Cold Weather Champs and Colorful Beets by Patty Leander

beet-greens-ice

Ice-covered one day, on the dinner table the next.

How ‘bout that kale?! It hardly skipped a beat despite temperatures that dropped to 18° here in my southwest Austin garden. Brussels sprouts, collards and garlic also came through unscathed. They are truly cold-weather champs. The broccoli, cabbage and cilantro drooped a little after thawing but all recovered just fine. Carrots and radishes suffered some freeze damage above ground but the roots were protected below.

beets-flowers

Though I didn’t have time to cover my plants I did dash outside for a quick pre-freeze harvest.

Swiss chard, peas and cauliflower, however, didn’t fare so well. All are susceptible to damage when temperatures drop into the 20s. Had I covered them with frost cloth they would have done fine but I didn’t have a chance and ended up with droopy, mushy plants that could not be salvaged. If you notice less than stellar cauliflower at local Famers Markets it can probably be attributed to the frigid weather. Thankfully the worst of the cold has passed and cole crops, root crops and peas can go into the garden now to provide a harvest about two months down the road. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and protect vulnerable plants if another hard freeze threatens.

Golden-Beets

Colorful, flavorful beets: ‘Chioggia’, ‘Detroit Dark Red’ and ‘Golden’

The National Gardening Bureau has proclaimed 2018 as the Year of the Beet –Beta vulgaris. Did you know that vulgaris in Latin means common? That’s right, there is nothing vulgar about flavorful, jewel-toned beets. If one of your resolutions is to increase the plant slant in your diet be sure to include beets. From round to oblong, maroon to white and heirloom to hybrid most varieties can be grown in Texas during cooler weather. This year I’m looking forward to trying a recent introduction called ‘Shiraz’; a disease resistant variety developed in a collaborative effort through the Organic Seed Alliance (available from High Mowing Seeds: www.highmowingseeds.com).

beet-tops-roots

Double the pleasure with greens and roots.

Beets offer something to enjoy both above and below the soil, with tender greens and tasty roots, and a good dose of fiber, potassium, folate and health-promoting antioxidants. One of my favorite ways to eat them is to roast them slowly in the oven. Whole or sliced into wedges, scrubbed but unpeeled, they go into the oven lightly coated with oil and wrapped in foil and come out tender, earthy and delicious.

mature-beets

Harvest beets before they reach baseball size; these overgrown beet roots are tough and stringy inside but those succulent tops will make a luscious pot of beet greens.

To some people the earthiness of beets is overpowering. I often hear “they taste like dirt” but that is likely due to variety and/or sensitive palates – some beets contain larger amounts of an organic compound called geosmin, the more geosmin the stronger that muddy flavor comes through. For beets with more sweetness and less earthiness, harvest when young and tender and remove the skin which contains higher concentrations of geosmin. If you are especially sensitive to the mustiness of beets try growing ‘Detroit Dark Red’, ‘Avalanche’, ‘Crosby Egyptian’ and ‘Golden’ which are all low in geosmin.

All-America-Beets

Ditch the dirt flavor with ‘Avalanche’ (photo courtesy All-America Selections) and ‘Golden’ beets.

The popular heirloom beet with the striped candy cane interior known as ‘Chioggia’ has high levels of geosmin; perhaps best avoided by folks who have an aversion to the robust “flavor” of garden soil.

For more on growing beets check out Jay’s post here: http://masterofhort.com/2013/01/growing-beets-beta-vulgaris/

red-shouldered-hawk

Our view from the bathroom window has become more interesting lately. I think this is a red-shouldered hawk but would love corroboration or correction from any bird experts out there.

A new year means a new gardening season ripe with opportunities to improve our home-grown harvest and increase our vegetable consumption. Sowing in succession, growing vertically, interplanting and plant protection help maximize our efforts in the vegetable garden. Cheers to your harvest AND your health!

 

I share my posts on The Simple Homestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and homesteaders are doing!

Growing Beets (Beta vulgaris)

Beets are one of those vegetables that take me back to childhood.  My Aunt Sarah and Uncle Tom grew them.  At their house, no summer meal was complete without a side of cold pickled beets.  My aunt and uncle were carrying on a tradition that started more than 4000 years ago.  That’s when the people that know about these things believe beets were first cultivated and consumed in the areas around the Mediterranean sea.  These early beet lovers ate the roots and the tops.  In fact, they ate beet greens until spinach was introduced around AD 850.  The Romans used beets as a food staple.  They also used them to dye their clothes, cure their constipation and spice up their love lives (they considered beets an aphrodisiac).  Since the Romans ate them, they spread to Europe.  Most European countries developed their own recipes that embraced the beet (think borsch).  And, thanks to Napoleon, they also grew them to make sugar.  However, with all of that history, I still can’t get anyone at my house to eat them except me.

Larry and Carol Ann Sayle grow a variety of beets at Boggy Creek Farms.  Photo from their website.  http://www.boggycreekfarm.com/

Larry and Carol Ann Sayle grow a variety of beets at Boggy Creek Farms. Photo from their website. http://www.boggycreekfarm.com/

Growing  – There are two types of beets regularly grown in the home garden; var flaviscens and var vulgaris. Flaviscens is the botanical name for chard.  Many people do not realize that chard is actually a beet that has been developed more for its stem and leaves than for its roots.  Vulgaris is what the majority of us think of when we think about beets.  Most of the beets grown in the home garden have a characteristic, deep red bulb (Bull’s Blood).  However, there are varieties available that are white (Albino), yellow (Golden) and striped (Chioggia).

