Do you want the good news or the bad news?
We’ll start with the good news. The good news is that our hoophouse has successfully extended our growing season. Granted, it’s gotten an assist from the warmest winter in human memory, but it still felt good to be out there in January, harvesting the parsnips and beets I planted in the early summer.
Or at least it did, until I got the bad news.
Root vegetables allow gardeners to remain in denial up until the very last moment. When you’re growing tomatoes, or eggplant, or lettuce, the fruits of your inadequacy stare you full in the face, from seedling to harvest. You watch as, right before your eyes, they stubbornly refuse to turn into the picture-perfect vegetables of your imagination. You never have the chance to develop unreasonable expectations.
Roots, though, allow you to dream. Surely that forest of beet greens is collecting sunlight to feed big, sweet, deep red beets just beneath the surface.
Last week, I pulled up the parsnips. Despite having been in the ground for some eight months, most of them were about the size of my pinky. A couple of them reached a diameter of over an inch, but none was more than about three inches long. A more pathetic root harvest I have never seen.
Or hadn’t, until I pulled up the beets. The best of them looked like miniature stunted carrots. There was not a rounded one in the lot. The dozen or so largest – the only ones that merited keeping – came in at about a half-pound. Total. Not for the first time, I was grateful that beets are two vegetables in one, because the greens were lovely.
I suspect our soil is long on N, and short on P and K. We have a history of growing plants that are long on leaves and short on fruit, and our root harvests have almost always been terrible. Each year, I think I should give it up and only grow things that are supposed to have lots of leaves but beets are one of my favorite vegetables, and I’m of the hope-springs-eternal school of gardening.
So, come spring, Kevin and I will be loading up on organic matter, supplementing P and K, and slipping back into denial.