Sunday, May 2, 2010

TEST PLANTS

Plant Test
As promised, here's what little information I have about the seedlings that many friends of Cole Canyon Farm will be testing over the next six months, give or take. Most of the information is from the Johnny's Seed Catalog (Pumpkin/Squash) or Gary Ibsen's TomatoFest website (tomatoes) unless otherwise credited. We have not grown these here at Cole Canyon Farm and that is why we are so looking forward to hearing about the outcomes of your testing. If you need basic Squash or Tomato growing information, send an email to Cole Canyon Farm and we can discuss specific growing challenges in your garden environment.

Let's start with the Pumpkins/Squashes:

AMERICAN TONDO: An old Italian variety (then why is it called "American"?) this beautiful ornamental pumpkin has deep orange skin with green stripes between the heavy ribs. It weighs between 6 and 14 pounds when ripe. This is a long vining plant and needs room to roam. 100 days to maturity, expect two pumpkins per vine. Shelf life is 4 - 6 months.

KNUCKLE HEAD Pumpkin: A fairly new hybrid with freaky bumps and warts. Moderate vines bear pumpkins averaging 12 - 16 lbs. Expect two pumpkins per vine. Medium vine length. Lots of pictures of this wierdo on the internet.

MARINA DI CHIOGGIA Squash: 105 days. "This heirloom squash traces its roots to the coastal town of Chioggia, Italy. These large, dusty-green, bumpy, turban shaped squash average 10 pounds. The rich sweet flesh is deep yellow-orange and simply delicious in pies or baked. In Italy, it is prized for gnocchi (and fall ravioli!) and for roasting."

LONG ISLAND CHEESE Squash: Quoted from Seed Savers Exchange: "C. moschata) East Coast heirloom long remembered as a great pie squash by people in the New York and new Jersey areas. Named for its resemblance to a wheel of cheese. Flattened fruits re buff-colored with deep orange flesh, 6 - 10 pounds and a good keeper. 90 100 days." Note: Martha Stewart featured this pumpkin a couple of years ago in her October issue; great recipe for a vegetable stew served up in a hallowed out Long Island Cheese Squash. Gorgeous.

NAPLES LONG: Or Long of Naples on some sites; this is by far the biggest of all these specialty pumpkins, growing up to 25 pounds. From Johnny's: These large, peanut-shaped squash can weight 20 - 25 pounds. The skin is a deep green that turns tan in storage. The flesh is bright orange, and the flavor is superb - rich and very sweet. 125 days.

SPECKLED HOUND Squash: Quoted from The Cook's Garden: "A winter squash that's as gorgeous as a gourd, but so much more scrumptious. Beneath the randomly patterned blue-green and orange rind is a dense yellow-orange flesh bursting with marvelously concentrated sweet, nutty squash flavor. Growing to 3 - 6 pounds, it's a joy to hold and carry. Pumpkin-shaped, silky smooth and waxy with shallow furrows and a strong green stem. Easy to harvest from plants with open habit.

MUSQUE De PROVENCE: Quoted from Local Harvest: "Musquee de Provence is a French heirloom and is somewhat rare. It is also known as Fairy Tale, with deep ridges and a very sweet flesh. Good storage.

And now the tomatoes!

NEPAL: Marie at Roger Reynolds Nursery asked me to find this one for her. It's a beefsteak variety, originally grown in the Himalayan Mountains. It produces large, deep red tomatoes that weigh up to 12 oz. It does well in cooler climates and is a good keeper when picked green and allowed to ripen off the vine.

AUSTRALIA: Regular leaf plants produce fruit that are large, red, heartshaped with few seeds. 85 days, indeterminate.

BLACK ETHIOPIAN: A favorite Russian heirloom tomato from the Ukraine. Very productive plants yield copious amounts of red-mahogany-bronze, 6-oz plum-shaped fruit. Rich, fruity, tangy taste. Rare. 81 days, indeterminate.

