About Artichokes

About Artichokes

Artichokes are heat-loving plants of the large family, Asteraceae. The genus Cynara includes eight other wild, thistle-like plants, including C. humilis, which was grown as a food crop in North Africa.

Some people grow these plants for their splendid purple flower heads and striking foliage. The plants, with their silvery foliage, can grow to 3m (10’) or more! Their flowers can be up to 20cm (8”) in diameter, and are easily identifiable as giant relatives of the wild thistles that are common around the northern hemisphere. We grow them for the wonderful flavour of the scales that surround the flower bud, and the heart of the bud with its meaty texture.

ar100_green-globe

It is thought that artichokes were first cultivated in North Africa. The historian Theophrastus wrote of them growing in Sicily during the Greek empire from around 750 BC. Because of their prominent spiny flower buds, the Greeks called them kaktos, the root of the English word, “cactus.” Artichokes passed from the Greeks to the Romans, who named them carduus. The word “artichoke” is thought to have its roots in Arabic: al-qarshuf, via the Italian regional name articiocco.

By 1466, artichokes were growing in the gardens of Florence and Naples, and elsewhere in southern Europe. They spread in popularity northward, first to France and Holland, and eventually to the English gardens of Henry VIII by 1530. Women were generally forbidden to eat artichokes because of their supposed aphrodisiac nature, although they were a favourite food of Catherine de Medici, who once commented “If one of us had eaten artichokes, we would have been pointed out on the street. Today young women are more forward than pages at the court.”

Artichokes clearly caught on in the popular imagination, because by the 17th century, the English physician and astrologer Nicholas Culpeper had this to say about them in his Expanded Herbal:

The Latins call them Cinera, only our college calls them Artichocus… They are under the dominion of Venus, and therefore it is no marvel if they provoke lust, as indeed they do, being somewhat windy meat; and yet they stay the involuntary course of seed in man, which is called nocturnal pollutions… But to proceed; this is certain, that the decoction of the root boiled in wine, or the root bruised and distilled in wine in an alembic and being drank, purges by urine exceedingly.

In his Treatise on Food (1702), Louis Lemery wrote, “Artichokes suit elderly people at all times, and those of a phlegmatic and melancholy disposition.”

French immigrants settling in the Louisiana Territory brought artichokes to America in 1806, and they are now grown in the U.S. on an agricultural scale. Most of the store-bought artichokes in North America are grown in California.

Indeed, Castroville, CA, claims to be “the Artichoke Center of the World,” and holds an annual Artichoke Festival which features a parade, the crowning of the Artichoke King and Queen, cooking demonstrations, and so on. The very first Castroville Artichoke Queen was none other than Marilyn Monroe, crowned in 1949.

How to Grow Artichokes

Artichokes are high in folate and vitamin C, low in sugar and fat, and a good source of the minerals iron, phosphorus, and magnesium. The artichoke’s close cousin, Cardoon (C. cardunculus), has recently been exploited as a coagulant in cheese making, as an alternative to rennet for those with strict vegetarian diets. The edible, scaly leaves surrounding the flower bud on a Cardoon are slightly spinier than those of traditional artichokes. The scales on the flowers of Cardoon are tasty, but scant.

The base of each artichoke (the fond) must be cut away from a central core of inedible, hairy fibres (the choke). When cut, artichokes quickly discolour as their chlorophyll oxidizes, so dip them in cold water mixed with lemon juice. They make fun and delicious finger foods once steamed whole until tender. Dip each leaf in some melted butter or aioli for a fantastic summer treat. Sliced artichoke heart makes a wonderful addition to pasta sauces, and they go very well on pizza and in antipasti. Very young artichokes can also be eaten raw.

How to Grow Artichokes

How to Harvest Quinoa

How to Harvest Quinoa

Every fall people ask us how to harvest quinoa. These tall plants produce masses of seeds, each seed resulting from the pollination of a single flower in their beautiful inflorescences (flower clusters). When the seeds are fully ripe and ready for harvest, they will fall out of the seed head easily. If part of the seed head is grasped in hand, the hard little seeds should easily dislodge.

There will be seasons when cold, wet weather, threatens the harvest. If such weather is looming, simply cut the seed stalks about 15cm (6″) below the start of the seed head, and bundle them in groups of eight to twelve. Hang these indoors in a well ventilated room, away from bright sunlight. As the stalks dry, the seeds will become looser, and begin to fall from the seed heads. It’s useful to lay a bed sheet or tarp below the hanging stalks in order to catch any that fall.

Our favourite method for harvesting the seeds is to bash the heads about inside paper yard waste bags. These are the right size to catch all the seeds and chaff as it is separated and freed from the seed heads. If you squeeze and twist the seed heads, you will hear the hard, dense seeds falling into the bag. Process all the dry seed heads this way, and then collect the contents of the bag in a large bowl.

It may be prudent to allow the seeds (and chaff) to continue drying in the bowl. If so, be sure to mix the contents of the bowl regularly so it dries in a uniform way.

Separating seeds from chaff can be a messy affair. It can be done outdoors on a windy day simply by pouring the contents of the bowl into another. The chaff is much lighter and less dense than the seeds, and some of it will blow away each time one bowl is poured into another. This can also be done (we’ve done it!) indoors using a bed sheet and a table fan. Lay out the bed sheet to catch the chaff, and pour the seeds from one bowl to another in front of the fan. After five or six “pours,” the seeds will be quite free from chaff, but the process can be repeated until you are satisfied.

Quinoa seeds are coated with a bitter substance called saponin. They require rinsing prior to cooking to remove the saponin. Rinse quinoa as you would rice, in several bowls of cold water. This will free any remaining particles of chaff as well.

How and When to Harvest Potatoes

How and When to Harvest Potatoes

Whether the goal is to harvest tender, immature “new potatoes,” or to harvest fully mature potatoes for storage and use over the fall and winter, it’s helpful to follow some basic guidelines on how and when to harvest potatoes. Our Certified Organic seed potatoes ship in March. Order now!

New Potatoes

Harvesting New Potatoes

All potato varieties can be harvested as new potatoes — dug up before the plant reaches maturity, while its tubers are still small. By the time that the plants have begun to flower, most of them will have developed at least some immature tubers ready for harvest. At this stage the tubers have thin skins and less dry matter within. They are small, so they can be cooked and served whole. But the thin skins that make them so succulent and delicious also reduce their ability to store well. The thin skins allow easier evaporation of the interior moisture, so they should be consumed shortly after harvest. New potatoes should be harvested and handled carefully in order to reduce bruising and damage to the skins, both of which can cause decay.

New potatoes can be harvested in spring and early summer, but this tends to sacrifice the parent plant so that it will not produce mature storage potatoes later in the season. If the plant is lifted with great care, some of the immature tubers can be removed as new potatoes, and the plant can be re-potted in new soil. This causes some stress to the plant, and is not generally recommended. Usually a row (or container) is sacrificed for new potatoes, and the left rest to mature to full size.

