In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
July, 2011
Regional Report

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First garden crop of the season - beets started indoors in March.

To Beet or Not to Beet...

Life is tasty. Fresh beet greens are cooking up tender and delicious with a splash of lemon and butter. Though insecticide-free, most leaves look healthy, with few holes or brown edges. Plump, spring-planted beets -- Baby Ball, Golden, Chiogga, Sangria -- are pushing up and out. Succulent, they boil to a meaty mouthful in about fifteen minutes.

Poking around my young cuke plants, I spot some flower buds and bees. No bump of an emerging cucurbit yet. Gardening neighbor Mel leans over the fence, says "Hi," and offers five prickly, warm-from-the-summer-sun cucumbers. I slice one, planning to dip into hummus. The flavor is so sweet, texture so crunchy, I savor each bite bare, without pureed chickpeas.

Summer is an easy time to start or restart the healthy eating habit. One cuke filled one cup; beet greens, another. Plus a small plate of beets. Voila! The daily 2 1/2 cups of veggies the USDA recommends. Nibbling local berries, New Jersey blueberries, and cantaloupe cubes quickly adds up to the recommended 1 1/2 cups of fruit.

Last week I planted more beets -- actually, seedlings started as seeds in potting mix in small, coir (biodegradable) pots. (I know beets are a cool-weather veggie. I can't stop myself.) This technique is very satisfying and successful. In the past, I've sown beet seeds directly in garden soil, only to be disappointed. The spacing's never even. Plants are clustered and crowded. Thinning the excess disturbs the remaining roots. Beets push themselves out of the soil while small. A sad crop.

Very early this spring, I found seeds, coir pellets with water-absorbing crystals, coir pots, CowPots (made from composted manure), and potting mix left from last season. (I was desperate. Tasteless beets the size of baseballs from the local produce store had taken TWO hours to boil enough to insert a fork.)

Why not start beets indoors? Each pot held one coir pellet hydrated with water and blended with good potting mix. I put one or two seeds per pot, as far opposite each other as possible. Each "seed" is actually a dried fruit containing several seeds, so multiple plants will sprout from one large beet seed. It's best not to crowd them.

In plastic or aluminum pans over heating mats, the seeds sprouted within two weeks. I nursed them under grow lights till the weather was warm enough to transition them outdoors. For a few weeks until the garden was ready, I watered the seedlings with kelp.

Planting was easy. I dug a shallow trench deep enough to hold the coir and CowPots and placed the pots 6 to 8 inches apart, mounding garden soil around the pots and the seedlings, then watered occasionally.

Mid-June some golden beets were pushing up, ready for harvest. Late June I pulled Baby Balls, Sangrias, and Chioggas, shook off the dark soil mix, and admired their smooth shapes. The smallest leaves were delicious raw.

The coir hadn't decomposed. Some pots came up with the beets. Others held fast in the soil. I planted white and red onions in the empty spots. Now harvesting the last of the spring beets, I'm lifting out those coir pots and replacing them with new pots holding young beet seedlings. No taproots disturbed!


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