The Triumph of the Beetlets

August 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

Although this has nothing to do with gardening or food, since today’s post is about triumph and yesterday’s was about understanding — and ultimately, being — who you really are, I had to mention the decision by a federal judge in San Francisco yesterday that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, striking down Proposition 8, the voter-approved ballot measure that banned same-sex unions in California. I know the decision will go through a lengthy process of appeals, but for now, it’s a win toward equal rights for all in our country and allowing every individual to make such a private decision for her- or himself. Hooray!

So, on to the gardening. In early May, I planted a six-pack of bull’s blood beet seedlings. The burgundy leaves caught my eye at the garden center, so I snapped them up. I’d read that the leaves were tasty when young and that the roots would be candy-striped and sweet. I absolutely adore beets, so I was excited to give them a try.

I planted them in our clay soil and carefully tended them for the 55 days it was supposed to take for them to reach maturity. I was a bit worried about the roots’ ability to push their way through the compacted clay soil and form properly, but the greens were vivacious and added a sweet, earthy note to our salads when I harvested a few here and there, so I figured that something was going right.

At the end of June, with a combined sense of joyous anticipation and trepidation, I dug them up. My face quickly fell. Then I started to laugh.

This is what happens when you’ve never grown vegetables and don’t know what beet plants look like:

Beetlet in sad, sterile lighting -- appropriate, no?

You get beetlets.

Now, I’d read that you need to thin beet seedlings so they don’t crowd each other underground and can grow into the spheres they are meant to be. But not knowing what a beet plant looks like, I thought that the six-pack I’d purchased had already been thinned, such that each cell in the seedling tray held one tiny beet plant.

Well, clearly I was wrong. Each cell held three to four beet seedlings, which for nearly two months had jockeyed for position in the soil. Most of them lost, barely growing into 1/4-inch-diameter beetlets.

A few, however, established dominance. They’d reached about an inch in diameter and seemed firmly rooted in the ground. So I left those — five whole beets-to-be — to grow for another month. For kicks, I re-planted two beetlets in loose, organic potting soil in a pot to see what would happen.

Slowly, the beets in the ground grew. I could see the tops of the roots poking out of the dirt and expanding in size. The beetlets in the pot rejuvenated, the greens growing shiny and luxurious again.

Beetlets rejuvenating

Yesterday, I decided it was time: I pulled up the beets.

My hypothesis had been that the beets in the ground might be smaller and less tasty than the beets in the pot, since they had to push through tougher soil. Wrong again! The beets in the ground had grown to near-perfect roundness, about an inch and a half in diameter, with lush tops and sweet, tender roots…

Beets from the ground

…whereas the beets in the pot were oddly oblong, hadn’t grown any larger than a house key and tasted woody.

The beetlet is still a beetlet

It wasn’t until I looked up a recipe for cooking beet greens in my San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market Cookbook (a great resource that tells you how to select, store and cook what you’ll find at farmers’ markets here each season and offers history tidbits on each type of produce featured) that I recalled reading before that beets thrive in the moist, cool weather we have in San Francisco (which arrives in droves in our particular backyard).

I’ll share how we cooked the beets tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m glad that I learned how to recognize a beet plant in need of thinning and that the experts are correct — bull’s blood beets are delicious, and I’m sure we’ll enjoy them next year when I plant them from seed next February or March.

Ahh, the triumph of the beetlets: soaking up the fog and cold to come into their own.

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