Always harvest potatoes with gentle care. Use a fork to gradually loosen the soil around each plant. Potato Grow Bags and other containers are useful, as they can be dumped, soil and all, into a wheelbarrow or over a tarp to sift through the soil and harvest each tuber by hand.

Storage Potatoes

Storage potatoes are harvested once the plant is completely mature at the end of its growing season. At this time, the foliage begins to yellow and dry, normally from the lower leaves progressing upward. Some late potato varieties may still be green and bushy by the time early and mid-season plants have completely withered. For the best storage potential, mature tubers should not be harvested for at least two weeks after the foliage above ground has died. This waiting period allows the skins of the tubers to thicken, which is key to long term storage. Thick, unbroken skins (just as in winter squash and onions) reduce the loss of moisture from within.

If frost is expected within two weeks while plants are still green and vigorous, many growers defoliate the tops in order to trigger the skin setting process. A weed trimmer can be used to shred the leaves and stems of the plants so that death is gradual rather than sudden. If the plants die suddenly (including death to hard frost), the tubers may be discoloured. It is simpler to just select the appropriate variety for a given growing region in order to avoid artificial defoliation.

Again, all potatoes should be dug with care to avoid piercing the skins or bruising the tubers. In garden beds, it’s a good idea to remove soil methodically, and feel around for each of the tubers as they are uncovered. Keep dug potatoes out of direct sunlight, and preferably out of extreme heat or cold. The ideal range for harvesting storage potatoes is 13-18°C (55-65°F). If dug spuds are exposed to sunlight, the risk of soft rot and sun scald are increased. Just keep them under the cover of burlap sacks or tarps until they can be moved into long term storage.

Storing Potatoes

How to Store Potatoes

Optimum storage conditions are in a dark location at 4-7°C (40-45°F), with 90% humidity. This is easy to achieve in a cold cellar, but can be managed by simply storing the tubers in paper sacks or burlap sacks in a garage or shed. Check stored potatoes regularly and thoroughly in order to remove any that are starting to turn.

About Cabbage

About Cabbage

Known since ancient Greece and Rome, the modern cabbage is a descendant of wild mustard. The Roman statesman Cato the Elder wrote of its medicinal properties, “It is the cabbage which surpasses all other vegetables.” The seventeenth century English physician and botanist Nicholas Culpeper recommended using cabbage to treat hoarseness, snake bites, kidney stones, liver disease, consumption, eye troubles, cankers, swelling, and other maladies. But this wealth of benefits is not without its drawbacks, as Culpeper points out:

I know not what metal their bodies were made of; this I am sure, Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine: yea, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows, and they are but seldom eaten in our days; and Colewort flowers are something more tolerable, and the wholesomer food of the two.

While there are probably more sophisticated treatments for snakebite than the application of cabbage, it is certainly true that cabbage is good for you. One 100g serving contains over 60% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C. It’s also very high in vitamin B6, folate, protein, and dietary fibre. Cabbages contain the amino acid glutamine, which is a strong, natural anti-inflammatory. Homeopathic treatments for peptic ulcers call for regular drinks of fresh cabbage juice.

In her wonderful book, The Joy of Cooking, Irma Rombauer has an entry “About Cabbage.” Here, she includes all the cabbage-related Brassicas: head cabbage, savoy, cauliflower and broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards and kale, Swiss chard, “bok-choi and its better-known cousin Chinese cabbage, or pe tsai.” She then lists three recipes where the term “cabbage” includes all of these varieties, on their own or in combination. This speaks to the approach we have traditionally taken to Brassicas, but it is a disservice to their diversity.

Diverse cabbage forms
L to R: Pixie, Early Jersey Wakefield, Charmant, and KY Cross Taiwan Cabbage

The wild cabbage, in early European civilization, migrated as a staple food crop, and strains of it were established in the north, in Scandinavia and the British Isles. Some wild cabbage was cultivated in central Europe and the east, and also in the areas that became Portugal, Belgium, and Holland. Every time this staple food plant became established among farming cultures, it began to change through selective breeding. The end result of this travel and breeding over centuries is a modern, familiar spectrum of vegetables, often just referred to as “the Brassicas,” or Cole crops.

Through selective breeding, the single species Brassica oleracea was cultivated to produce common vegetable types that include collards and kale, Chinese broccoli, cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli, broccoflower, Brussels sprouts, and conventional broccoli. The closely related (genetically similar) species Brassica rapa includes mizuna, raab (rapini), Chinese cabbage, pac choi, and turnips.

In many cultures cabbage is a base ingredient, and examples are nearly too numerous to name. The leaves can be used to create cabbage rolls, chopped into cole slaw, and added to soups and stir-fries. Cabbage is frequently pickled or preserved to create sumptuous dishes from kim-chi to sauerkraut. The versatility of cabbage in the kitchen, coupled with its easy growth in all cool and temperate climates has left a legacy of folksy recipes.

Red Jewel Cabbage

Like other cold-hardy Brassicas, overwintered cabbage has great flavour and a subtle sweetness. Refrigerate cabbages as soon as possible, regardless of the time of year, and use plastic bags with holes cut for ventilation. Cabbage reacts with aluminum cookware, and creates a fairly intense smell while cooking, so use steel, glass, or ceramic pots. The smell increases the longer cabbage is cooked because its sugars are released when it boils. Slice cabbage thinly and cook it quickly for the best result.

Ermosa Cabbage Seeds

Early cabbages for summer harvests grow quickly, to a smaller size in tighter spacing. Summer varieties don’t handle cold very well, so be sure to harvest them when they are ready, and well before frost. Set them out as transplants in late March, or direct sow them from April to the end of June. Early cabbages need the best soil and the most protection from insects (use lightweight row cover), but produce the most delicate heads.

Late cabbages take 90 — 120 days to develop, and are grown for storage or making fresh sauerkraut and kimchi. Don’t sow these ones before June or the heads will grow pointy and may split as the days get longer. Dutch and English growers have developed “very late” cabbage varieties, which develop in late fall to December from June sowings. These are ideal for winter harvesting. Some may hold until March. Late savoy cabbages (“savoy” refers to their crinkled leaves) are the hardiest of all for this purpose.

Overwintered varieties are meant to be harvested the following spring from early fall plantings. Planted in early September, the heads grow to around 15cm (6”) thick before the short daylight and cool temperatures slow them down. Side dress these with complete organic fertilizer in the spring, and harvest them in April and May before they bolt.

Deadon Cabbage

How to Grow Cabbage:

Difficulty: Cabbage is moderately easy to grow.

Timing: This is all about the variety you’re growing. Sow early cabbage indoors in March for transplanting from April to June. Cabbage is relatively hardy, so you can move them outdoors 3-4 weeks before the last average frost date after sowing 4-6 weeks earlier. The premise is to provide a warm atmosphere for germination, and then a cool climate for growing on. Direct sow overwintering cabbage outdoors in July.

