The eternally dirty knees of a gardener

No matter how hard I try to stay clean, I always get dirty in the garden. I mean really dirty, to the point where need to take off my gardening clothes in the garage. The worst are my knees. Even after thorough scrubbing in the shower, rubbing them with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, my knees still look dirty. This is a mystery to me because I always wear trousers in the garden – hand-me-downs from my mother who is trying to rid her house of decades of accumulated clothing, including old jeans of mine when I was in my twenties (surprisingly, they still fit me, gardening must indeed do something for the waistline).

My best guess is that my knees are not actually dirty but it’s more pressure points from being on my knees a lot, just like our dog has calluses on his elbows from frequent floor contact.

How could I possibly not be on my knees? Seeding minuscule seeds, thinning out tiny seedlings, and harvesting, especially digging out root vegetables, is practically impossible without crouching on the ground, unless you do raised-bed gardening. Today I dug out some lonely beets that I had overlooked all summer, and seeded another fall crop. The arugula needed thinning so I took some for this salad tonight. Of course, I did all of this… on my knees.

When the time comes where I cannot be on my knees any more, I shall move to raised beds. Until then, I will just have to accept dirty knees as the signs of a true gardener.

Beet Salad with Arugula and Feta

1.5 pounds beets

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 small bunch baby arugula

5 ounces crumbled feta

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Wash the beets and put them unpeeled in a Dutch oven or cast-iron casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Pour in about ¼ inch water. Cook the beets in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, depending on size, until they are easily pierced with a knife. If the beets are different in size, check them individually and take them out as they become tender.

3. Slip the skins off the beets and cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside to cool.

4. Whisk the oil with the vinegar, salt and pepper.

5. Wash and dry the arugula and tear into bite-size pieces.

6. In a large bowl, mix the cooled beets with the arugula, feta, mint and dressing. Serve as soon as possible, as the arugula wilts quickly.

Makes 4-6 servings

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