CARMELLO: A French tomato with exceptional flavor. Produces well in cooler climates.
DONA: Both Carmello and Dona have been de-hybridized by Gary Ibsen, both are French Market tomatoes, and both are said to have excellent flavor in cooler coastal climates. We have offered Dona before to eager growers in the Aptos/Santa Cruz area. Glad it's back and I'm anxious to hear how both these plants fare.

EARLY WONDER: Free seeds from Tomato Grower Supply with all the usual hoopla about early fruit set, great flavor and best in short season climates. Let's see how it does here.

INDIAN MOON: This is a Navajo heirloom featuring good production of 'beautiful, blemish free, medium sized golden-globed meaty and flavorful tomatoes. 75 days, indeterminate, yellow/orange. The Navajo live in pretty hot and dry climates, so we shall see how this plant does here.

JAUNE COEUR DE PIGEON: Plump pear shaped tomato from France, it's actually a yellow pear. 75 days, indeterminate.

OLDE WYANDOTTE: I believe I am from Wyandotte country, but the map calls Wyandotte country nearly all of the Northeast and the word means 'those defeated by the Huron'. This tomato, though, is a late season golden/yellow beefsteak with a terrific fruity flavor. I doubt if any Wyandottes got to taste it, but we will.

I welcome any additional folklore, anecdotes, and growing notes about any and all of these unique plants. We'll blog about it in the fall.

THANK YOU!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Scented Geraniums

It isn't this lovely flower that brings the fragrance to your garden; it's the leaf. And these plants aren't geraniums - they are pelargoniums. Scented geraniums have a few things in common with geraniums; they do well without abundant water and they don't need a lot of care. In our climate, scented geraniums bloom for many months each year and most will not only survive the winter, but will thrive during most of it. Frost may burn the outer leaves and you should leave those be; they are protecting all the lush new growth coming up from below. Wait to give them a good pruning in late spring after the danger of frost has passed - about NOW! - and your plants will experience an immediate growth spurt and bloom.
I have to make a confession. I love these plants because they can survive in our world of neglect. We have so many plants to grow for sale, that we have little time left for landscaping or garden plants. If scented geraniums thrive is this brutal environment; little water, poor soil, nearly total neglect - then your plants will look terrific! (Note: When you take them out of their pot, you should see a large tap root. This is the root that enables this plant to survive drought.)
There are so many varieties and frankly, I can barely tell them apart - aromatically - after a while. The mint geraniums are obvious, the apple and nutmeg are unique, the lemon is apparent; but all the rest smell like rose to me. Most are in the rose geranium category; Attar of Rose, Capitatum, Clorinda, Velvet Rose, Rober's Lemon Rose, Little Gem, and so forth. It really doesn't mater - they all smell good! Find ones that you like the looks of. Some are very weird and, of course, those are the ones I really like. Gooseberry is chaotic and fascinating. Strawberry can be gangly and arrogant; yes, arrogant. Fingerbowl Lemon is upright and parsimonious - and one of the old Victorian types. Put the leaves in fingerbowls on your table to scent the water that refreshes greasy fingers. French Lace, great name! Not one of the prettiest but nice variegated leaf and sweet little pink flowers. Apple is nice; a satin finish to the leaf and slight, ever so slight, apple scent. Nutmeg is overwhelmed by its own little but abundant flowers. And I will always love the Peppermint Tom with its huge fuzzy leaves, tiny flowers and robust fragrance. (One of our customers told me she throws a leaf in the dryer.)
There has to be room for one, two or more scented geraniums in your garden. Bees love them; hummingbirds are interested, butterflies stop by, kids like to wallow in them and you can always crush the leaves into sugar to spice it up. Put them in containers, plant them amidst the herbs in your garden, fill a backyard slope, or keep one on your window sill. You will enjoy these plants; large or small.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gardening in Foggy Coastal Climates

If you live along the Pacific Coast and want to grow vegetables to eat in summer, then you might want to do the following:

1) Buy or borrow a copy of Pam Peirce's book GOLDEN GATE GARDENING.

2) Think small.

3) Think fall.