Sowing: Sow 3-4 seeds in each spot (or pot if transplanting) where you want a plant to grow, and then thin to the strongest plant. Sow 5mm (¼”) deep.

Soil: Cabbage is a heavy feeder and requires steady growth. Use humus-rich soil amended with well-rotted manure. Mix ½ cup of complete organic fertilizer into the soil beneath each plant. Aim for a pH of 6.5 to 7.2. If the pH is lower than 6.5, add lime at least 3 weeks before planting. All cabbages need a fairly neutral soil. If the pH is 6.5 or lower, add lime three weeks prior to planting.

Growing: The goal is slow, steady growth through even watering and feeding. Heads of early varieties can split from over-maturity, rapid growth after heavy rain, or irrigation after a dry spell. Splits can be delayed by twisting the plant or cultivating deeply next to the row in order to break roots and slow growth down. Fall and winter varieties stand in the garden longer without splitting. If growth seems to slow, side-dress with a little more complete organic fertilizer.

Harvest: Cut heads when they feel hard. Leave the big outer leaves in the field, and use a sharp knife to separate the head.

Storage: Ideally, store cabbage just above freezing with high humidity and good air circulation. Root cellars are perfect for this. Young, green heads store the best. Eat or process damaged heads first, and only store the best ones.

Seed info: In optimum conditions, at least 80% of seeds will germinate. Soil temperature for germination: 10-30°C (50-85°F). Usual seed life: 3 years.

Growing for seed: Isolate from all other B. oleracea varieties by 1,500m if growing for seed.

Pests & Disease: Crop rotation is central to preventing problems. Do not plant cabbage in soil where any Brassicas have been grown in the past 4 years. Watch seedlings closely for any sign of disease, black stems, or roots with lumps. Recommended companion plants include celery, dill, onions, and potatoes. Celery is thought to improve cabbage growth and health. Clover inter-planted with cabbage may reduce cabbage aphids and cabbage worms by interfering with their colonization and attracting predatory ground beetles. Prevent damage from the caterpillars of the Small White butterfly by using lightweight row cover, and companion planting with umbelifers.

About Onions

About Onions

Learn about onions (Allium cepa) & shallots (A. cepa aggreatum)

Onions represent perhaps the most ancient of cultivated vegetables, dating back to the Bronze Age, as early as 5000 BC. Or, at least the archaeological evidence suggests that onions were eaten as food at that time. Cultivation may not have occurred until 3000 BC, in ancient Egypt. There, they were worshipped as symbols of eternal life — perhaps because of the round shape and concentric rings of the vegetable.

Ailsa Craig sweet onions
Ailsa Craig sweet onions

The onion, with its pungent odour and strong flavour, was also used as medicine since around the same time it was cultivated for food. Athletes in ancient Greece and Rome were fed masses of onions, and even rubbed down with onion juice, as it was believed to increase blood flow and firm muscles. Early physicians recognized that the same properties that prevented stored onions from rotting could act as antibacterial agents in the body. The English botanist Culpeper commented, in 1652:

The juice of Onions is good for either scalding or burning by fire, water, or gunpowder, and used with vinegar, takes away all blemishes, spots, and marks in the skin: and dropped in the ears, eases the pains and noise of them. Applied with figs beaten together, helps to ripen and break imposthumes, and other sores.

He also felt that onions “provoke appetite, increase thirst, ease the belly and bowels, provoke women’s course, help the biting of a mad dog, and of other venomous creatures, to be used with honey and rue, increase sperm, especially the seed of them.” Onions, though healthy eating, probably aren’t the panacea he claimed them to be. They do, however, contain quercetin and other compounds thought to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, and anti-cancer properties. Onions may be particularly healthy eating for menopausal women, as they destroy osteoclasts, which break down bone tissue. Shallots contain more phenols than onions, and have much stronger antioxidant properties. Generally speaking, the more pungent the onion, the healthier it is for your body.

Since onions were grown and used as a basis in nearly every global cuisine, the references to its uses are too numerous to name. It is recorded that Columbus introduced onions to the Americas in 1492 on his first voyage to Hispaniola. Long before this, they were cultivated across the Middle East, China, and South Asia.

Onions left in the field produce masses of seed, which, though short-lived, germinate very well. Onions themselves are suited to a wide range of storage techniques, from freezing to powdering, so it is no wonder they have become such a universal foodstuff.

Onion flowers
Onion flowers attract pollinators

The name onion broadly includes bulbing onions, shallots, which have a similar growth form, and scallions, which are cultivated more for their green leaves than for bulbs. Onions in all forms (as well as leeks, chives, and garlic) derive their pungent aroma from complex sulfur compounds, which are present from the seedling stage onwards. When onions are cut, their cells are broken and they release enzymes which then break down sulfoxides within the onion tissue. This results in the release of sulfenic acids. A second enzyme within the onion rapidly converts the sulfenic acids to a volatile substance known as lachrymatory factor gas. When this stuff hits your eyes, it stings, and your eyes immediately begin to tear up in an attempt to rinse themselves clean. The effect can be reduced or prevented by slicing onions under running water, or simply using a fan in the kitchen to disperse the gas.

Onions begin to form bulbs in response to temperature, but also the length of the day. In southern Canada and the northern U.S., choose “long-day” onions. Our summer days are much longer than our winter days. “Short-day” onions are better suited to growing in the south, where the length of summer days is less pronounced. These bulb-up too rapidly in the north, whereas long-day onions may not form bulbs at all in the south.

Onion sets
Planting onion sets

Onions grown from seed may have better storage potential than the same grown from onion sets. Sets are produced by planting seeds and growing the plants densely, then lifting and drying them at an immature size. Onion sets have a “head start” on the growing season. They are planted in the spring and produce good sized bulbs by mid-summer.

Perhaps not surprisingly, onion festivals abound, as many communities in North America depend on onion farming. But the town of Vidalia, Georgia, must surely set a new standard of celebration with its 12 full days of festivities. Although the official festival is only three days long in mid-April, the “pre-festival” events include beauty pageants, softball tournaments, historic reenactments, a sidewalk sale, storytelling, genealogy lessons, a carnival, a parade, and outdoor movie screenings. By the time the official festival gets underway, things really get moving. There are barbecues, hayrides, a full-scale air show, demonstrations of military equipment, a street dance, rodeo, marathon race, a car show, an arts festival, recipe contest, a motorcycle rally, an onion eating contest, the “Vidalia Onion Culinary Extravaganza,” live music, and an onion sale! The entire spectacle is overseen by “Yumion,” Vidalia’s own life-size walking onion mascot.

Heirloom onion seeds
Heirloom storage onions

How to Grow Onions:

Difficulty: Easy. Scallions can certainly be grown in containers, but bulbing onions and scallions should be grown in the garden bed.

