If your beets are sizing up, or you can get a big batch of them at a farmers market, how about making some tasty pickles? This is my mother’s beet pickle recipe, simple and yet delicious.
And of course, since it came from her and it is food I loved as a child, it always takes me back to my North Dakota farm roots.
I don’t know what variety beets she grew, but for pickles I like to grow Detroit Dark Red or Early Wonder Tall Top for the rich burgundy color.
Remove beet tops, leaving 1 inch of top. Boil the beets in lightly salted water. When tender enough for a knife to pass through them, drain. Cool the beets in icy water, slipping the skin off them while they’re still hot. When cool, cut into 1-inch chunks.
Simmer the water, vinegar, sugar and spices for 15 minutes.
Pack the beets into jars and cover with liquid to within 1/2 inch of the jar top. Process for 30 minutes in a hot water bath.
Makes 3 pints.
p.s. For details on growing successive plantings of root crops, including beets, for fall and winter, see my column in the July-August, 2016 issue of Edible Seattle.
A good rule of thumb for winter edibles is to have your vegetables large enough for harvest by mid-December, which I achieved with some of my plantings. Carrots, beets and kohlrabi are ready anytime.
The goal is to use the garden as an outdoor refrigerator, planting crops that will store well in situ and can be harvested as needed. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale are on that list.
With leafy greens, I have some ready now, and some smaller plants under good protection that will hopefully give me a very early harvest when the days begin to get noticeably longer a month from now, well after the solstice.
Here are some images of my garden right now.
In my last post, at the height of a summer hot spell, I thought it would be fun to say “Winter Begins Now” and show the garden with snow on it. Well, the heat has abated, and I’m not in any hurry to slip out of summer mode. However, I am still pushing forward on fall planting.
The Japanese turnips — first sowing July 15, second sowing July 27 — are coming along.
A sowing of beets was less successful, as I had some three-year-old seed. But some of them sprouted, as did a nice row of Rainbow chard.
The first sowing of Brussels sprouts got potted up to 4-inch pots about 10 days ago, so they were ready to be planted out. The second batch is still in pots.
So today I sowed in some more beets, transplanted those Brussels sprouts, sowed two rows of Black Spanish radish and two rows of overwintering red onion.
I covered all the crops except the onions with hoops and floating row cover. This helps shade them a bit if we get another heat wave, but I did it more to keep the pests off the young plants. The white cabbage moth can lay a lot of eggs and wreak havoc on brassicas, and the spinach leaf miner loves to attack the young beets and chard. (Soon I’ll plant fall and overwintering spinach, and will have to cover that too, to thwart the leaf miner.)
Here are some more images from today’s gardening:
With the thermometer on Viagra, we should only mention winter to mentally cool ourselves off, right? Well, that’s a good reason, but as year-round gardeners, it’s also good to think winter now, at the height of summer. It will spur you to be most productive in the garden.
Mostly right now, we are tending our summer crops. I must confess, that’s what has kept me busy, and caused some radio silence on the blogging front. Let me cool you off with these ideas:
With encouragement like that, winter cannot be far away.
Things sprout fast in this weather. I did wait until a respite from the extreme heat of early July, because cool-season crops do not sprout well if the soil is too hot. Plus, it is impossible to keep the seedbed continuously damp during the sprouting period. But with days in the 70s and cool nights, now is a great time for those plants to get started.
Last week I planted fall peas, and they are just starting to push their curvaceous stems through the soil. These will fill in between those “stakes of autumn” in the corner of a front bed, where the spring beets lived.
Brussels sprouts and overwintering broccoli seedlings are cheerily growing in black six-pack pots on a shady patio table. The first-sown seeds from a month ago have progressed to grow sets of true leaves, but my second sowing — again, just over a week ago — sprouted so fast and vigorously that I bet they will catch up.
Another lesson about trying to plant during extreme warmth. I sheltered those pots while the seeds sprouted and hit them daily with water, but still they got a bit stressed. All these plants should be ready for transplanting in early August.
Last weekend I prepared a bed for another sowing of beets and chard. The bed had contained fava beans, which were pulled up in May and shelled and sauted with green garlic. Since then, the bed had sat fallow, covered by the fava stalks. The soil was very dry and clodded, and it took multiple waterings to get it back into usable shape. What a dry time we have had from mid-spring until now.
Finally, a row of collard greens went in on the edge of the now-empty garlic bed. My abundant garlic harvest is now drying in the garage, and the bed is opened up for fall and winter crops. I sometimes start summer-planted crops like collards in flats and transplant, but being covered with floating row cover and watered regularly, these plants can grow just as well in place.