GOLDEN GATE GARDENING by Pam Peirce is subtitled: A Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coastal California. It's all there and is based on her real experience maintaining a garden on the western side of San Francisco, in The Avenues, not the Sun Belt of the Mission District. She knows all about fog, wind, salt spray, and cold spring and summer days.
Since most of us - including me - behave as if we are still gardening in Ohio and since most seed packets carry instructions that assume we are gardening in Ohio, then we have a skewed notion of what to plant and when to plant it in this lovely Mediterranean climate that we have here. Vegetable and herb gardening is not just a springtime activity. It is a year round activity and one that can provide you with unimaginable amounts of fresh produce. But sadly, probably not those big, luscious Brandywine tomatoes that you love.
So read her book and revise your thinking about what to plant and when to plant it. There is a great planting calendar in Chapter 3 - What You Can Grow.
By "think small" I mean think of varieties of vegetables that are smaller in size than their larger brethren. For example, you probably won't have enough sun to provide the energy that a Brandywine or Big Rainbow needs to make that big tomato. But you probably do have enough sun - or light - to power the tomato plant that sets smaller tomatoes such as Stupice, Pink Ping Pong or any of the sweet and productive cherry tomatoes. Melons can be very disappointing to the home gardener in cooler climates. But if you use a solar mulch, put a drip system under the mulch (melons need a lot of water) and select varieties that do well in cooler climates (Hale's Best cantaloupe and Crimson Sweet watermelon) you stand a good chance of harvesting sweet, albeit small, melons in late summer.
By "think fall" I mean think of the plants that grow well in early spring and late summer. The kinds of plants that people in sunnier climates plant in fall will do well for you all summer. You can grow all the cool weather lettuces, for example, and your kales, chards, collards and mustards will provide terrific salads for you while other are limited to two kinds of garden lettuce. Basil, peppers, eggplant and other heat loving plants can be tricked by planting in raised beds, planting close to a south facing wall, using plastic mulch to hold heat in the soil, and barriers to keep the foggy wind off the plants. Large containers make good homes for these plants, too, and have the added advantage of being movable if they are on wheels. Container plants need more water, especially in windy environments, but if you clump the containers together, use thick black plastic pots, and - dare I say it? - use a controlled drip system, you can be more economical in your water use. You may not have warm enough soil to plant green beans, but you can grow and harvest peas throughout the summer.

Three final points:
First - Don't complain about your fog and wind. You live in one of the most glorious locations on earth and a little fog is a small price to pay.
Second - temperatures increase dramatically for every mile you travel inland. So make friends with one of those market gardeners who come to your farmers' market from Hollister or Salinas - they can bring all the big luscious vegetables you can't grow and they are only a few miles away.
Last, you have traded a cool climate for a very long growing season. In Ohio, they have from late May to early September to fill their larders. Here, we start in February and keep our gardens going through December (if you don't count all those garlic plants, walla walla onions, beets, fava beans, cabbages, chards, sweet onions, and lettuces that are overwintering!) So enjoy your cool climate and remember, strawberries HATE 90 degree temperatures.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Relax - There's Plenty of Time

Some people plant tomatoes in March. Others wait til May Day. Doesn't really matter - you will all get your tomatoes at the same time, anyway. In this climate, that means September and October. Soil temperatures are still in the 40/50 degree range. Don't even think about planting beans til the soil temperatures reach 60 degrees. Eggplant and peppers should wait, too. But remember; we live in paradise. There are many, many things to put in the garden now; peas and onions and lettuce and broccoli and kales and mustards, radishes and carrots. Tomatoes, too. Most of our summer squashes will do OK in the cooler spring weather, but they may lose that first set of blossoms. More will come. Our growing season is very, very long - from February to December, so gardening isn't just an April frenzy. It is a year round activity that can provide loads of fresh produce that is seasonal and delicious. No rush. There's plenty of time. Those tender little cucumbers can wait a week or so. Be patient. You will be rewarded!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It' Spring. Time to think about Winter Squash!