Timing: Transplanting is preferred for home gardeners: Sow 3 seeds in each cell of a 72-cell tray and transplant as a clump, spacing each 15cm (6”) apart. Seeds will emerge in 6-12 days, depending on soil temperature. Start sweet onions first, indoors in February for transplanting after April 21st. Storage onions can be treated the same way or direct sown in early April. Plan to direct sow overwintering onions in the first two weeks of August. Direct sow scallions every two weeks from April 1st to the end of September, as they are a year-round crop. They will grow all winter long beneath cloche protection.

Sowing: Sow fresh seeds 1-2cm (½-1”) deep. If starting indoors, seedlings can be trimmed with scissors once they are about 15cm (6”) tall. This will help to prevent them from falling over.

Soil: Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Apply lime three weeks prior to sowing or transplanting if the pH is 6.0 or lower. Dig plenty of finished compost into the onion bed. Manure can be used, but it should be dug into the bed the previous season. Glacial rock dust is a useful soil amendment for the onion bed, as it provides a wide range of minerals necessary for good growth. Otherwise, apply ½-1 cup of complete organic fertilizer beneath every 3m (10’) of row.

Growing: Thin seedlings 5-8cm (3-4”) apart or wider for mammoth types. The thinned plants can be used as scallions. Most of the bulb should form on the surface of the soil, so don’t transplant too deeply. Bulb size is dependent on the size of the tops: the bigger the tops, the bigger the bulb. Keep the surface of the soil evenly moist throughout growth.

Harvest: Stop watering in the beginning of August to mature bulbs in dry soil. After half the tops have fallen, push over the remainder, wait a week, and lift the bulbs Curing is essential for long storage: Spread bulbs out in the sun for about a week, covering them at night to protect them from dew. When the outer layer of the onion changes from moist to dry and crisp, it is cured. If weather is poor, cure inside.

Storage: Keep onions in mesh sacks so they get good ventilation, and hang sacks where air is dry and very cool, but above freezing. Check them regularly and remove any sprouting or rotting onions. Well-cured storage onions should keep until late spring.

Seed info: In optimum conditions at least 75% of seeds will germinate. Soil temperature for germination: 16-25°C (50-75°F). Usual seed life: 1 year.

Growing for seed: If growing for seed, isolate each type by 1km (½ mile).

Pests & Disease: Botryits blast and downy mildew are common leaf diseases. One starts with white spots and streaks, the other with purple-grey areas on the leaves. Leaves wither from the top down and plants die prematurely. Separate the overwintered and spring crops because disease starts in older plants and moves to younger. Avoid overhead watering and plant in open, sunny locations. Use lots of compost and practice strict sanitation and crop rotation procedures. Spraying with copper hydroxide every 7-14 days at the first sign of a problem may help prevent disease from spreading. The pungent odour of onions repels many pests and also protects nearby garden vegetables.

About Cucumbers

About Cucumbers
About cucumbers
About Cucumbers

Cucumbers originated in India where they have been in cultivation for at least 3,000 years. The English word “cucumber” is a derivation of the Indian word kachumbar, which is still used today to describe an Indian salad made from cucumber, tomato, onion, and yoghurt. Cucumbers are mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh and twice in the Bible, and came to be one of the most ubiquitous ingredients of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. The Romans loved them, Charlemagne grew them in France in the 9th century, and Columbus introduced them to Haiti in 1494. The 17th century saw the cucumber’s rise in popularity as North American Indians found that they grew very well in the local climate.

Cucumbers are almost always harvested as immature fruits, while they are still green, and before they have turned yellow and grown bitter. Their growth habit — climbing, grasping vines, large yellow flowers, rough leaves, etc… — betrays their close botanical relationship to squash and melons, with which they are classified as Cucurbits. Just about all Cucurbits share similarities in their flowering and pollination as well. Male (pollen bearing) flowers appear first on the vine, followed by the larger female (pollen receiving) flowers. Female flowers have conspicuous ovaries at their base, which will swell into the actual fruit if pollination is successful. Male flowers are attached directly to the vine, with no “miniature fruit” at their bases.

Some cultivars have been developed that are “parthenocarpic,” which means they develop fruit without pollination, and their fruits contain no seeds. A few varieties are “gynoecious” and develop almost exclusively female flowers. These must be grown beside pollinator plants with abundant male flowers. The typical cucumber simply produces both kinds of flowers and requires pollen transfer by bees or by human intervention. In agricultural settings, masses of honeybees are transported to the cucumber field for this purpose.

To pollinate cucumbers, use a cotton swab or a fine, soft-hair paintbrush to lift pollen from the male flower and transfer it to the female. Pollen is produced at the tip of the central structure (anther) of the male flower and received by the tip of the central structure (stigma) of the female flower. Some growers use scissors to carefully cut a male flower from the plant, and then trim away the petals. This can then be brought in contact with the female stigma with a light twisting motion. As long as some pollen is transferred, pollination and fruit set is very likely.

How to grow cucumbers

Because cucumbers are native to the tropics, they like warm weather, but not excessive, dry heat. The faster the soil warms up beneath them during the day, the faster and more ample the harvest will be. Raised beds and greenhouses both work well for this purpose. It’s worth providing them some form of support or trellis, so that the fruits do not lie on the ground where they are exposed to slugs and prone to rotting. Trellised plants will exploit gravity and produce fruits that hang and grow straight. Fruits that develop on the ground may be curled or even grow into ring shapes.

Cucumbers are most nutritious when the peel is left on each fruit. They are, of course, over 90% water. But they’re a good source of potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium, as well as vitamin C. High in carbohydrates and dietary fibre, a 100g serving of cucumber contains only 16 calories.

Cucumbers that experience moisture stress from irregular irrigation tend to become bitter — even the so-called “burpless” varieties. The “burp” refers to a digestive problem some people have with the bitter skins of some cucumbers. Peeling a cucumber and removing its stem-end will remove the bitterness in most cases.

If you’re looking to celebrate the cucumber, you need to take a trip to Suzdal, a village northeast of Moscow, in early July. Nearly every household there lives off the proceeds of the annual cucumber harvest, as they have done in this region for 700 years. In July they cut loose and celebrate Cucumber Day with music, dancing, eating, and drinking. The houses are decorated with cucumbers — some merry-makers even wear cucumber-shaped masks and clothing. The event climaxes with the cucumber eating competition, with the winner being awarded a trip abroad… Presumably to some place that doesn’t grow cucumbers!

How to Grow Cucumbers

About Squash

About Squash

Squash (Curcurbita sp.)

Of all the vegetable varieties, squashes are by far the most diverse in shape, size, and overall appearance. The sheer complexity of this vegetable group invites growers on a life-long adventure. There are many hundreds of different named varieties of squash (perhaps more types in cultivation than any other group of vegetable), each with its own fascinating history and facts about squash, but there are countless more yet to be developed, as the plants are so easy to breed and prone to cross-pollination.

