Red kale, yellow beets and I allow carrots back into my life


Maybe not this carrot.

I'm illlllllll. Earlier this week I was attacking brambles and clambering over walls, waving my favourite  secateurs while gibbering excitedly to my sweet patient Other Half about how many cherry trees we 'need' . Now, reduced to slobbing around in an outfit with too many X's, sipping chicken soup and damning my left nostril for refusing to open I'm contemplating my likely recovery time and what I will do the moment I can stand without regretting it.

There are two root veggies which are due to re-enter my life. Having put beetroot of any colour aside before I was two and had mastered the word 'No', I've been slowly discovering that actually, I like the stuff. It's not boring. Okay, it needs some help, maybe roasted with marjoram and some balsamic glaze and goats cheese, but you don't eat onions all on their own either, do you? Ew.
So, I bought some seeds. The reassuringly named red 'Bolthardy' and a lovely rich yellow variety called 'Golden Detriot'. I've sown some already and I'll sow some more in a weeks time creating a gap of about three or four weeks to try and maintain a steady supply of nice golf-ball sized little beetlets (not a real word).

Now, about carrots.

I do love them, freshly steamed with butter and dill or pulled up right from the ground, who doesn't love a snack of carrot thinnings? But for the past two years they've totally snubbed my affection. Either bolting almost immediately upon being sown or mutating into pathetic little stubs despite being planted in special beds, with no recent manuring, with soft, crumbly, specially sifted soil and no stones to stub their tender little tap roots on. Not once has there been any sign of pests or carrot root fly so I can only assume they've been failing out of spite.

Okay the water regime has been less than perfect, but I lived on chalk! Puddles just do not happen when you're living on nature's rock sponge and I've never been as diligent as I should be with watering in dry weather. However, I am made of pretty tough stuff and the soil here is fantastic, deep, soft, crumbly with the occasional little chuncklet of clay. Chuncklets of clay are not always so welcome but with my previous bad record for watering, some moisture retention in a summer set to be a drought is likely to come in handy. Time to have another go.

I've planted my first sowing of 'Chantenay' and 'Danvers 126' on the 14th of this month and they've been the first seeds to come up, beating the red and green oak leaf lettuces but being overtaken by the radishes 'Sparkler' and 'Cherry Belle'. At this very moment I'm eyeing up a really excellent looking purple carrot too, 'Dragon'. Clicketyclick. Add to basket.

'Chantenay' seedlings up and at 'em.

Red kale I grow almost more as an ornamental than as something I will regularly eat. I do like kale, both the deep green 'Cavolo Nero' and the purpley-red 'Russian' have a regular place in my eat-it-it's-good-for-you steamed greens dish and added to soups and stews. But where I appreciate them the most is in the mixed border, where the dark red 'Russian' brings some height and contrast to all the lush vibrant greens and silvers of dahlias, cardoons, sweet peas and Cerinthe major.

Okay, these are a little gaudy green and the kale last year was transplanted and so got a bit left behind while all the in-situ dahalias, zinnias, poppies and sweetpeas went crazy on the manure mulch, but tust me. Kale is super in the mixed border. Oh, and purple basil. And artichokes.

Red and green kale also stands up to whatever cold most winters will throw at it, adding much needed interest to your beds when not much else is going on. Those who find themselves outside amongst the early morning rays will be rewarded with beautiful deepest crimson leaves, crisped and glowing with frost lit up by weak wintry sun. Sow from March till August, pick leaves from the bottom up, stake in strong winds and water in dry spells to prevent the plant from bolting, though if it does flower it's interesting to see and you can pick the young unopened flower shoots for rapini (i.e. sprouting brassicas). Very tasty boiled in salted water for a minute or two, then drained and dressed with a dash of soy salt and a little squeeze of orange juice.

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