Squash
Winter
Rich
Creamy
Sweet
Filling

Now is the time to think about where you will plant your winter squash. Because soon it will be time to plant your winter squash if you want to have carving pumpkins for Halloween and lots of luscious, rich, deliriously gorgeous winter squashes for wintertime soups, stews, and as a terrific roasting vegetable. Don't wait til August. Plan for them now and plant them in May or June. Many of the larger pumpkins take 100 - 120 days in our climate. Plan for a four month growing period. If you plant in May, then the plants will be ready to harvest in September. And they can sit on the vine for a month or two after that. My rule of thumb, plant winter squash when I plant bush beans; they both appreciate a warm soil and consistent watering. Many squashes are prone to powdery mildew and there isn't much you can do about that. Feed the soil to keep them healthy, spray with a diluted milk mixture (the mildew doesn't like the lactic acid), and keep the plants consistently moist like a cucumber. Not too wet, just moist. Store the pumpkins and squash in a cool, dry place and use as needed. This is a very tasty, attractive, nutritious and versatile plant that will delight you and all the children around you.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cucumbers

Perhaps I write about cucumbers more than I should. But I love them, and I want you to love them, too. They are fairly easy to grow in the garden, but even easier in containers on a deck or patio, especially if they have a trellis they can climb. The Little Leaf Pickling Cucumber is the first one we start because it is tolerant of cold weather and is small and compact. It grows well in a 2 - 3 gallon container. The cucumber tastes good fresh and also makes a good pickle. There is only one 'trick' you need to know to make a good cucumber and that is consistent watering, or consistent moisture. This is one garden plant that really benefits from a timed drip system. Growing it in a container on the deck or patio ensure that it can be closely monitored for sun and moisture. Pick the cucumbers when they are small and dense whether you need them or not; they will do better stored in the refrigerator than left on the plant. There are a lot of simple pickle recipes that do not require a pressure cooker and/or lots of canning equipment. These are refrigerator pickles and they DO NOT KEEP FOREVER. So, keep track of the dates when you brined and stored them. That's it for now. I'll post some information soon about the incredibly expensive ROCKY cucumber and why it's worth the price!

YOU CAN GROW TOMATOES

OMG! I can't remember how to grow a tomato! This is probably not your problem. In fact, I think growing tomatoes is in our genes; the plant is one of the most forgiving plants in the garden. We have seen tomatoes fallen over from gophers munching on their roots come back and produce beautiful tomatoes. They seem to do fine in bondage; trellised or stake. And they are ok with sprawl. But you want the best and the most - so here are a few refresher tips:

1) SELECT VARIETIES THAT DO WELL IN YOUR ENVIRONMENT
There are so many varieties
to choose from that you will surely have success if you pick the right tomato to begin with. If your nights are cool, choose a cold hardy variety such as Stupice or Oregon Spring. If you have limited sun exposure, choose a cherry tomato that can develop with a little less light, or a determinate (see below) that can be planted in a large pot on wheels and may be moved into the sun.

2) DO NOT OVER FEED OR OVER WATER YOUR PLANTS
Too much nitrogen makes lots of pretty foliage but few tomatoes; too much water invites disease and makes mushy fruit. Cut back water sharply once plants begin to bear fruit. I'm sorry I can't be more specific about the amount of water but that has everything to do with the type of soil you have, how much fog, wind, temperature and general health of the plant. My best advice is this: If you think it needs water today, wait til tomorrow to water it. Try to water the soil, not the foliage, and early morning watering is best.

3) PRUNE TO CONTROL SHAPE
I admit, I do not do tis. Many people who grow on trellises prune judiciously. The argument for pruning is that you encourage he main stem and discourage side shoots for better production. We just let ours roam on the ground and get more tomatoes than we know what to do with.

4) STAKE OR TRELLIS
This is mostly for your benefit making for easier harvest and keeping fruit off the ground. The plant doesn't care. Now here is where I could go into a lengthy discussion of the annual tomato challenge that my Uncle Chauncy laid down at my fathers' feet. Chauncy trellised, Dad did not. Chauncy grew beefsteaks, Dad grew Rutgers all purpose tomatoes. It didn't matter in the long run. They both had bragging rights every year.

