In the spring, farmers try to get a jump-start on the intensive summer growing season. One way to do that is to use protected greenhouse space to start warm weather seedlings. “In the late winter we will start tomatoes, peppers, chiles, and other crops in the hoop house that need to be transplanted as soon as the freeze threat diminishes,” says Joe Marlow of SouthWinds Farm. The controlled temperatures and consistent watering in a greenhouse ensure a better germination rate, important for expensive organic or heirloom seeds. Later in the season, bigger seeds that germinate easily, like cucumber, squash, and okra, do well direct seeded into prepared farm beds. These crops can be protected from any lingering cold weather by floating row covers draped directly over the plants or over a series of metal hoops running over the bed.
Perennial crops—plants that establish a root system and return year after year—also need to be prepared for the summer growing season. Fruit trees and vines as well as perennial herbs like thyme and sage need pruning, thinning, and fertilizing for the growing season. At SouthWinds Farm, Marlow says, “We will be planting new bareroot fruit trees and asparagus beds, as well as pruning existing fruit trees before it warms up.”
If you like to cook with fresh herbs, spring is an excellent time to plant your own woody, perennial herbs like thyme, oregano, and rosemary. “You can transplant perennial herbs year round in Tucson, but spring is an excellent time of year. Herbs transplanted in March and April have a chance to get established before the stress of summer heat,” says Lorien Tersey of DreamFlower Garden. At her booth at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, Tersey sells a wide variety of both perennial and annual herb starts, plus flowers and succulents.
At the market this season, keep an eye out for peas and fava beans, two vegetables that make a rare appearance in our short spring season. These legumes can be fickle, requiring just the right weather to produce a good crop. They add a lovely green component to pasta or rice dishes, or light brothy soups. Both vegetables are delicious braised in olive oil with some delicate spring green garlic, green onions, or leeks. Serve with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and a hard cheese like Parmesan or Manchego for a special treat.
Other vibrant spring green vegetables available are asparagus, fennel, and herbs like dill, cilantro, and parsley. These vegetables add freshness to many recipes.
Spring vegetables, except for a few stars, are really a continuation of the winter roots and greens that have been available at market for months. Keep experimenting! There are plenty of ways to play around with root vegetables. Consider all the ways you might use a potato and imagine how it would taste with a different root vegetable. Diced, root vegetables are a perfect ingredient in fried rice or soup. Thin slices can be baked into chips, or wedges roasted like steak fries. Turnips are excellent mashed or in a gratin covered with cream and cheese. Cooked, pureed beets make a delicious dip. Mixed with walnuts or chickpeas, you can even use them as a base for brownies.
Contrary to what you may expect, eating root vegetables raw might make them more palatable to picky eaters. Very thinly sliced, they can add color and crunch to salads. Julienned or shredded root vegetables are a perfect base for sauerkraut and kimchi. With a hit of acidity from citrus or vinegar and some fresh spring herbs like dill or cilantro, these vegetables make surprisingly good salads. To mellow the pungency of turnips or radishes, soak raw slices in a bowl of water with a pinch of salt for 10 minutes, then drain well before using. The soaked veggies provide fantastic crunch without their normal heat and are perfect in sandwiches and salads.
This is a great dip or spread for bread or pita. Top with fresh herbs and chopped olives.
1 bunch beets, roasted, peeled, and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, or half head green garlic
1 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup plain yogurt or sour cream
Salt, to taste
Process garlic and walnuts in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Add beets and olive oil and process until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine beet mixture with yogurt or sour cream. Salt to taste. Store in refrigerator covered with a layer of oil for up to one week.
Use this salsa to garnish your tacos or burritos. It is also refreshing alongside a steak, or any other heavy, hearty dish. This is a great salsa with just the cilantro and lime juice, but add other spices to taste. Soaking the onion and radish in water for just 10 minutes takes away some of the smelly sulfur compounds and mellows the flavors considerably.
1 cup radishes, diced into ¼-inch cubes
½ red onion, diced
1 small handful cilantro, chopped
Juice from one lime
Salt to taste
1 pinch toasted mustard seeds
1 pinch ground cumin
1 pinch ground red pepper
Put diced radish and onion into fresh, cold lightly salted water to soak for 10 minutes. Drain well and toss with lime juice, cilantro, spices, and a pinch of salt, to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve. ✜
Sara Jones is a longtime employee of the Tucson CSA.