The year's circle begins with dirt—under your nails, in your boots, on your shirt and pants. It's good work, if you can get into a rhythm. The year may start humbly, with dirt, but trust me—it peaks with a burst of summer flavors in your mouth.
A warm spell has run through the second week of March here on the Front Range of the Rockies. Only fools fall for this--La Niña may give us a warm, dry spring but there will be frost yet. Still, it's worth a gamble to put in a salad garden in cases like this. Cool weather crops can handle, and may even benefit from, a chilly start.
The garlic above was planted mid-October and is breaking through nicely. It includes three delicious varieties, seen here furthest to nearest: white hot Georgian Fire, pungent Broadleaf Czech, and smooth & buttery Georgian Crystal. I noticed the first sprouts about five days ago, so they are definitely coming on strong.
For the urban or suburban gardener, or for anyone wanting to use space conservatively in a kitchen garden, companion planting is key. I've learned over time that if I have spaced my garlic rows well, I can lay in a variety of leafy plants and other root crops to create a full salad garden. The garlic will grow tall, the leafy plants will shade its bulbs, and the plot will thrive.
I space my rows—laugh if you wish—as far apart as the length of my index finger. We'll call that about four inches.
Into these rows I run shallots, French red scallions, a couple varieties each of lettuce and spinach, mustard greens, and radishes. These leafy veggies and alliums will come up and in about six weeks provide us with baskets of delicious greens for everything from salads to sauces to omelettes—eggs from our chickens, baby. Add to all those a fistful of the nearby and indefatigable chives, a perennial which is characteristically bursting out already. It's weeks of feasting.
The spring garden is a challenge. One has to read the season and know the microclimate of the garden well, and then hope to synchronize inside their pattern, which is never precisely the same, year-to-year. I've learned to use successive plantings, which in short means I plant the same seeds at 2-week intervals as needed, in case some seeds don't germinate or unpredictable weather intervenes. If there are no such incidents, the early seeds germinate and grow well, and that translates to a booming salad garden available for meals in April.
The bounty of leafy greens runs well through April-May, a season of salads and fresh food that is so welcome after a long winter. But June heat spells the end for the salad garden, pushing the plants to seed even as the strawberries start to peak in the nearby bed. But the ace is up the sleeve—remember that this all started with garlic, many months previous.
As the salad garden finishes, the garlic ripens. I cut away all but a few of the beautiful scapes as they begin their graceful curves. Those I leave behind make in the sunlight a kind of poem for the garlic patch. Before long, I'll knock down all the stems and after a few days of that I'll pull the garlic, braiding it into ropes and hanging it in a the shed for a week or so to cure. Then, and only then, will I do one of my favorite things: make bruschetta.
Full disclosure—I am in no way of Italian heritage. I grew up in New York and was surrounded by Italian American families, and that's where I get my love of the food. Bruschetta is such a simple food, and also so exotic in flavor when made from fresh, organic garden ingredients, that very few food pleasures compare.
In high summer, if you have as I will a full list of the fresh vegetables listed below, it's easy to make a stunning platter of bruschetta in about a half hour, as an accompaniment to any main dish Italian.
Cut a baguette in 1/2" slices and toast lightly. Meanwhile, seed and coarsely chop several large, fresh tomatoes. Select a few large cloves from one of your delicious heads of just-cured garlic—smash those with the flat side of a chef's knife and peel—chop—add to the tomatoes. Stir in a TBS of good olive oil, a teaspoon of good balsamic vinegar, and 8 chopped basil leaves—ideally, also from the garden. Stir and let sit a half hour or so to blend flavors.
We aren't done with the garlic yet. Select a few good cloves—peel and slice in half. Now, for the garlic joy: rub those halves over the surface of the toast slices. Your fingers will smell great—in fact the whole room will smell remarkable. Instant aphrodisiac. Pile on the tomato mixture and serve immediately. If you aren't intimidated, just eat these out of one hand while you sip a good Chianti from a glass in the other hand.
Happy bruschetta to you, and garlic joy to all.