Freshly germinated Bull's Blood Beets.  Notice how much they look like chard at this stage.

Freshly germinated Bull’s Blood Beets. Notice how much they look like chard at this stage.

Beets can be grown almost year round in gardens a little further north than mine.  However, they prefer cooler temperatures and grow best when the air temperature is between 65 and 75 degrees.  Since it gets so hot here I confine my beet production to the fall and early spring garden.  Around mid- September, I plant my first row of beets.  I often add another row in October, November and December (they can survive all but the worst freezes that Zone 9 can throw at them).  This succession planting will keep me in beets right up to March.  To plant, I dig a shallow furrow with my trusty Cobrahead Hand Hoe, scatter the seeds, cover and water.  Within a few days, they sprout.  In fact, so many little plants pop up that I am convinced they have about a 110% germination rate!

Chard is actually a beet that has been bred for its stems and leaves

Chard is actually a beet that has been bred for its stems and leaves

Once the true leaves form, I start thinning to about 4” apart. They will mature in 45-70 days depending on variety.  For best production, keep your beats evenly moist throughout their lifecycle.  Beets will stop growing at whatever size they are at if the soil is allowed to dry out.  Harvest your beets when they are 1 ½” to 2” in diameter.  If beets get too big they become very fibrous and are not fit to eat.

Pickled Beets – Pickled beets are a family tradition at our house.  My grandparents married in 1916 and I am sure my grandmother started making them for my “Pa” around that time.  So, at least someone in my family has been enjoying pickled beets for the past 100 years.  My grandmother taught my mother to make them and my mother has now taught me.  Here’s how we do it:

 

Pickled beets will keep for weeks in the refrigerator

Pickled beets will keep for weeks in the refrigerator

Remove tops from approximately 12 beets.  Leave 1” of top on the root.  This will prevent red beets from “bleeding” as much when you boil them.  Place the beets in a large pan and bring to a boil.  Boil until the beets are soft.  Their skins will wrinkle when they are ready.  Drain and run cold water over them to cool.  Take the beets in your hand and gently squeeze.  This will force the beet out of its skin.  Remove any stubborn skin with a knife.  While the skinless beets are cooling combine the following ingredients into a sauce pan and bring to a boil.

2 cups vinegar

1 cup water

¼ cup sugar

1 Heaping tablespoon of salt

6 whole cloves (optional)

Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to simmer.  Cut beets into ¼” slices and place in jars.  Pour the vinegar mixture into the jars until it just covers the beets.  Seal the jars and place in the refrigerator.

 

Winter Chores in the Potager

The potager in January

The weather has been so nice this holiday season that my wife and I decided to do some much needed maintenance in potager.  The Cypress vine that brought us so much joy in the summer had to come down.  The same plant that had covered our fence and trellis in beautiful red flowers and drawn so many hummingbirds and butterflies into our lives was now just an eyesore.  So, with pruners in hand, my wife and I cut, chopped and pulled down all remnants of the vine.  It came down very easy, but it covered us in tons of tiny black seeds.  You know what that means.  More Cypress vine than I will know what to do with in this spring!  

Carrots and lettuce from the potager

Once the fence and trellis were clear it was time to move inside the potager.  First, we harvested.  We pulled carrots, turnips, spinach and butter crunch lettuce. In addition to the lettuce, spinach, carrots and turnips, I have Egyptian Walking Onions, shallots, 10/15 onions, collards, chard, lemon grass, rosemary and purple cabbage.  Man do I love winter in the South!  Where else can you have so many vegetables thriving in the garden in January.

One of the trellises that we built to support the peas

After the harvest we got back to work.  We took the pruners to our lemon grass, uchuva and salvia.  Then we built four, three-legged trellises out of cedar limbs.  We anchored these in the middle of the four odd-shaped beds in the center of the potager.  After they were secured, we planted Little Marvel Peas at their base.  According to my Aunt Sara, peas are best planted either the last week of the year or the first.  We will see.  I have tried to grow them before and they just didn’t pan out for me.  I really hope they do well this year.  I have worked really hard at improving my soil this past year and my wife and I worked very hard on the little trellises. I can just see them covered in pea vines in early March.  Once the peas were planted, we finished up by planting some French breakfast radishes and some Chioggia beets that I got from rareseeds.com

The central bed in the potager. It is full of carrots, poppies and byzantine gladiolus.

While we are talking about the potager, let’s not forget all of the flowers that I have planted in it.  Right now, my red poppies are up and my Byzantine Glads are beginning to make a show.  The foxgloves and Hollyhocks look terrific.  A mermaid rose that I found while riding my bike two years ago has finally taken hold and is beginning to send out canes all along the south fence.  I am going to plant a row of red sweet peas along this fence in hopes that the mixture of red flowers with the white  roses will be stunning.  I also have lots of strawflower, statice and salvias that seem to be thriving.  Check back in the spring to see what will hopefully be my best pictures ever!