Turk's Turban squash
Some squash, like Turk’s Turban, are so pretty they can be grown simply for decoration

Part of the trouble with dealing with these diverse vegetables is that traditional gardening books have dealt with them exclusively in terms of the ways they are used. “Summer squash” refers to those varieties that are harvested during the summer, before they are fully mature, while they are still tender, moist, and full of flavour. This group includes zucchinis, crooknecks, straightnecks, the scalloped types (pattypans), and the tender spherical squashes. “Winter squashes” are much more diverse, and include all varieties that are harvested at the end of summer when they are fully mature: Acorn, buttercup, butternut, delicata, spaghetti, all gourds, and a host of pumpkins.

This approach does a bit of a disservice to the different kinds of squashes because among pumpkins alone, there may be three different species. We think of all other types of vegetables in terms of species or subspecies and there are a couple of good reasons to shift the way we think of squashes in this direction. Most obviously, to celebrate the diverse shapes, flavours, and characteristics shown by those within a single species. Just think of Cucurbita pepo, which includes pumpkins, acorns, zucchinis, vegetable marrows, delicatas, buttercups, and many others! The second reason why this shift in approach is important is about saving seeds from year to year. All members of C. pepo can cross pollinate with one another. Likewise, all types of C. moschata can cross-pollinate among themselves – the same is true for C. maxima. You might not think that growing a zucchini next to a pumpkin could produce seeds that, if grown out, will be unpredictable to the point of uselessness, but such is the nature of the genus Cucurbita.

Festival squash
Festival is a kind of acorn squash that demonstrates the possible variation in skin colouration

All forms of squash (and there are many that, for one reason or another, are not commonly grown in our area), arose in the Americas, primarily in the areas that are now Mexico and Central America. C. maxima have been in cultivation for more than 4,000 years. This great expanse of time, coupled with the plant’s luxurious tendency to cross pollinate and take on new forms, allowed indigenous Americans to cultivate or create as they traveled a spectrum of forms prior to European contact in 1492. Indeed, the English word, squash, is descended from the Narragansett word askutasquash. This was a dialect of the Massachusett speaking people, whose language is now included in the greater family of Algonquin.

Of course, it was not until Columbus’s time and onward that Europeans or Asians had any exposure to squash – as well as tomatoes, beans, and peppers. Something about squash captivated the minds of Europeans, particularly in the south, where the plants grew so well in the temperate Mediterranean region.

Duchesne Squash Painting
An 18th Century painting of C. pepo by A.N. Duchesne

In 1768, the French botanist A.N. Duchesne began to examine the genus Cucurbita by painstakingly crossing male and female flowers by hand, growing out the fruit, and then growing out the resulting seeds. He made hundreds of detailed watercolour paintings of the parent and offspring fruits, and all the various cultivars he discovered. Duchesne’s remarkably dedicated work resulted in a very clear understanding of which squashes comprised which genus and parent group. Simply put, the varieties most often grown as food crops since his time look like this:

Cucurbita maxima includes the largest pumpkins, banana squashes, the buttercups, Hubbards, turban-shaped kinds, zapallitos, and some others.

Cucurbita moschata is comprised of the neck group (with very long bodies and a bulbous seed cavity at the blossom end), cheese pumpkins, tropical pumpkins, and Japonica types.

Cucurbita pepo is the most diverse group of plants in terms of its fruits. This species can produce pumpkins (smooth-skinned or warty, the oil-producing types, summer pumpkins, and many of the pumpkins grown for Jack-o’-lanterns); acorn squashes (including true, top-shaped acorns, delicatas, and Jack Be Little pumpkins); scalloped squashes; crookneck and straightneck squashes; vegetable marrow (including spaghetti squashes); zucchinis (which are always an even thickness along their length); cocozelle types (these look like zucchinis, but have a bulbous blossom end); and an amazing range of decorative gourds with a wild range of colours, shapes, and sizes. The species name pepo refers to the nature of the fruit (technically it is a berry) – thick-skinned, fleshy, and housing seeds in a small cavity at one end or along its length.

Galeux d'Eysines heirloom pumpkin
Galeux d’Eysines is an old French heirloom with perhaps the best flavour of any pumpkin.

Because of their diversity, few generalizations can be made about the nutritional values of the various squashes. Summer squash (zucchinis, cocozelles, summer pumpkins, scalloped types, vegetable marrows and a handful of others) are eaten while they are immature, and are at the peak of their texture and flavour only a few days after pollination. These contain as much as 95% water, but are high in dietary fibre, protein, vitamin C, and potassium. Because winter squashes are left to mature, they contain significantly greater quantities of sugar, vitamins, and a much broader range of minerals. Pumpkin seeds are loaded with protein, zinc, vitamins, and are thought to lower cholesterol. Oil extracted from pumpkin seeds (which is very popular in Central and Eastern Europe) is rich with the fatty acids that maintain good blood vessel and nervous system health.

Romanesco Zucchini
Romanesco is an Italian heirloom zucchini with very distinctive ridges and stripes along its length

It is no surprise that squash festivals are common across North America. The fruits can be colourful, of a peculiar shape, or just enormous, so they have become symbols of the rural autumn fair. Morton, Illinois, is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World, and is home to the Libby’s pumpkin canning plant. In the second week of September, Morton hosts its Annual Pumpkin Festival, with all the themes we have come to expect – pumpkin cookoffs, carving, live music, lots of food, and so on. It’s also the venue for the annual “Punkin Chuckin’ Contest,” wherein competitors are invited to bring contraptions with which to hurl 5-10lb pumpkins into an open field. This competition has seen catapults, trebuchets, and all manner of pumpkin propelling devices. The Q-36 Pumpkin Modulator, however, holds the world record for pumpkin propulsion. The Q-36 is a 30m (100’) air cannon that weighs 16,000kg (36,000 lbs), and was unveiled at the Morton contest. It fired one pumpkin 1,430m (4,680’)!

How to Grow:

Difficulty: All squash are easy to grow if you can provide enough space in full sun. All squashes have very large root systems, so none are particularly suited to container growing. Allow 10-20 square feet per plant.

Timing: Direct sow or transplant in late May or early June when soil is warm.

Sowing: Build up a small hill of soil, and sow 3 to 5 seeds per hill, 2cm (1”) deep. Thin to the best looking plant by cutting, not pulling, so as not to disturb the roots.

Spacing: Summer Squash: Rows 1—2.4m (3—4′) apart with plants spaced 45—60cm (18—24”) apart. Even the bush summer squash are big plants and most gardens do not need more than 2 or 3. You need to leave room so you can get to the plants to harvest them regularly. Winter Squash: Rows 1.2—1.8m (4—6′); space plants 45—60cm (18—24”). Farm: 100′ Row: 14—28g. Acre: 1—2kg (2—4lb). Rows: 1.8—2.4m (6—8′) apart; space plants 90cm (36”) apart. Winter squash are even bigger plants and many are vines. They can be set at the edge of the garden, so that the vines go across the lawn or path.

