From the Publisher's Desk: Report from the (red) urban garden

Written by Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate August 24, 2010 09:00 pm

Yugoslavian Red lettuce growing in a planter, red potatoes and Chioggia beets I picked Sunday afternoon.
Yugoslavian Red lettuce growing in a planter, red potatoes and Chioggia beets I picked Sunday afternoon.
Our garden is in full bloom and the trendy color now is red! The strawberry patch is still producing a few berries, but lettuce, beets and potatoes — all red — are plentiful. In the greenhouse four tomato plants provide enough fruit for our salads, and peppers are gradually ripening to red.

Beets, a crop I wasn’t successful with last year, are growing in two raised beds. This year I planted an Italian heirloom variety called Chioggia (pronounced Kee-oh-ja). These beets are a bright red, not the deep burgundy color of ordinary beets. When you cut into them you find concentric circles of red and white that turn pink and golden when the beets are cooked.

Sunday night I took two large beets (six to eight inch diameter) and drizzled olive oil and ground pepper over them, then wrapped them tightly in foil, put them in a shallow pan (to avoid drips in the oven) and baked at 350 for over an hour, until I could put a fork through them. This is my favorite way to prepare beets. The thin skins peel off easily with your fingers and the beets taste sweet and moist.

I took two smaller beets and boiled them in salted water and then sliced and drizzled olive oil over them. They tasted great, but I still prefer them roasted. What’s interesting about Chioggia beets is that they do not “bleed” on your hands or in boiling water. They’re no mess like you get with traditional beets.

I planted potatoes last March. As an experiment, I took a large plastic planter and filled it about two thirds with potting soil. Then I put in seed potatoes – red potatoes I’d bought from Ocean Air Farms last fall and left in the garage all winter. They sprouted “eyes” so I cut the potatoes up in pieces leaving at least two “eyes” on each piece and tossed the pieces on the potting soil in the planter, then covered them with straw (something I saw on a TV gardening show) and more potting soil. The layer of straw made it easy to locate the potatoes when I started digging for them.

I planted potatoes in this pot in March. Four weeks later, they started to sprout.
I planted potatoes in this pot in March. Four weeks later, they started to sprout.
At my age (oh, how it hurts to say that!), it’s easier to grow potatoes in a planter than in the ground. Throwing the seed potatoes in a hole is no problem, but when it comes to digging them out, stooping over a planter is easier than getting down on the ground. We’ve had about five or six meals from the red potatoes in the planter. The rest of my potatoes — russets, Yukon golds and more reds — are in the ground and I haven’t gotten the urge to dig them up yet.

A new-to-me colorful crop that’s flourishing is Yugoslavian Red lettuce. I bought six packages at the Territorial Seed store last spring because of the name (I’m 100 percent Yugoslav). Yugoslavian Red is a butterhead lettuce. The seeds produce a loose, large head with red tips on the outer leaves. It’s got a mild flavor and was easy and fast to grow. When my raised beds were full a couple of months ago, I sprinkled seeds into a planter and now it’s overflowing with Yugoslavian Red lettuce!

If you think growing a garden in Crescent City is challenging, try the beets, potatoes and lettuce. If they can grow in the fog at our house, they can grow anywhere.

Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher, at mthomas @trip li cate .com, 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.