They Haven’t Beet Me Yet

After an auspicious start in February my ambitious garden took several faltering turns this year. While I wasn’t nearly as plagued by the dreaded and creepy Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (those post-apocalyptic looking, massive, multi-colored eating machines) this year as I was last year, I had plenty of other pest problems this go round.

The birds and I fought over tomatoes and as per usual children playing football in the yard led to some serious losses.  Add life getting in the way, I had a good three weeks of just throwing my hands up and pretending that the garden didn’t exist.

But the real culprit behind the weed covered patch of yard I refer to as my vegetable garden was the outrageous infestation of fire ants that I dealt with along with the scorching heat and lack of rain fall. At a certain point I decided that if I was attacked by those tiny devils one more time I was either going to go into anaphylactic shock or sprout mandibles and become the new queen of the colony.

I yielded entire sections of tilled ground to the beasts. Had I been really clever I would have rigged my garden with cameras to capture on video how I reacted to several of the worst attacks upon my person. I could have won prize money on America’s Funniest Home Videos as I swatted, danced and turned the garden hose on myself.

It wasn’t all bad. I had plenty of tomatoes, more than we could eat actually and more still coming in. I have a freezer full of crook neck squash, a pantry full of pickles and my eggplants and peppers are just hitting their prime.  I was also very pleased with the new variety of heirloom sunflowers that I tried this year, Giant Mongolian Sunflowers.

However, those ants were the bane of my summer and part of the reason that I decided on a strategic retreat until time to plant the fall garden and after I had Lewis Pest Control treat the yard. I’m happy to say that I’ve spent a full day presiding over the forced labor of my children and while the garden isn’t entirely weed free yet, the ant population has dwindled to the point that the idea of starting another round of plants seems like a good one as opposed to another round of torture.

It’s early August and it’s still hot but now is exactly the time that you should be thinking about cool weather crops for your home garden. If you were wise you should already have started a second round of tomatoes and it’s just past time to have started a second round of summer squash. But it’s not too late for cabbages, collards, lettuce and a few others and I won’t tell if you won’t that I’m going to try and squeak some pumpkins in well past deadline.

What I’m most looking forward to getting in the grown in the coming weeks is a repeat of a surprising favorite from my February planting, Detroit Dark Red Beets.

This was my first time growing beets and I wasn’t sure how they would do or even if we would eat them. Not only did my first attempt work out quite nicely, my plans of pickling jars and jars of beets didn’t pan out because we ate them (roasted) almost as fast as they came out of the ground. We even continually dined on the foliage that the entire family declared much better than spinach ever could hope to be.

I did make a rookie mistake with my first crop of beets. I planted the seeds too close together because I assumed one “seed” would be one beet. Not so, a beet “seed” is really a cluster of as many as six seeds per prickly looking seed ball. This led to more thinning than should have been necessary but since you can cook the tender greens or serve them as a fresh salad, all’s well that ends well.

Some recommend soaking the seed cluster in water before planting so as to aid in germination. I didn’t do that and had no problems with germination.

Beets are a root crop and therefore favor well drained soil free of anything that would impede root development such as rocks or hunks of clay. Another thing to keep in mind when growing beets is that too much nitrogen in the soil leads to lots of leafy greens and tiny beet roots.

If you lack a large enough space for a full-fledged garden, beets are ideal for container growing. The compact nature of their growth pattern means that you can grow them in potting soil wherever you can catch some sun. Just make sure the container drains well but also keep in mind that all container growing means more frequent watering.

If you plan on eating as you thin, beet greens are most tender when they are less than six inches high. The beet roots are ready for harvest when they hit one and a half to two inches in diameter. Much bigger and they get stringy and tough.

For other heirloom gardeners out there who save their own seed, be advised that beets are biennial and won’t flower and put off seed until the following year. I held back some seed for new planting and made sure to add the beets to my perennial bed in anticipation of seed coming from those at the end of next year.

And should anyone happen to see me in the yard armed with a flame thrower….don’t worry it’s more than likely just the ants I’ve not really lost my mind.