2018 – The Year of the Beet!
When Wildrose Heritage Seeds in Lethbridge Alberta listed Touchstone Gold Beets as a “new” seed was that a mistake? I mean they run an all-Heirloom, all-the-time vegetable farm and listing new seed doesn’t seem right. Doesn’t an heirloom mean old? How could anything old be new again?
Well upon closer inspection, the New List was posted in 2017 and to be fair, the owners of Wildrose are constantly tracking down new old seed from around the world to grow on their Lethbridge area farm. So when they list a new seed, like Touchstone Gold Beet, it just means it is new to them, not new to the world. It is an antique seed, polished up and given a test drive for the Alberta market. And they must think it is something special or they wouldn’t be listing it. So, too bad they didn’t wait to introduce it this year, in the Year of the Beet.
I know the idea of a special day, month or year is odd to some people and naming a whole year after a vegetable probably seems odd to every non-gardener. Will you seriously celebrate “Dress up your dog day” on January 14? Or “World Snow Day” on January 21? Well – maybe that’s a bad example. I’m sure a lot of us will be celebrating snow this month. And one more thing. Did you know “Adopt a Rescued Bird” month lasts all of January?
But back to beets. According to the Wildrose Heritage Seed’s online list, Touchstone “is a fantastic, yellow, open pollinated beet that is considered the best yellow beet available today. Round, smooth, golden roots retain their color when cooked. Good uniform shape for an open pollinated beet. Buttery, fine texture and sweet when eaten raw. Touchstone has glossy green tops. Does not bleed like red beets.”
It is also listed in other big “mainstream” catalogues so it must be worth a try.
If you have gardened for a while you might wonder what the big deal is about beets. Why should we celebrate them all year long? Well of course we know they are nutritious and delicious. And they can be stored indoors like potatoes and used well into winter. They can be started early and left in the ground late. But some people simply can’t grow them. Here are some possible reasons why:
#1It might be your pH. Beets prefer a neutral, or definitely over 6 pH soil. So beets grow great on the prairies. What this pH thing really means is your soil is short of available Calcium so try adding Ag lime (but not Dolomite because that has Magnesium mixed with the lime and it can make soils super hard or “tight” as we like to say in the soil biz.)
#2 It might be a cold spell. Beets sprouted early and looking great might suddenly go to seed if the weather turns cold. Try again. Beets can be started all spring and into summer right up to 8 weeks before your last fall frost. I met a farmer who seeded in July because otherwise his beets got too big for the chefs who prefer baby beets. So don’t rush the season.
#3 Scabby skins. If beets get scabby like potatoes water more often. A nice steadily moist soil can keep beets scab free.
#4 Beets tolerate cold soil and can germinate when soils are only 7 degrees C. But check note #2 above. If it is warm and then it gets cold – say in June- they might go to seed.
#5 After a hot summer spell beets might get internal browning. This might mean a boron deficiency in soil. Did you know household cleaner borax (sodium borate), which is sold in the laundry aisle under the brand name 20 Mule Team, contains Borax and can be used to boost Boron in soil? This is not the same as washing soda they are two different chemicals. If you had trouble with browning last year mix up 1 tablespoon of Mule Team Borax diluted into a gallon of water. This solution can be sprayed right on the plants or poured over the soil as the beets grow in June and early July. If you still have trouble repeat again next year but be careful. Boron is a soil sterilizer if it builds up and you can’t remove it once you’ve added too much.
Beets I’ll grow this year:
Touchstone Gold (from Wildrose Heritage Seeds), Dutch Beets (from Renne’s seeds), Boro ( because it really actually is new from William Dam Seeds), Crosby’s Egyptian ( from Baler Creek Heirloom Seeds) and Early Wonder (from Botanical Interests).
PS In honour of beets I have made a limited number of Beet aprons to sell online. Too much fun. Check it out right HERE
PPS The illustrations of the beets shown here are from my book No Guff Vegetable Gardening – also conveniently available in my shop.
What Would Donna Do?
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