I expect the dry weather to continue into early September, so I am diligently watering all these seedbeds and seedlings. And in those beds that are waiting for fall crops, I’m also continuing with water. I’m hoping to feed the soil foodweb, let the weeds sprout so I can skim those off, and keep the ground the from getting hydrophobic. When I put those fall and winter crops into the soil, I want them to experience the best growth possible.
If this spiking weather pattern continues, they’ll need all the help they can get.
I took inventory last weekend and found three spaces in my vegetable garden that are ready for the next crop rotation. Right now, at this crucial time for getting the fall and winter garden going, I have at least that many choices of crops to start.
Space #1: The Garlic Bed
The garlic came out in early July, so this bed has been sitting “fallow” for a few weeks.
Location: The garlic filled the west end of a large bed. It gets good summer sun, but is fairly close to a tree and some bushes, so the lower angle of the winter sun causes part shade.
Strategy: I’ll plant some root crops in succession, starting with beets. It’s a big bed, but I will only plant one short row each for the next few weeks, using different varieties with 50-65 days to maturity. In September, I’ll fill the rest of the bed with carrots for overwintering. The shorter-season beets will be ready by late September, but the longer-season ones will hold in the bed well into winter (with a bit of mulch), getting sweeter with the fall frosts.
Bed prep: Last week I dug a light dusting of complete organic fertilizer into the soil, and covered the bed with a welded-wire mesh so the open soil doesn’t become a cat’s litterbox. Before I plant, I’ll spread an inch of compost on the soil and dig it in.
Since both of these crops are susceptible to flying insect pests laying their eggs on the plants (carrot rust fly and spinach leafminer) , I will cover the entire bed with a floating row cover (FRC). To make it easy to tend and harvest, I’ll set up cloche hoops and stretch the FRC over that. If we get unusually early frosts, I can switch to plastic to protect the plants for winter.
Space #2: The Pea Bed
We had a great year for peas, with a harvest longer than normal. The vines just got pulled last week. Annual flowers and some spreading thyme crept in around the pea trellis.
Location: This is a very visible bed right by the main path to my deck.
Strategy: I want Brussels sprouts here. Sprouts are a long-season crop that will not mature until December or January, and I like to have them in a visible spot so I can watch the sprouts develop.
A few weeks ago, I started Brussels sprouts from seed, and the plants are quite small, with just two sets of leaves. I’ll hold them in the pots for another week and then plant them.
When it comes time to plant, I will hedge my bet by going to the nursery and buying some starts, and will interplant them with the ones I started from seed. That will give me a second variety too.
Bed prep: I’ll pull up the annual flowers (now gone to seed) and dig out the thyme. Since neither the flowers nor the peas are “heavy feeders,” soil fertility in this bed should be fine, so I don’t need to fertilize. But, since brassicas like a rich soil with good water retention, I’ll dig in some compost, which will also boost fertility a bit. I’ll also use FRC over the young plants to ward off the cabbage moth.
Space #3: The Salad Bed
This spring I sowed a mixed bed of lettuces and other greens, which produced well and gave us salad from April to mid-June. We enjoyed the buds and flowers of the arugula and mustard greens, but those plants bolted first. Then the lettuce turned bitter, and now the plants have shot up and are going to seed. Since lettuce produces a beautiful large seed head, I’ve been letting them stand in the bed.
Location: This is part of a raised bed off the lawn. The trees have grown up in this area, and with the position of the summer sun, the bed now gets shade about half the day. It gets good winter sun after the deciduous trees have lost their leaves.
Strategy: The part shade should be great for a crop of fall peas. These can be planted through July, so I’ll get them in the ground soon.
Bed prep: To prevent the curious, omnipresent crows from yanking the seedlings out of the ground, I will put a layer of floating row cover over the bed. This should prevent slug attacks too, and will keep the seedbed moist during germination, a key to successful summer planting.
Who’s got next?
Well, that’s the plan for three beds and four crops. But there are so many more choices coming: fall salad greens, overwintering kale and sprouting broccoli, Asian winter greens, collards, turnips, kohlrabi, fava beans, cover crops…a long list.
But almost as long is the list of beds that will be free soon: carrot bed, potato bed, onion bed, last-of-the-kale bed, buckwheat cover crop bed, and the quinoa and orach bed. Later, more space will come with the harvest of rutabagas, squash, peppers and tomatoes.
During the height of summer, fall and winter are on my mind. And as I pull out mature crops now, I’m getting more than a summer dinner. I’m getting valuable real estate for the next rotation.