Soil: These big plants need lots of food! Use one cup of complete organic fertilizer under each plant. Do not water until after the plants are established. Like other flowering or fruiting plants, these require full sun. Add ample organic matter to the planting site to retain moisture, and aim for a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5.

Growing: All squash grow male flowers first then the female flowers are produced. The female flowers have tiny fruits at the base of the petals and require pollination by bees mostly. Incomplete pollination often happens at the beginning of the season, and results in misshapen fruit at the flower end. Just discard these damaged fruit. You can encourage bees to your garden by planting Buckwheat and/or Phacelia. For the largest pumpkins, grow only one fruit per plant by removing all female flowers once you can verify that a fruit is forming. Gradually adjust the fruit so that is growing perpendicular to the vine. Feed the plants every two weeks with a fish-based liquid fertilizer.

Harvest: Summer squash become blander as they mature, so aim to harvest very young fruits as frequently as every day. Winter squash is ripe if your thumbnail doesn’t mark the skin and the stem is dry and brown. Cut the stem about 4cm (2”) from the fruit. Squash survive a light frost, but store better if harvested before frost.

Storage: Field-cure for 10 days in the sun, or cure indoors in a warm room for 4 or 5 days. To prevent mould sponge the skins with a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part chlorine bleach. Store at 10-15°C (50-60°F) with low humidity with good air circulation. Try on a shelf in the garage.

Seed info: In optimum conditions at least 80% of seeds will germinate. Optimum soil temperature for germination: 25°-35°C (68-95°F). Usual seed life: 2 years.

Growing for seed: All squash varieties will cross-pollinate within their species, but not between species. You can grow one variety of each of the three species side by side without any cross-pollination occurring. Isolate individual varieties within a species by 1km (½ mile) if you are planning to save the seeds for the purposes of planting again. Otherwise, plants can be hand pollinated, with the fertilized female flowers taped shut so they cannot receive any insect visitors.

Pests & Disease: Bacterial wilt (Erwinia tracheiphila) – Remove and destroy infested plants. If striped or spotted cucumber beetles appear control as soon as possible. Powdery mildew – avoid wetting foliage if possible. Water early in the day so that above ground parts will dry as quickly as possible. Avoid crowding plants and eliminate weeds around plants and garden area to improve air circulation. Viral disease – Remove and destroy entire infested plant along with immediately surrounding soil and soil clinging to roots. Eliminate wild cucumber and milkweed nearby. Control aphids early in the season by washing off with water as needed early in the day. A hard stream of water can be used to remove many aphids.

Male squash blossoms

All squash plants bear their male (pollen producing) flowers at the ends of long, narrow stems like the ones shown above.

Female squash blossoms

All squashes also bear female (pollen receiving) flowers. Note the thickened base of each – this is the ovary of the flower. If it is fully fertilized, it will swell into a mature, seed-bearing fruit. If you notice squash (particularly zucchini) fruit that wilt or yellow at the blossom end, it is a result of incomplete pollination. These should be cut from the plant and discarded or composted.

About Radishes

French Breakfast

About Radishes (Raphanus sativus)

The genus name for this vegetable, Raphanus, comes from the Greek for “quickly appearing,” and it’s wholly appropriate. Radish seeds can germinate in as little as three days, and be ready for eating in under four weeks from planting, so they really are the speed demons of the vegetable garden. The whole plant is edible, although the leaves can be tough and bitter tasting. Most people grow radishes for the crunchy, sometimes spicy roots. Here are some other fun facts about radishes.

Radishes are members of the Brassica family, and their original wild form can still be found from western Asia to the Mediterranean region, where it grows alongside its cousins, turnip and mustard. Radishes have been cultivated in China for 3,000 years and in Europe prior to the time of the Greek empire. Certainly, by the 1500s, several named varieties were being cultivated in France and elsewhere in Europe, and some of these heirlooms remain on the market today.

Writing in the early 17th century, the physician Nicholas Culpepper didn’t seem to think much of the radish:

Garden Rhaddishes are in wantonness by the gentry eaten as a sallad, but they breed but scurvy humours in the stomach, and corrupt the blood, and then send for a physician as fast as you can; this is one cause makes the owners of such nice palates so unhealthful; yet for such as are troubled with the gravel, stone, or stoppage of urine, they are good physic, if the body be strong that takes them; you may make the juice of the roots into a syrup if you please, for that use: they purge by urine exceedingly.

In truth, radishes are high in ascorbic acid, folic acid, and potassium, as well as vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, copper, and calcium.

Radishes may be round or elongated, and they come in a wide range of colours, although the interior flesh is always white. Round Black Spanish is an old heirloom variety dating back to 1548. It grows to a much larger size than the small red, pink, or white varieties, and has rough, dark brown to black skin over its roots, with a hotter flavour. The daikon (R. sativus var. longipinnatus) is a very large, elongated, white radish from Asia that grows to 35cm (14”) long. Though many people think of daikon as a Japanese radish, it originated in China. Interestingly, the Chinese word for carrot translates literally as “giant foreign radish.”

On the 23rd of December each year in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) marks an important point in Christmas celebrations. Locally grown giant radishes (some weighing 10 lbs!) are carved into figures of saints, conquistadors, and revolutionary heroes, as well as animals and scenes depicting the Nativity. These go on display in the zocalo, and are rated for quality. The winner of the competition gets a cash prize and local fame. The origins of this festival remain unclear, but the first radish art competition was inaugurated by the mayor of Oaxaca back in 1897.

How to Grow:

Difficulty: Easy. Radishes work well in large containers.

Timing: Radishes can be grown all season, but they’re easiest when sown March/April and again August through October. In the heat of summer, try growing some in partial shade.

Sowing: Direct sow 2cm (¾”) deep, 25 seeds per 30cm (12”) in rows spaced 20cm (8”) apart, and thin to 10-12 plants per 30cm (12”).

Soil: Moderate to heavy feeders. Best in rich, loamy soil amended with composted manure. Add 4L (1 US gallon) of complete organic fertilizer for 10 sq m (100 sq ft) of bed for background fertility. Lime beds in fall, before planting, to bring the pH to 6.0-6.8.

Growing: The real secret to growing this little vegetable is speed. Sow a short row frequently, thin them quickly, keep them watered, eat them quickly, and sow some more. Winter radishes need to stay in the ground much longer, where they will stay fresh until eating.

Harvest: Harvest promptly when radishes are the size of marbles. Leaves and developing seed pods are also tasty. Harvest seed pods while they are still green.

Storage: Radishes do not retain their crisp, appealing texture for long after harvest, so eat them fresh.

