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In her community garden, or Urban Eden, Janet Gyenes is growing her own organic veggies, and marvelling at the robustness of last year's crop of radishes, beets, sage and peas, thanks to companion planting. Plus, a recipe!
My community garden plot is in the quintessential urban locale on Pacific Blvd at Seymour St in Vancouver, bordered by gritty graffiti murals and shimmering glass towers that sometimes block out the sun. The entire garden is organic.
Last year was my first foray into companion planting (and any real veggie gardening), and my novice efforts yielded some pleasant surprises and mixed results. Peas thrived and tasted just as sweet as those I remember picking in my garden at home as a kid. Pulling each pastel Easter Egg radish out of the ground was a surprise: would it be pale pink, plum or white?
My chives—planted at the end of each row of carrots and lettuce to repel bugs—never really materialized. But my rainbow chard was still all red, green and gold, and poking up through the chickweed, which I ripped out yesterday in preparation for a new season of gardening. The purple sage is looking robust, and there are even a few wee carrots struggling underground after being left in the garden over winter after a second sowing in late summer.
I’ve haven’t quite decided what I’ll plant this season, but I do know that beets will be on the menu once again. My golden beets did great. The Lutz Green Leaf purple ones were so-so. This year, though, I’m going to see if I can find some Beta vulgaris, aka Chioggia beets. These are the candy-cane striped white and purple heirloom varieties that originated in Italy and were introduced to the U.S. in the 1840s.
I managed to re-brand the lowly beet to my family and friends as a decadent dinner accompaniment with my favourite recipe (below).
• Beets of various colours, tops trimmed off *
• Olive oil
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 2 tbsp honey
• Zest and juice from half an orange
Preheat oven to 350° F. Peel beets and cut into 1-inch cubes (the smaller the cube, the faster they’ll cook). Toss with olive oil to coat. Pour onto a baking pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake, tossing occasionally, for 30–45 minutes, or until fork tender.
In the last five to 10 minutes of baking time, drizzle honey over beets, top with orange juice and zest, and bake until carmelized. Serve warm.
Leftovers? Toss into a green salad with goat’s cheese and nuts. * TIP: Don’t throw away leafy beet greens.
How to grow beets – Sharon Hanna shows us how to do it.
Kanae’s Beet Adventure – How a Japanese student fell in love with these blood-red beauts.
They’re packed with nutrients! Toss them in salads or sauté in a bit of olive oil and garlic, and top with toasted walnuts.
TIP: How to avoid getting caught “beet-handed”
Rubbing coarse salt into your palms with a bit of water acts as a natural exfoliant and helps get some of the beets stains off your hands.
Urban Eden authors Jennifer Nickel and Janet Gyenes tend their organic vegetable plots at the Seymour-Pacific community garden in downtown Vancouver. Jennifer has been gardening with mixed success for over 10 years, having learned only recently that vegetables are harder to kill than flowers and houseplants. Her fondest childhood memories are of warm summer evenings watering the garden with her mom, and stewing homegrown rhubarb. Finding this urban patch of soil has finally allowed Janet to put her community garden-envy to rest. She’s particularly interesting in growing heirloom vegetables, if only to say she’s cultivating some dragon’s tongue and bull’s blood.