5) UPSIDE DOWN?
You might choose to grow tomatoes in the Topsy-Turvey upside down hanging planter bags. This works well for commercial growers but is a little difficult for home growers to manage, especially with regard to water and nutrient application. There are many good articles abut this on the internet, so do a little study before you try it. Personally, I think if you want to stress your plant to get more tomatoes, just remember to reduce water when they start to set fruit.

6) DETERMINATE OR INDETERMINATE
Determinate type tomatoes are usually hybrids developed for the commercial canning industry. All the tomatoes ripen at the same time as the plant dies back; putting all its energy into tomato production. These plants are smaller and more compact so do well in containers. (They are not good candidates for upside down growing, however, because they won't set a vine down from above.) Indeterminates are usually heirloom varieties and will produce smaller amounts of fruit over a much longer growing period. If you have the space, plant both types to get a big harvest early and a few big ones continuously through the season.

7) REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
The first time I grew a Brandywine Pink tomato, I only harvested four tomatoes of a huge plant. I was very disappointed - but those four tomatoes were wonderful! I now know how fortunate I was to get any tomatoes of that large heirloom plant in my cool growing climate.

You CAN grow tomatoes! No mater where you live, there is a tomato plant that will work for you. (A friend of mine grows cherry tomatoes in her north-facing bay window in San Francisco.) Of all the vegetable plants we offer, nothing says summer like the tomato plant. We notice the tomato aroma from the tiny seedlings that come up in our seed room in January. And it is an aroma that is full of hope. I hope these few tips will help you harvest the best possible tomato - and that is the one you grew yourself!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seed Starts and Alternatives


I wrote a post yesterday about artichokes, and mentioned that you could start them from seed or cut off the suckers and root those as new plants. Commercial growers have relied almost completely on suckers because they could count on plants from those off shoots as being exactly like the parent plant. Plants grown from seed were less reliable. We have had Violetto plants grown from seed that looked more like wild thistles than artichokes, though that outcome has been rare. I am a home gardener, not a botanist, so I speak from experience only - and I can tell you that artichokes grown from seed have become much more consistent in appearance and production over the years that I have been starting artichokes from seed. I am told that more commercial growers are starting new plants from seed than ever before because the seed starts are more reliable and it is far less labor intensive to start plants from seed than from side shoots.
We have a system and most all of our seedlings are started the same way. We use 200 cell plug trays in 10 X 20 inch trays. We plant the seed into the tray by hand and, depending on the seed, either on the surface, slightly below the surface, or deep to 1/4 inch. The trays are then set on warmed shelves to 78 degrees, kept moist, and protected from cats (see photo of seedlings behind bars) and mice (who love to eat the new tender leaves). Once they have germinated and have a good set of cotyledons (primitive leaves, replaced soon by true leaves), the trays are moved to cooler levels of shelving. All seedlings receive 14 hours of fluorescent light each day. When two sets of true leaves appear, the seedling tray is moved into the greenhouse where the plants will be potted up into 3" containers and set on warming tables which keeps the nighttime temperature above 50 degrees. Daytime temperatures, even in this dreary January/February climate, may reach 80 degrees and the light is far better than the fluorescent light they experienced as seedlings.
Some plants just can't be started from seed and some can, but barely.
Those that cannot be started from seed include French Tarragon. Those we start from root divisions in spring. French Tarragon is a sterile plant that does not create seed. African Blue Basil is another sterile plant that cannot be started from seed, but is easily started from stem cuttings. Lemon Verbena develops tiny seed but is started more easily from stem cuttings. Stevia is a plant that flowers frequently and develops fertile seed, but the seed has a short life span. Rather than taking a chance on seed that may be too old to germinate, it is more reliable to take cuttings. Scented Geraniums are propagated easily from stem cuttings that are clones of the parent plant.
I still make mistakes, even though I have been doing this for many years. I started a plug tray of three types of plants, neglecting to notice that one of them required light to germinate. That meant the seeds should have been set lightly upon the top of the soil, and only slightly tamped down. I buried them to 1/4 inch and wondered why they didn't germinate - then I reread the seed packet and realized what I had done. I replanted them with great success.
The moral of this story - celebrate the variation of seed requirements for germination. Read the seed packets for the unique requirements of these seed: Do they need light? What temperature is best for germination? Do they need total darkness? Do they need to be chilled before they are planted? Do they need to be scraped with a knife to open the seed shell? Some seeds love to be soaked in water for a day.
It's a challenge and a thrill to see seeds emerge and then quickly take on the characteristic of the lovely plant they will soon become. Enjoy the experience.