Seed info: At least 80% of seeds will germinate in optimum conditions. Usual seed life: 4 years.

Growing for seed: If growing for seed, each variety should be isolated by 1km (½ mile).

Pests & Disease: Root maggots and flea beetles can be a problem. Expect to lose 20-30% of your crop to maggots if you don’t use a floating row cover.

Altaglobe – a regular, uniform red radish

About Melons

About Melons

About Melons: Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) & Muskmelon (Cucumis melo)

One of the basic facts about melons is that they can be challenging to grow well here in south coastal BC. But with a bit of added heat they can be very productive. Melons picked fresh from the vine are unbelievably sweet and, like so many other kinds of garden produce, are nothing at all like the ones you might find in a grocery store. The flavour and sugar content of fresh melons are positively mind-blowing, and make the effort to grow them very worth while.

cantaloupe-melon

Both watermelon and muskmelon (a term which includes cantaloupe, honeydew, and others) are members of the family Cucurbitaceae, so they are botanically similar to both cucumbers and squash. The larger family is referred to as the Cucurbits. The growth habit and the formation of fruits are similar across the family and there is a bit of crossover in the general ways they are described by their common names.

All of the melons are vine-forming annuals that produce what is known by botanists as a “pepo” — actually a type of berry, rather than a true fruit. A pepo has a thick rind with a fleshy interior, housing seeds at its centre. Other plants that produce pepos include bananas, squashes, blueberries, and cranberries. The difference between a pepo and a true berry has to do with the position of the plant’s ovary within the structure of the flower, for it is the ovary that swells into the edible portion.

Watermelons are thought to have originated in southern Africa, where other variations, sometimes with bitter tasting fruit, still grow wild. The sweet fleshed varieties we know today have been cultivated since at least 2,000 B.C., and watermelon seeds were among the items found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Watermelons were certainly cultivated in China by the 10th century AD, and had migrated to European gardens around the 13th century. The first reference to watermelons being grown in the Americas is from the 1500s, when French explorers noted Native Americans cultivating the plants in the region of the Mississippi. A debate remains about whether the plants were introduced to America by settlers or by African slaves.

Watermelons typically have thick grey or green (sometimes mottled or yellow) rinds over red, pink, yellow, or light green flesh. Scores of cultivars have been bred for short season maturity, resistance to disease, and to maximize sweetness. As its name suggests, the fruit is composed of about 90% water. The whole fruit is edible, including the rind. In Chinese and Eastern European cuisine, the rind is often pickled. The most nutritious portion of the fruit may be the soft, white, inner rind, although this is often discarded as it has virtually no flavour.

Watermelons are a good source of vitamins A, C, and folate, as well as the minerals potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. They are also high in beta carotene and lypocene.

Muskmelon is the generic term for “true” melons, which are all members of the genus Cucumis. The species Cucumis melo includes the recognizable cantaloupes and honeydew melons, as well as crenshaws, casabas, and Armenian melons (which resemble cucumbers to the point that they are marketed as Armenian cucumbers).

Earlichamp Cantaloupe Seeds

Earlichamp is a good cantaloupe for areas with cooler summers.

Canataloupes are divided, within the species C. melo, into two subspecies: The European cantaloupe (C. melo lymphothelialisis), and the North American version (C. melo reticulatus). We tend to know, and grow, the North American variety, with its familiar netted (reticulated) skin, orange flesh, and subtle sweetness. Both varieties descended from tropical plants that were cultivated in ancient Egypt and India, and popular in both Greek and Roman cuisine. It is thought that cantaloupes were literally brought to North America by Columbus in 1494. By 1881, the Burpee Seed Company had introduced the cultivar, “Netted Gem” for growth in temperate gardens in the northern US and southern Canada. Since then, the cantaloupe has remained a coveted prize for gardeners — an oddball, end of season treat, weather permitting.

Because of the netted skin, the fruits are well-known to harbor bacteria, including salmonella. Store-bought fruits may be treated after harvest by washing in sodium hypochlorite, to kill bacteria, but this can also affect the aroma of the fruit. All the more reason to try for a few in the home garden to enjoy fresh in late summer.

The honeydew melon is a cultivar of the cantaloupe known as White Antibes that gained popularity in France and North Africa. “Honeydew” is simply the American name for this variation on the muskmelon. Honeydews have sweeter flesh than cantaloupes, and it is greenish white, not orange. It also has a much subtler flavour. In the 1940s an American diplomat introduced the honeydew to China, where it was widely and happily received. These are now grown across Gansu province and referred to as Bailan melons.

Each August, the town of Sunland, California, celebrates the Sunland-Tujunga Watermelon Festival, where free watermelon is served in a carnival setting that features the Seed Spitting Contest, the Watermelon Eating Contest, the Greased Watermelon Relay, and, of course, the crowning of the Watermelon Queen. Prizes are awarded in the largest, sweetest, most colouful, and most unusual watermelon categories.

On the opposite side of the continent, in Halifax County, Virginia, one can attend the Virginia Cantaloupe Festival in late July. Music, food, and contests have become a major draw for this popular event.

Yellow Doll Watermelon Seeds

Watermelons can have red, pink, orange, or yellow flesh, like Yellow Doll above.

The secret with all melons is to provide masses of heat, excellent drainage, and ample water throughout the season.

How to Grow:

Difficulty: Moderately difficult. Large raised beds are perfect, but containers are not.

Timing: It is essential to start seeds indoors or in a greenhouse mid to late April. Transplant at the end of May or first week of June when the transplants are 5 weeks old. Melons need really warm growing conditions—use black plastic mulch, cloches or floating row covers. Success may improve in raised beds, or by combining all these methods. For best results, grow in a poly-tunnel or similar environment.

Sowing: Sow seeds indoors, 2cm (¾”) deep, in 13cm (5”) pots, 2 seeds to a pot. If both seeds sprout, pinch off the weaker plant rather than pulling it.

Soil: Choose a warm, well-drained soil in full sun. Raised beds work well. Add dolomite lime, compost, or well-rotted manure to the bed and ½-1 cup of complete organic fertilizer mixed into the soil beneath the transplant. Optimum pH is 5.8-7.0.

Growing: Melon plants need 8-10 weeks of good, hot growing weather from the middle of June to the end of August. During that time, a melon vine must grow 5-9 leaves before starting to flower, then set 4 or more male flowers before making its first female flower, and then ripen its first set of melons before cool damp weather sets in.

Harvest: Expect one, possibly two melons per plant. Fruit will ripen in late August/September. Fruit will not ripen off the vine! Ripe cantaloupe will easily detach from the vine when light finger pressure is applied to them. Watermelon is ripe when the tendril nearest to the fruit is dry.

Storage: Wrap cut sections of melons in plastic and refrigerate

Seed info: In optimum conditions at least 80% of seeds will germinate. Optimal soil for germination: 20-25°C (68-77°F). Usual seed life: 3 years.

