Something Wickedly Good This Way Comes

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Overgrown Raised Gardening Bed
Monsters lurk here...

The name of the blog IS, after all, Sacramento Vegetable Gardening. I suppose I'd better get back to writing about THAT -- rather than grapes, bratty cats, shelving purchased from Target and a million and a half other boring things.

The wife that is Venus and I are slowly getting the Bird Back 40 back into order after a long winter slumber. The weather certainly has been a plus. Many of the beds have been prepared for the upcoming spring and summer gardening seasons. A few even hold some tempting crops.

But not the one pictured above. That's our "jungle bed." This is the only 8X8 foot bed in the Bird Back 40. It is the largest bed we have. In past years? It has played host to heirloom tomato plants, potatoes, cucumbers, all things watermelon and a host of other crops.

Weeds Anyone?
I always try to rotate my tomato plantings from bed to bed. The goal is to give each bed a two to three year break from heirloom tomato plantings. I'm not always successful at this, but I do try. After planting heirloom tomatoes in this bed two seasons ago, Venus utilized it for bell peppers, green onions, eggplant, carrots and a host of other items.

Last year was a rather trying year for both us. While we did go through the gardening routine, sometimes our heart wasn't quite in it. The death of Venus' father affected us both deeply, and in dramatically different ways. He was responsible for much of the raised bed construction in the Bird Back 40. It was his design -- his baby. I was hesitant to move on without him.

Venus with her father, Gale, on Lake Nicaragua
Venus, meanwhile, had the rather unenviable task of combing through a household of memories. Her father's home not only held his belongings, but also the personal items that belonged to her mother, who passed from cancer six years earlier. The house also held treasured family belongings from relatives long-since passed. Every shelf -- every box -- held something unique.

As a result, we fell behind on gardening duties for much of the year. There was just so much to do -- so much to accomplish -- one could get easily overwhelmed. An afternoon of tilling the dirt served to be a welcome respite, but it's a chore that we did not get to relish in nearly enough. So, we fell behind.

Hidden Rows of Parsnips
When you fall behind in gardening duties, you're greeted by gardening beds that were never cleaned following the summer growing season. They are beds that hold the skeletons of peppers and other items that are long since gone, and are also choked with fall and winter weed growth. Our chore this past weekend was to clean it out and prepare for spring.

And while removing some seasons worth of growth did Venus discover that she had a root cellar that she and I had no clue existed. While we thought we had harvested everything from this bed at the close of summer, Venus stumbled upon something fairly remarkable underneath a canopy of weeds and brush.

There -- in perfect little rows planted the previous spring -- grew the unmistakable sign of parsnips. They had overwintered in the garden, Protected by the growth of vegetables long since dead and gone and a jumble of weeds grew monster roots. This was like no parsnip we had ever seen.

Yet -- there they were: Row after row of fat, white parsnips. What are parsnips you ask? Good question. Up until Venus started growing them, I don't think I'd ever tasted one. Many people refer to parsnips as the "poor cousin to carrots." Like carrots and potatoes, parsnips are a root vegetable. They are sweeter than carrots, but are starchy like potatoes. And, yes, if you're wondering: mashed parsnips with garlic and fresh honey makes for a fine side dish.

In the Roman Empire, parsnips were considered to be an aphrodisiac. This isn't all that surprising since the Romans considered just about everything to be an aphrodisiac. Now you know what most adults did before TV was invented.

But, back to parsnips.

Getting these things out of the ground was no easy task. They had grown well beyond the soft planter mix in the raised bed, directly into the clay soil located a foot below. Clay soil doesn't release items easily. So, while root vegetables like carrots are rather easy to pull, these monster parsnips required the assistance of a well-placed shovel.

Partial Harvest. Parsnips Anyone?
These are the largest root vegetables we have ever grown. While we were expecting them to be somewhat woody, much like a radish that's been in the ground for far too long, we were surprised by the texture that greeted us. Parsnips can be shredded raw into a salad, cooked and eaten as a vegetable side dish, or mashed into a concoction that looks like a serving of mashed potatoes.

And for someone who had never experienced the poor cousin to carrots, I must admit, I'm impressed.

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