Who's going to raise your food? Help yourself or help someone who is taking the risk to provide the food you need. They can be young, they can be old- any age will do. They will play in the earth, the dirt of life, and produce the sustenance we all need.
Backyard gardens are again becoming a place of inspiration and joy. Neighbors are sharing their bounty with friends and acquaintances. Abandoned city lots are springing up with raised beds, and communities are coming together. Farmers are sharing pieces of their property with young aspiring farmers. Taste is the plus. Produce freshly picked and eaten has more vitamins and minerals and an oh-so-good taste.
How close are you to your food producer? If you don't have a garden, look for a neighbor who has one and volunteer some labor and learn. They may share some of the bounty with you.
There is nothing that fulfills the soul like putting seeds in the ground and nourishing them with love and care, sunlight and rain to bring them to fruition. A couple of our standards at Bluebird Organic Farm are beets and carrots. Beets are usually pretty easy, and carrots take a little more skill and care.
We plant seven varieties of beets. The shortest (from seed to harvest) growing variety is Early Wonder Tall Top. It matures in 43 days and produces great beet top greens for salads, soups or steamed alone. We also plant New Ace, Chioggia, Cylindra, Detroit Red, Lutz Green Leaf and Golden. The Tall Top, New Ace and Detroit are standard reds. The Chioggia is a bright red and white striped. The Cylindra is a long, thin beet sliced easily to make baby beets. Golden beet is a stunning yellow-orange which makes a handsome display on a plate.
We plant three rows of beets in a single bed. The beds are 40 inches wide, and we space the rows 9 inches apart for easy cultivations. We fertilize the rows with compost and then plant the seed. Beet seed will sometimes produce more than one plant, so we plant them 1/2 inch deep and about 1 inch apart. After they sprout up, we sometimes thin them to 2-4 inches apart giving them ample growing space for larger beets.
We usually harvest the beets when they are between 3-4 inches wide so they are tender and tasty. Beets are planted five to six times during the season as late as September. They will sometimes overwinter under row covers or inside a high tunnel.
Carrots are a little more difficult. It takes carrot seed sometimes as long as two weeks to germinate or sprout, so weed control is important. We take radish seed and mix them with carrot seed. The radish seeds germinate quickly, so when they are planted with carrots they give a marker for the rows, guiding early cultivation. Carrots are planted with the same spacing as beets, 1 inch apart with the rows 9 inches apart in a 40-inch bed.
We use a pelletized seed for carrots. The seed is covered with a clay pelletization, which makes each tiny seed about as big as the seed of a radish. This makes it easy for seed placement. We get this pelletized seed from Johnny's Selected Seeds (Johnnyseeds.com). We dig three rows/troughs about 2 inches deep in the bed with a hoe and then take an opened top gallon jug to pour water in the bottom of the trough. Then we put the seeds on top and cover with 1/2 inch of soil. After they are covered, we pat the soil with the bottom of the hoe to give a visual line where we know the seeds are planted. Next, we take compost and place a thin coating over the seed path giving us another marker for the row. This means you should cultivate in between these rows three times in the next two weeks until the carrots sprout. We use the same covering of compost over the beets.
Some people use a light covering of straw over these rows. Compost works well for us as it acts as a fertilizer while shading out weeds long enough to allow the vegetables to sprout. By then, the radishes are growing well and if you leave them in the ground, you get some tasty radishes in your salad. Continue to cultivate as needed.
The five carrot varieties we plant are Nelson, Mokum, Napoli, Sugarsnax and Nectar, which range from 54-72 days until maturity. We plant carrots about five times during the season. We are currently harvesting carrots that overwintered in the ground with a row cover over them. They were planted in September. Harvest for carrots is determined by pulling a little dirt from around the top of the carrot to see if they are about an inch in diameter. Oh, so sweet and tasty!
Share a garden tip with a friend and enjoy playing in the soil. Even if it is to help someone else out in the garden, you are creating community, another something we all need.
The Wheeling Farmers' Market starts Saturday, May 31 at St. Michael's parking lot on National Road - 8 a.m. to noon. See you there!
Mick Luber is an organic farmer at Bluebird Farm in Cadiz. He has more than 25 years of organic farming experience and is a regular at the Wheeling farmers' markets.