Beets

I love beets! I never seem to have enough out of my garden. They are easy to grow and don’t take a lot of space. They grow really fast. Which means you can grow several harvests in one season. The entire plant is edible. You can pickle, oven roast, grate and sauté, or mash them. And that’s just what you can do with the roots, the tops have even more uses. They don’t have a lot of diseases or insect pests. They’re rich in iron and folic acid. The tops are a great source of vitamins A and C. There are three main types, or I should say, shapes ...Globes, Cylinders and Tops. They all take about 50 to 60 days to maturity and are hardy to moderate frosts. Globes-some of the sweetest varieties are found in this group. They have done some crossing with standard red beets and the larger sugar beets (those that are grown commercially and processed into sugar) to produce some really good varieties. There are deep red, white, gold and even some with red and white rings. The Cylinders are just a old fashioned kind of beet, apparently all beets used to look this way or top shaped (round on top and pointed on the bottom) before all the geneticists got involved. Cylinders are some of most tender and less fibrous of the bunch, plus the slices tend to be all the same size, which looks really pretty when you go to can them. Some of these can reach 6-8 inches long. The old fashioned Tops are the best for winter storage, as they don’t get tough and woody. They would be stored the same way as carrots. They can also be left in the garden if your weather permits. Some varieties of the Tops will get huge, 3 inches or more, plus you can take some of the tops to eat while you’re waiting for the roots to mature. Beets prefer cool soil and air temperature, but will put up with a widerange of growing conditions. They like a well drained soil, a neutral pH, and a steady supply of water. Most root crops like a loose loamy soil, so dig in lots of compost and peat moss. If you have problems with root crops like beets, potatoes and carrots, you may need to add some trace minerals like potassium, magnesium, rock phosphate, iron and zinc.

Sow your seeds out in the garden as soon as the ground has warmed to at least 40 degrees. I plant mine the same time as my peas. Soak the seeds for an hour or so to increase germination. Those funny little beet seeds that look like Grape Nuts, are really a cluster of several seeds clumped together. So you may get 3-4 sprouts per seed cluster. Thinning is vital. Plant them 1/2 inch deep and thin to 3 inches apart. Mulch them to keep the soil temperature even , and give them about 1 inch of water per week. The key to successful beet harvest is rapid growth caused by a good supply of water. Rapidly grown beets will taste better than those that have been allowed to linger for want of water during the growing period. If you have lots of organic material in the soil you don’t need to fertilize them. Beets seem to taste the best when they’re about silver dollar size.

Oh by the way, beets make a wonderful natural dye (some thing to keep in mind if you have children who like to color eggs for Easter). Just save the water you have cooked the beets in.

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A good source of leafy green material for your compost is the local  florist. You might ask them to toss their leftovers in a box for you to pick up once a week.

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Most catalogs and seed packets indicate the “days to maturity”. To be able to use this essential number , you need to determine whether the number of days indicated refers to seed that you will sow directly in the garden like lettuce, spinach, corn, etc.. Rather than a the number of days it will take a six week old transplant to mature. Crops like peppers, and tomatoes are generally started inside and then transplanted out to the garden. These vegetables will take a week or so to sprout, and then another six weeks to grow and then you start counting that magical “days to maturity”. But whether you start your seeds indoors or out, the “days to maturity” thing is generally a loose guideline. Your mileage may vary depending on many factors unique to your region.

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Seed saving

Its probably pretty obvious that on some plants like lettuce, beans, peas and beets you can just collect the seeds and keep them dry for next years planting. But if the seeds are wet to begin with, how do you store them? Normally the seeds from fleshy fruits would fall to the ground and rot slowly. Some of the seeds would settle into the ground and sprout next year. So you have to take some extra steps to prevent the spoilage.

Peppers seeds can be spread out on a plate and allowed to dry. Don’t use paper towels or the seeds will glue themselves down. Tomatoes have that jelly stuff that has to be fermented away. Just put the seeds in some water and let it rot for 3 days. It’s gonna get stinky so put it away somewhere. When it gets moldy on top add some more water and stir. The seeds will settle to the bottom and you can pour the mold off. Continue to rinse until you have nice clean seeds. Strain and dry the seeds on a plate. I have to stir the seeds while they are drying so they get evenly dry and don’t stick together. Peppers, watermelon, winter squash,and tomato seeds should be harvested when ripe. But cucumbers, eggplant and summer squash needs to ripen past the eating stage.

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Put crumbled up egg shells around tender plants to stop slugs, the shells will cut their tender bodies and they’ll die. Use toothpaste to remove slug slime.

Before sunflower seeds can be harvested the flower heads must be allowed to mature completely on the plant. When the stem near the base of the flower turns yellow, cut the flower head and hang in a well-ventilated area. Seeds will separate easily when the flowers are sufficiently dry. I have trouble with birds raiding my flower heads before I can harvest them. So I tie netting around them, use the kind you get from fabric stores. It’s very inexpensive but allows good air circulation.

Daylillies are edible! Buds and blossoms can be sautéed in butter and eaten alone or added to zucchini and tomato dishes. They can be dried for later use in soups and stews.

Take 3-4 ounces of chopped garlic and soak in 2 tablespoons of mineral oil for one day. Add a pint of water in which 1 teaspoon of fish emulsion has been dissolved. Stir well and strain the liquid. Store in a glass jar. Dilute this 1 part garlic/fish stuff to 20 parts of water and spray on your worst buggies. I have also heard it will help against rabbits.

Plant borage in with tomatoes to deter tomato worms. If interplanted with squash it will attract honeybees to improve pollination.

Brandie

"There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw, the other is the seed catalogs."

 
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