Early Garden Harvest

Heirloom RadishOur Farmers Market here in 7,000 foot high Santa Fe, New Mexico is now in full swing. Drawing from farms in the lower, warmer and dryer areas south of town as well as the cooler, mostly higher, and slightly damper north, the market is filled with greens and other early season vegetables despite the fact that frost can occur into June depending on the variable elevation and micro-climates. Here are some take aways from this early garden harvest and what they might mean for your garden and even your lifestyle.

Yes, greens, as you might expect are to be found in abundance. Lettuce, both mixed mesclun and small heads of leaf lettuce were everywhere as well as arugula, baby chard leaves and some spinach (we weren’t sure why there wasn’t more spinach around and nobody seemed able to tell us… is it because small farmer avoid the crop since it’s so voluminously represented these days in our grocery stores and organic markets?).

There were also beautiful stacks of red, white and mixed radishes, greens and all, some in perfect globes, some tubular. Judging from the number of people stopping to take pictures of them, they were thought to be photogenic by more than just me. Often next to them were equally photogenic stacks of turnips and, less frequently, bunches of beet greens pulled from the ground their tiny roots just beginning to swell. There were thick, dark green onions, with beautiful white roots. Asparagus was present and would be, one grower told us, for another week or two. And there was chard of various sizes, small baby leaves with white, red, and yellows stalks as well as big thick, deep-green bunches of the sort you’d expect to see mid-summer.

The abundance and size of the greens led us to ask questions and sure enough: those with bigger greens and root vegetables (and some with smaller sized harvest) were using covered raised beds, cloches, row covers and hoop-garden technology to push the season. One tip they offered: keep a close watch on day-time temps. It’s important to uncover, vent or otherwise protect young greens from the serious heat that can build up on these sunny, warm days. The results, as seen at the market, can be impressive.

There were also a few heirloom tomato varieties offered and other late season plants like basil. These reflected the wide-spread use of green houses. Surprisingly, there were fewer tomatoes available for purchase than just a few months ago. One well-known, hydroponic-grown tomato vendor was missing entirely. The grower that was there with tomatoes said that this probably because its the time of year for growing new plants and general cleanup and green house maintenance.

The other commodity in abundance were potted plants and vegetable starts. Many of these two were started and grown in greenhouses. People were carting off beautiful organic tomatoes and squash as well as broccoli and cauliflower starts and a variety of landscape flowers. Home gardeners looking to justify the cost and/or work involved establishing a greenhouse should need look no further. The price of starting your own heirloom seed and getting a head start on the season, not to mention extending the growing and harvest period on the fall end of the year? Priceless.

The other impression the number and variety of vendors at the market made on me was that so many people are using their gardening skills to supplement or earn all of their income. Many growers have struck deals with our fine and varied local restaurants (many restauranteurs, chefs in their white cooking coats, can be seen browsing the market for the best looking ingredients and hauling big bundles of produce away from the market). And there’s more than good organic gardeners selling baby lettuce to cafes and discriminating individuals. There’s a gentleman pushing the virtues of garden worms — he uses the straw bale method — while selling worm casing, worm tea, and the worms himself. Another family that has a thriving orchard business markets oyster mushrooms during the off-season.

Your kitchen-crazy Planet Natural Blogger –still without a garden of his own — came home from the Farmers Market with turnips, beets, onions, and a beautiful basil plant. The greens and onions went to make a kettle of vegetable stock that will be used for a spinach and potato soup. We cleaned off the root vegetables — the tiny beets, the golf-ball sized turnips cut into halves and added them to some sweet potato we’d bought at the organic market, dumped it all into a greased baking dish, splashed it with olive oil and salt, and roasted the lot of them. When the roasting was almost complete, we threw on some thick asparagus, and a bit after that, an entire green onion or two. We made pesto with the basil, adding some green chile we’d frozen from the previous fall. We served our appreciative brood roasted vegetables and pesto that night with some good homemade bread. We’ll have a second night of homemade soup, made more flavorful by stirring in a dollop of the remaining pesto. And we’ll look froward to going to the farmer market again next week.

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