Growing for seed: N/A — Seed not reliable in this climate. Hybrid varieties will generally produce the best results.

Pests & Disease: White spots on the leaves are a fungus, Powdery Mildew, which can appear at the end of the season. Resistant varieties get the mildew a few days later than the others. Various wilts (Fusarium, verticillium, bacterial) cause the vines to wilt and die. To control wilt, observe strict sanitation in the garden and greenhouse, avoid over-watering, plant in well drained soil, use long rotations, and (very important) use of disease resistant varieties when available.

Home Run is another excellent choice – productive in cooler summers, but even more so with added heat.

About Beets

About-Beets

Beets, like many root vegetables are biennials, which, if not harvested, will bloom in the second year of growth. One of the interesting facts about beets is they are closely related to Swiss chard, which can easily be seen by the similarity in their leaf structure and the intense colour of the petioles, or stems. In botany, garden beets are differentiated from sugar beets and mangelwurzel beets through a complicated series of subspecies and variety names. Sugar beets have a very high concentration of sucrose, and are grown for processing into table sugar. Mangelwurzel beets are typically grown as animal fodder.

The beets we like are harvested for their baby leaves as salad greens, and for their sweet, crunchy roots. These can be enjoyed as baby beets, or grown on to mature size for winter storage. The roots are peeled and then steamed or sliced and sautéed as a delicious vegetable dish. Many people enjoy them raw with vinegar. The pairing of sour vinegar and sweet beet root makes them prime candidates for pickling. They can also be fermented to make a very tasty wine, and of course, they are the key ingredient in borscht.

Beet roots contain a pigment called betanin, which is used as a food colouring in everything from tomato paste to breakfast cereals. Some people are unable to break down another pigment in beets called betacyanin, and they may experience pink urine after eating beets.

Beets are fantastically good for you. They contain a host of chemicals and compounds that are thought to improve cardiovascular health, protect against liver disease, regulate stomach acidity, and lower blood pressure. They are rich in folate, vitamins B and C, and potassium. Beets contain high concentrations of the element boron, which is believed to play a key role in producing human sex hormones. Perhaps this is why, since Roman times, they have been considered an aphrodisiac.

We turn to the curious insights of 17th century English physician Nicholas Culpeper:

The red Beet is good to stay the bloody flux, women’s courses, and the whites, and to help the yellow jaundice; the juice of the root put into the nostrils, purges the head, helps the noise in the ears, and the tooth-ach; the juice snuffed up the nose, helps a stinking breath, if the cause lie in the nose, as many times it does, if any bruise has been there; as also want of smell coming that way.

Beet seeds are actually little fruits, or “nutlets,” that contain one to four seeds. They are extremely easy to grow in a wide variety of soils, but do best with a neutral pH in well drained soil supplemented with finished compost. Many growers apply boron to beet fields at a rate of three pounds per acre —but it is easy to over-apply boron, so for the cautious home gardener it’s not necessary. Refrigerate beets quickly after harvesting, or store the roots around 2°C (36°F) in well-ventilated containers in high humidity. Aim for 95% humidity for best results.

Each year in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, they celebrate the Beet Festival at Schrute Farms. Events include the Reddest Beet and Purplest Beet competitions, as well as beet cook offs, and more. Sugar beet festivals abound all over North America, but Sugar Beet Days in Mead, Colorado, features live music, cooking, a petting zoo, a farm toy auction, and the straw bale throw and skillet toss competitions.

How to Grow Beets from Seed:

Difficulty: Easy, but not well suited to containers, except for harvest as baby leaves or microgreens.

Timing: Sow outdoors late April to mid-July. Beets will not produce roots if planted when the soil is too cold.

Sowing: Sow 1cm (½”) deep, about 2cm (1”) apart.

Soil: Beets are moderate feeders so plant in deeply dug, composted soil, and water regularly—dry soil will increase the amount of zoning (pale rings in the beet). Mix ½ cup of complete organic fertilizer per 1.5-3m (5-10’) of row into the soil below the seed furrow.

Growing: Seeds will germinate in 5-12 days, depending on soil temperature. For uniformly sized beets, thin carefully to 7-15cm (3-5”) apart when seedlings are 5cm (2”) tall. Eat thinned plants, roots and all. Root size is controlled by spacing and variety.

Harvest: Harvest at any size. Eat the greens, too. Trim the leaves from the roots, leaving 5cm (2”) of stubble – this will lengthen the storage life of the roots.

Storage: Store in the ground or in moist peat or sand just above freezing. Beet also pickles well, of course.

Seed info: In optimum conditions at least 75% of seeds will germinate. Soil temperature for germination: 10-26°C (50-80°F). Usual seed life: 3 years.

Growing for seed: If the purpose is to grow for seed, isolate your crop from other beet and Swiss chard seed crops by 2-5 km.

Pests & Disease: If beets have black cankers in the roots, soil may need more boron. Dissolve 1 Tbsp of borax (in the laundry section of your grocery store) to 4L (8.5 US pints) of water, and spread evenly over 9 sq. m (100 sq ft) of soil. Do not apply at a heavier rate. Circular lesions with a purple halo on the leaf indicate cercospora leaf spot. Prevent by rotation and sanitation. Leaf miner maggots cause blistered grey tunnels in leaves. You can squish them inside the leaf. Floating row cover carefully applied over beets will prevent the leaf miner fly from laying its eggs.

The most common problem we hear regarding poor success with beets is that they formed big bushy tops, but small, unsatisfactory roots. This is almost always an indicator that nitrogen was out of balance with phosphorus and potassium. These soil “macronutrients” are symbolized by the NPK ratio numbers found on fertilizers. If garden soil is prepared with fresh Sea Soil or lots of composted chicken manure, the nitrogen levels can be extremely high, and that’s great for leafy greens like lettuce and spinach, but it’s not good at all for root vegetables. So plant beets in soil that has not been super-charged, and use a bit of the Gaia All Purpose 4-4-4 fertilizer. You’ll have great results!

Growing Beet Microgreens

Microgreens can be grown in a variety of containers. Why not recycle some grocery packaging? Cut a clean milk carton in half down its length, and you have two trays suitable for microgreens. Or break a clear plastic “clamshell” package in two and use it to grow some food. Add about 2cm (1″) of sterilized seed starting mix to whatever container you choose, and then sow your beet seeds fairly thickly. Remember that each beet nutlet can produce as many as four seedlings. Push the seed lightly into your soil and water with a mister, keeping the soil just moist, not wet. As soon as the seeds sprout, you want to grow them in a very brightly lit area like a south facing window, or under artificial lights like our Growlight Garden. The microgreens shown above were grown in the Growlight Garden, which kept them nice and compact, but brought out the beautiful colour. Harvest as the first pair of true leaves are emerging.