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Gardening column: Growing carrots in the veg patch and roasting radishes in the kitchen

In a chaotic world, the veg patch is a place of such calm, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

WE SPEND A lot of time listening to or identifying with the voice in our head. That little voice is constantly there and it’s not always an amiable companion. It’s always regretting the distant or not-so-distant past, or fretting about some imagined future. It’s generally pretty critical (of ourselves and others), often somewhat cruel and, occasionally completely bonkers.

So, if you can silence that voice for a little while and experience the present moment without it, it’s a lightening, liberating experience. The practice of mindfulness is about exactly that – creating little moments of what you could call “no mind” where you are truly present and aware of either the sensations, sights, sounds or smells around you. Not commenting on them, by the way (that would be the little voice back), just being aware.

It can be as simple as becoming aware of the in and out of your breath into your lungs while you read this article, or noticing the contact between your body and the chair you’re sitting on. In those brief moments of focus, the little voice is gone, if only temporarily. It will be back shortly, no doubt, to chide you from within. But for now, all is peaceful.

The little voice follows me to the veg patch. It’s not big on praise, instead reminding me of all the things I haven’t yet done. The bed that needs weeding, the peas that need staking, the potatoes that need earthing up. It’s a hard task-master. But it generally has to give way once I start a task, and the focus shifts from my head to my hands. That’s why the veg patch is a place of such calm.

Parsnips take ages to germinate

I am down on my knees with a hand hoe, weeding and thinning out some parsnips that I sowed in early May. Parsnips take ages to germinate and the weeds have been growing steadily. It’s only now that the parsnips are established (and clearly identifiable) that I can see the rows and weed safely.

When I sowed them, I sowed three seeds at each point (parsnips being notoriously unreliable germinators). So, in addition to the weeding I am also removing the excess parsnip seedlings, leaving just one to grow on.

As I work my way down the bed, I notice briefly how calm I feel and how I haven’t really been thinking for the 20 minutes I’ve been here. With that brief period of “no mind” comes a heightened awareness. I follow the path of a gleaming beetle as it scurries across the newly weeded soil. A purple sprouting broccoli plant beside me has a mass of yellow flowers on it, and a bee is buzzing and moving deftly from flower to flower.

I hear bird song and a pigeon flapping in the trees. I stop work to notice a blue tit land on the gutter over the potting shed carrying a grub of some description in its beak. It looks around feverishly and then drops in to the gutter. I hear the urgent cheep-cheep-cheep of its chicks, obviously nesting out of view and getting an afternoon meal.

I stand up and stretch, feeling a dull ache in my back from all the stooping. I check my watch and the little voice returns to remind me it’s time to make dinner. Back to the world.

The Basics – Sowing Carrots

shutterstock_128531831 Source: Shutterstock/135pixels

Though many growing books will tell you to sow carrots in March or April, I always wait until late May or early June to sow mine.

Germination rates are far better if you leave it a little later to sow, and you also tend to have less problems with the dastardly carrot root fly (currently sniffing the air and taking off to fly to your veg patch at the mere mention of carrots). Besides, I have no real need for carrots, the quintessential stew/stock root crop, until the autumn.

Carrots are best sown direct in the soil as they do not transplant well – there’s really very little point in trying to sow seeds in module trays for later transplanting or for that matter in buying carrot “seedlings”. Never add fresh manure or compost when sowing carrots as it will cause them to fork, and encourage leafy growth. You can however add well rotted manure or compost the previous autumn to the area where you will grow carrots.

I generally aim to the dig the bed well about a month before sowing to make sure there is at least a foot of good friable soil – compacted soil equals stunted carrots. Carrot seeds are tiny so this is one situation where you will really need to get the seed bed to a “fine tilth”.

Sow thinly at 2cm deep in rows 20 to 25cm apart. Keep the seedbed moist to encourage germination. Don’t be alarmed if nothing seems to be happening. It could take 2-3 weeks. Thin to 5cm when the seedlings are large enough to handle.

Recipe of the Week – Roasted Radishes with Radish Greens

shutterstock_220553962 Source: Shutterstock/Amallia Eka

Most people generally chuck the radish leaves in the bin or on the compost heap, but actually the leaves are the most nutritious part (though a little bitter). This is an interesting recipe that uses the leaves and all.

Ingredients

  • 3 bunches small radishes with greens attached
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250° C. Trim the radish greeb and wash them; pat dry. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the oil. Add the radishes, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the radishes for 15 minutes, until crisp-tender.

Return the skillet to the hob and stir in the butter to coat the radishes. Add the radish greens and cook over moderate heat until they are wilted, about 2 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and season with salt. Serve right away.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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