The Year of the Carrot

Apres-bath beta-carotene snack!

Right around the time that the bots bring raggedly cut paper lanterns home from preschool and announce they were born in the year of the ox and the tiger (wrong–the rat and the ox), the winter garden begins pushing all sorts of goodness out of its chemical-free furrows. Chinese New Year gives way to President’s Week among mild days, comments like, “I learned that presidents who don’t look good are smart” (Mbot), and bickering over who gets to use the big shovel.

Picking lettuce

Child labor is alive and well in Arizona.

It usually also coincides with a visit from Nanny. While The Guru stays home in Idaho to cut the corduroy on the ski slopes, Nanny comes south for a bot-fix. This year, we introduced her to the Secret Garden. We were taking a chance, as, if you need a hired gun to assasinate any lifeform capable of photosynthesis, Nanny’s your man. (You see here that she managed to kill an iceberg lettuce, but at least we will eat its head.)

Yes, Virginia, this is where iceberg lettuce comes from

Yes, Virginia, this is where iceberg lettuce comes from! (And we learned from His Wikiness that iceberg lettuce got its name because it used to be shipped under shovelfuls of ice.)

As we stepped among the rows of broccoli, green onions, spinach, and other assorted supermarket items, Nanny’s continued exclamations about how cool the iceberg lettuce was–actually growing out of the ground–reminded me of how cool the iceberg lettuce was, actually growing out of the ground.

Digging carrots out of the ground

Digging carrots out of the dirt before we….


...dig carrots out of the washing machine!

…dig carrots out of the washing machine!

The next day, I was also reminded that every visit to the garden should be followed by a pocket-check. Not that a little beta-carotene in the laundry ever hurt anyone.

(To read about last year’s exciting and treacherous foray among the furrows, see Adventures With the Earth.)

2013 February carrots exhibit 003

Adventures with the Earth

These women may or may not be harvesting broccoli. (From the British dramality show (who knew), "The Only Way is Essex" (

We got broccoli yesterday. Not from Safeway or Sprouts, but from The Earth. And no, that’s not the new organic market that opened up down the street. I actually mean from the earth. You know, that dirty thing that always seems to be at ground level. Unless it’s at knee level, having sucked you in to the tops of your doggie rain boots, or at face level, coming at you at twenty miles an hour in the form of dust. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last summer, the staff planted a company garden on the farm, and we are all welcome to its bounty. We take little enough so that no one even notices we’ve been there. Husbot has taken the WeeBots many times, and returned home to dump bags of corn onto the kitchen floor and shucked it right there, fat caterpillars who also like organic corn, and all.

I have wanted to go, but for some reason I cannot put a finger on, but probably involves shortness and loudness, I had never been there. Yesterday afternoon, though, a family outing to the garden seemed like a great idea; the Bots were tired but seemingly nowhere near sleep, and I was getting over another cold and felt being outside would do me good. So, in spite of a chill in the air caused by an ominous cloud cover and a gentle insistent cold breeze that had sprung up, we loaded up and drove north.

The drive is short, on narrow roads that stretch between fields that rotate between either roses and red potatoes or various organic greens. There are also great stretches of bare, tilled earth, acres and acres of it. We pulled onto a side road and parked along a ditch that separated us from a garden about the size of a football field, minus the end zones.I could already smell the rich, distinct odor of cabbage.

Mouth watering, I gazed out across the bounty of broccoli, Romaine, iceberg lettuce, spinach, kale, carrots, eggplant, and several ruffly rows I couldn’t identify. Oh, which to pick first? It was a good thing I’d brought a big box.

“They’ve just watered,” Husbot announced.

My spirits fell. To the uninitiated, these words mean little. But when I was new to The Farming Life, I’d made the mistake of wading into a rose field on irrigation day. I was lucky to escape with my shoes, but they were never really the same.

We changed our game plan. Instead of gamboling together merrily into the salad, I stood on the road, while Husbot stood in the garden, and we passed the Bots back and forth over the empty but slick-bottomed irrigation ditch to take turns with the harvest. It’s not something you’d see happening on The Food Network or on any show about the pleasures of The Organic Way. Especially the part where Gbot  ended up on intimate terms with the bottom of the ditch, and Mbot’s boot, sucked up to the rim, nearly got left among the carrots. Meanwhile, I noticed that, looking in the direction of home, I couldn’t see the mountains anymore, nor the horses that I’d sworn were in an adjacent field. In fact, I couldn’t see the field.

I also noted with alarm that the wind had picked up. As we headed back to the Midgetmobile, I saw a blanket of dust that came to about the level of Gbot’s head blowing up the road toward us. I picked up Gbot and, careful to coordinate with Husbot so that only one car door was open at a time (to avoid creating a wind tunnel), we stripped the Bots of their clothes and deposited them in the backseat. Then, turning the Midgetmobile so that the dust wouldn’t fill it, I loaded the veggies into the back. We started south. We shouldn’t have. Two hundred yards later was a wall of dust at least fifty feet high. We crept toward it, wondering about our options and expecting John Steinbeck‘s ghost to appear at any moment and start taking notes.

I closed the vents. We inched around the curve in the road south of the sump pond. It’s a sharp turn, and goes on for an unexpectedly long time. We passed, at snail speed, a carefully tended cross memorializing the lives of two people who had not made the curve on a motorcycle several years ago.

After what seemed like ages but was really only about four minutes, we emerged into daylight again, and four minutes after that, we raced through the gale from car to front door with our bounty, and headed for the tub.

The kids needed washing, the clothes needed washing, the car needed washing.

But except for a quick rinse, the veggies did not.

I was certain we would have encountered neither mud nor dust on the way to the Safeway. But which would you rather have to wash–the lettuce or the Lexus?