sure I keep the chill at bay, I have made a big pot of potato leek soup to keep me warm. Mmmm. Isn’t it wonderful how a simmering pot of soup fills the entire house with fragrance ? Oh how I love that. Potato leek soup is particularly aromatic and earthy – just the thing on a grey day. Plus this year, everything in this soup comes from the garden, and there is a kind of comfort coming from that as well.

2009 was a great year for growing leeks. It may not have been a great year for most other things – but it was definitely a leek year. Rain. Rain. Rain. Well, it’s a good thing that leeks love moisture. They grow best in a cooling trench filled with rich, but well-drained soil, (it’s almost impossible to over-water and overfeed them). They are truly one of my favorite crops, and because they store well in wooden boxes of damp sand , (in a cellar is best with temp. range 32-42 F), they can be enjoyed all winter, (it’s best to keep leeks away from other vegetables in the root cellar, as they produce a strong, overpowering odor).

When I bring leeks up from the cellar, (or when digging them to eat straight from the garden), I take care to wash them thoroughly in a sink filled with cool water. It’s important to get rid of all the sand, so I soak them first and rinse between the layers, (with the dark green ends pointing down). For this particular recipe, the dark parts are chopped off.  After cutting, I rinse them one more time. No one likes sand in their soup !

Potato leek soup can be made with many different kinds of potatoes, from everyday white to gourmet gold. I used some of the smallish white potatoes I have on hand in the root cellar, (an unmarked variety from Agway), but I am going to be planting some more interesting varieties from Ronnigers in the coming season. My country-neighbors, the Millers, have been educating me about gourmet potatoes, (they are British, and they know their roots!). The more flavorful the potato, the better the soup ! And speaking of flavor – fresh herbs make all the difference in home cooking, and having them close-by insures that they will be used daily. I grow parsley in the hoop-house year-round, and I keep thyme going on the kitchen windowsill. A few herbs also make for a pretty garnish in the bowl.

The recipe below is one from a stained and curled-up card in my box. I’ve also noticed a few variations online recently. One from David Lebovitz looks particularly delightful, as does an older post from Elise Bauer on her blog, Simply Recipes. Lebovitz’s soup is sophisticated and smooth, and Bauer’s is hearty and chunky, (both of these sites are great resources for home cooks). My own recipe lies somewhere between the two.

So it may be cold outside, but I have the antidote here on the stove. Soup is definitely ON !


Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8 ):

3-4       Leeks – dark green ends cut off, (washed thoroughly to remove sand),

cut lengthwise and chopped, ( light white to light green parts), very coarsely.

3 tbs    Butter

2 c       Water

2 c       Vegetable or chicken stock (homemade is best)

2 lbs    Potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces

2           Bay leaves

2 tsp     Fresh thyme, washed and chopped fine (plus extra for garnish )

2 tbs     Fresh parsley, washed and chopped fine

1 tsp     Salt

1/2 tsp  Fresh ground white pepper

1/8 tsp  Sriracha,(“rooster”), hot chili sauce, (or sub tabasco )

1tsp       Per bowl, creme fraiche , (or thick sour cream), for serving

Directions:

In a good size stock pot, melt 3 tbs of butter. Add leeks, salt and pepper and cook on low heat for approximately 10 minutes. Watch the leeks carefully, and do not let them brown !

Add water, vegetable or chicken stock, potatoes and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until potatoes are soft all the way through, (check with a fork).

Remove bay leaves and carefully puree 3/4 of the soup in a blender, (not a food processor). You will need to do this in two batches or you risk burning yourself with an over-filled blender. Return the pureed soup to the pot. If you prefer a completely smooth soup, then puree the entire batch. I like some potato chunks. Add herbs and Sriracha sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Continue simmering for at least 10 – 15 minutes.

Serve warm in bowls garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and sprigs of fresh thyme.

Fresh thyme from the windowsill garden


Leeks and potatoes, washed and cut…

The Secret Ingredient…

potato-leek-soup-2 ⓒ michaela medina - thegardenerseden.compgThe antidote to Brrr: Mmmm!

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