Friday, January 29, 2010

ARTICHOKES

I had never seen, nor heard of, an artichoke until I moved to New Orleans in 1970. The artichoke just wasn't a vegetable found on the Midwestern table. I learned to love them as I found them on Rampart Street in the French Quarter, in the refrigerated dairy case, stuffed with bread crumbs, parmesan and pecorino cheeses, and chopped spicy sausage or shrimp. Cold, room temperature, warm - it didn't matter. They were delicious and each leaf came away with a big chunk of the stuffing. The center was a gold mine of stuffing and tender artichoke heart.
I like artichokes simply boiled and served with a side of butter, mayonnaise or aioli. Plant them and forget them until they start to send up their flowers. Then harvest before the bloom opens and you have an artichoke for your table. The plants are perennial in our climate.

REASONS TO GROW:
Artichokes are easy to grow if you have a lot of space available and a temperate climate. The plants themselves are quite large and need about three feet between plans for vigorous growth. They send down a deep tap root that enables them to survive drought - so they don't do particularly well in containers. If you have driven by the artichoke fields south of Castroville, then you know that the plants thrive in a cool, coastal climate with frequent fog. Artichokes do not thrive in hot, sunny and dry locations.
Early in the spring, the plants send up large stalks with the flower bud that we call the 'choke' on top. The first ones are the largest and subsequent stalks present smaller blooms. It's important to harvest them before they begin to open if you plan on eating them.
If you have planted the artichokes for their knock-your-socks-off purple blooms, then let the plants march to the beat of their own drummer, and you will have amazing flowers soon. The flowers can be dried for exotic flower arrangements.
The utter freshness of your own artichoke is reason enough to grow then plant.

VARIETIES:
Green Globe is the classic artichoke and the one we typically find in grocery stores and the farmers' markets. they can be grown as an annual in colder climates or as a perennial where winters do not bring freezing temperatures. Violetto is similar, but has a purple cast to the artichoke and the stem. This is the plant that can be found depicted in early Italian Renaissance paintings.
Violetto matures later then the Green Globe and is smaller. We have found the Violetto be be a little less reliable from seed, so you may end up with a wild thistle that has few if any artichokes. It is worth the risk, though, because this is the most tender of chokes.

WHERE TO GROW:
The plants do best in a temperate clime and can be stressed by heat and dryness. if you have a warm sunny location and, like most of us, no rain during the summer months, this is a plant you should water occasionally and deeply. The best soil is sandy and well-drained.

WHEN TO GROW:
If you plant your seedlings in late fall, you can expect a harvest in spring. Commercial growers plant to get two harvests, with a second in late fall. Many believe that artichokes that have experienced a frost, develop a better flavor.

NUTRITION:
If you don't load your choke with stuffing, butter and mayonnaise, you are eating a nutrient dense vegetable with only 25 calories. The vegetable is high in fiber, vitamin C and folate. Artichokes have no fat and no cholesterol.


Credits:

www.Johnnyseeds.com
100 Vegetables and Where They Came From by William Woys Weaver

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Seascape Strawberries

STRAWBERRIES

This is one of the easiest fruit plants to grow in the home garden. You will need to set aside a portion of your garden to maintain this perennial plant; planting your bare root or seedlings between 8 - 12 inches apart.

Seascape is the variety of strawberry plant that we sell, and it is grown extensively in the Pajaro Valley in commercial fields and private gardens. We receive our bare root stock in November and begin bringing them to market in December. This is a perfect time to plant them for the earliest harvest. Depending on the weather, you may begin to see flower bud clusters shortly after planting. It is best to remove those early buds to encourage root development. Later in the season, the plant will send out runners. It is also best to cut those back to encourage more fruit. In late fall you may allow the runners to grow and develop new plants for the following season. You can pull the older plants out every two years as the strawberry patch matures.

Seascape was developed by UC Davis as an ever bearing strawberry plant that produces consistently throughout the season (March - October). It does not require a lengthy dormant period or intense chilling so is more productive in our moderate coastal climate. And the berry tastes really good!

Strawberries like a rich, loamy soil with good drainage. If the soil is too sandy, add mulch to hold moisture during the dryer summer months. The plants do not like soggy soil, so avoid planting in clay soils. Keep the plants well picked and do not allow old or moldy fruit to stay on the plant for any length of time.

For urban gardeners, strawberry plants do well in large containers like half wine barrels or three to five gallon pots. Full sun is critical to fruit production so make sure you have a good sunny location before investing time and energy into container gardening. There are so many ways to enjoy strawberries that I couldn't really decide on just one. My favorite way to enjoy strawberries? Eaten warm in the garden!



BEETS

Some memories just won't go away. Remember pickled beets from a can served in elementary school? I do. And I didn't eat beets for decades after that. And then I started growing them in the garden. I don't know why, exactly, but they thrived there and I was able to grow many kinds: Golden Beets, Bull's Blood, Chioggia, Detroit Red, and the theatrical Golden Mangel (may grow up to 10 pounds!).

Suddenly, the beet was just about my favorite vegetable.

HISTORY: Our modern beet developed from a wild beet that grew on the Mediterranean coast. the plant was selected for its thick root and was cultivated in a form similar to our standard carrot. White or yellow beets were most common. Chard developed from this beet type and the red beet is first documented in Constantinople between 500 and 511 AD. The beet is not indigenous to the Americas and was most likely brought here by the Italians. Thank you, Italians.

REASONS TO GROW: Beets can be grown nearly year round in our climate. They can be started directly from seed or transplanted when small. The seed is actually a fruit that may contain more than one viable seed so, if you plant directly, you may want to thin or harvest some of them when very small. Keep the beets about 3 - 4 inches apart to allow plenty of room for the beet to develop.

VARIETIES: The best reason to grow beets is the variety available to the home gardener; red ones, striped ones, deep red ones, yellow and white ones as well as that amazing 10 pound mangel. All of these beets have edible stems and leaves. The beets themselves have varying flavors and textures (the Chioggia is the sweetest!).

WHERE TO GROW: Beets have a deep root system so don't do well in containers. Plant them in the garden with a well-worked, loamy soil with a pH of over 6.0. Consistently cool temperatures are best for developing flesh color.

WHEN TO GROW: We offer beet seedlings in spring, late summer and fall. You can plant seedlings every three or four weeks for a continuous harvest. Beets will tolerate light frost.

NUTRITION: Beets are a rich source of Potassium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus and Copper. Calcium, Sodium, Zinc and Selenium are present in small amounts. Beets have been found useful in the treatment of Colon Cancer. Beets are a natural cleanser which removes toxins from the body.

EATING: Baby beets may be eaten raw, but beets are usually boiled or roasted. The skins slip off easily once the beet is cooked. Red beets 'bleed' and may color other foods on your plate whereas golden or white beets do not.

Spring Salad: Mix sliced golden beets with pitted black olives, baby fava or lima beans and heart of palm with a tangy vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature.

JUICING: Better Red Than Dead
This juice has a high carotene content and may, if taken often, give you that "George Hamilton Look".

1 beet including top
1/2 medium sized sweet potato
3 carrots

Sources:

The Complete Book of Juicing by Michael T. Murray, N.D.
www.johnnyseeds.com
100 Vegetables and Where They Came From by William Woys Weaver