Category Archives: Healthy Cooking

August in the Production Kitchen

It’s hot out – 94+ degrees. It’s hot inside, too. Why?

Production kitchen in August

Production in my kitchen

If it’s August, it’s time for production in my kitchen.

My counter tops are covered with various vegetables picked at just the right moment (except for the giant zucchini I missed!).

If you garden, you know that this month is the time when just about every single plant you put in the ground in May or June starts turning out produce at an almost alarming rate!

I pick every day.

I try to keep up but don’t always succeed.

This morning, the first thing I tackled were my Rosa Bianca eggplant, that beautiful purple globe surrounded by the raw ingredients for sauce.

Raw ingredients for eggplant parmesan

Raw eggplant parmigiana

I slice then convection roast eggplant at 475 degrees. NOTE: I don’t peel or de-seed these eggplant because they are so sweet and tasty, especially if picked before they get too big.

The 1/4 inch slices are dotted with a bit of ghee or olive oil and sea salt before they go into the oven.

Eggplant parmesan

Eggplant parmesan fresh from the oven.

Because they are being cooked at such a high temperature and because it’s so hot out, I got the eggplant in the oven before 5AM this morning.

Once the slices are nicely browned I layer them with my homemade tomato sauce and Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.   Then I slide the Eggplant Parmigiana into the oven.

The oven is already hot from convecting the slices so I cover the pan with aluminum foil, turn the temperature down to 375 degrees and bake, covered for 40 minutes.

 

I uncover the pan and bake it another 15 minutes to lightly brown it. Voila – Eggplant Parmesan fresh from the oven.

Next came dicing and putting 16 cups of mixed tomatoes into the largest pot in my kitchen to cook down and let the flavors of Atomic Grape, Consueleto Genovese and Black Vernissage tomatoes to blend together.

Tomatoes simmering into salsa

Tomatoes becoming salsa!

This will take about 20 hours at a very, very low temperature.

Once most of the liquid is boiled off and the flavors are blended, I will add the spice set to turn this brew

into medium salsa.

Then I will cook the salsa for another hour and can it in pint jars. If it comes out right, the salsa will also be used for holiday gifts!

Another gift I like to give at the holidays are small jars of jam – organic and low sugar because I use Pomona Pectin to make it. A full batch of jam using this pectin only takes 1 1/2 cups of sugar; at traditional batch of jam can take up to 6 cups of sugar!

Jam canning jars

Jam canning jars

So, these small jars wait on the counter and blueberries and blackberries wait in the refrigerator for their turn to be made into jam and brandy, respectively.

And my zucchini will be turned into one of the most delicious and healthful pizzas you can make – the crust is zucchini with a dash of coconut flour and the sauce is mine – made last year!

 

Gardening is hard work; putting up the produce from your garden is hard work too. But I love every step of every phase of growing, eating and preserving food that is organic, lovingly raised and gently but persistently canned, frozen or dehydrated for the coming winter.

Advertisements

July Garden Update!

Today, I will write with pictures, not words. So here is the pictorial update on my garden…and how it’s growing.

Despite cool nights (high 50’s and low 60’s, still), there are wonderful things are happening in my backyard.

Onions in May

Onions in May

Onions ready for harvest

Onions ready for harvest

 

Asparagus crowns need trenches

Asparagus trenches-April

Asparagus Growing-July

Asparagus Growing-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-June

Tiffen Mennonite Tomato

Consueleto tomato-June

Consueleto Genovese ripens

Ripening Consueleto-July

How To Plant Asparagus, Again!

My husband and I got good news last Thursday, really good news. His most recent PET scan was clear! We did a little jig then sat down and tried to let it sink in a bit. No new melanoma! No metastases.

Old asparagus bed slowing down.

20 year old asparagus bed

So, what does this have to do with planting asparagus? Everything!

My current asparagus bed is close to 25 years old. To say it’s slowed down is a bit of an understatement. The bed is actually a bit glacial when it comes to putting up tasty green spears of asparagus.

I needed a new bed but I was afraid to plant new crowns…in case the diagnosis for my husband was not a good one. Asparagus is one perennial that, once planted, keeps on giving. I just wasn’t sure we would be here to enjoy it.

 

So, my celebration last Thursday culminated in me ordering 20 new, Jersey Knight male asparagus crowns! I ordered 1 year old crowns as they are usually a bit “healthier” than 2 year old crowns — meaning they will grow a bit more vigorously in their first few years and be less prone to rotting.

No matter what I ordered, my first question the next morning was, “What was I thinking?”

I think I’d actually forgotten what it meant to “plant” asparagus. Okay, you only have to do it once to reap the rewards..but doing entails some pretty hard work especially at my ripe old age of 70!

Asparagus is planted in trenches

Trenching for new asparagus crowns

The crowns are on their way so, this morning, just 3 days after ordering, I was in the garden, digging. I picked a spot that gets almost continuous sunshine all day long. That’s just what asparagus likes.

Asparagus crowns need trenches

2 trenches done & 3 to go

 

Asparagus crowns need to be planted in trenches.

My soil is a bit on heavy side so I only had to dig down 6 inches…and the trenches should be 12 inches wide.

I cheated a bit on the width but I got the length I needed in each trench to be able to put 4 crowns in each one. If you’re doing the math, you might notice that I only have 4 trenches dug. I will probably need the 5th trench but I just can’t face it, right now. Tomorrow is another day.

 

In fact, tomorrow, I will dig the other trench but I need to prep all 5 trenches to receive their new crowns.

What’s the next step? I will need to add a dash of organic compost to each hole. When the new asparagus crowns arrive, I will also soak them in compost tea (compost and water) for about 30 minutes before I plant them.  When I do put them in the trenches, I’ll make sure they are crown side up. Also, I’ll be careful to gently spread the crown out and give the roots room.

Once in the trench, I won’t put all the soil back in the trench on top of the crowns. I’ll just add 2 to 3 inches of soil to the entire trench,  gently tamping the soil down – NOT packing it. Once the crowns are set, I usually just water them in with my watering can, again, gently.

Two weeks later, I’ll add 2 to 3 more inches of soil to the trench. Then I’ll keep watch on the bed and add more soil to the trench until it is slightly raised.  Then, all you have to do is make sure you mulch the rows and water the new bed regularly during its first 2 years in the ground. A note of caution, don’t over water. An accepted rule of thumb is water once a week unless it’s rained then you can skip watering.

Do not harvest any asparagus the first year. Harvest sparingly in the second year. The crowns need to put all their energy into sinking tap roots and growing their root structure. The third year, start cutting but make sure you leave enough for some stalks to fern and grow up.

Our dog cooling under the asparagus ferns

Dogs like to cool down in the asparagus

Leave the ferns over top of the bed, letting them die in place and not cutting them until the next Spring.

Dogs love to cool down under them and the dead ferns provide protection for the crowns during the winter.

Once Spring arrives, cut down and remove the dead ferns.

Then sit back and wait for beautiful, green, healthy and delicious asparagus!

 

Grow So Easy – Growing Garlic

Garlic is easy to grow and has much more taste if it's homegrown.

Growing garlic is easy.

I got lucky when I married Italian because garlic is, was and always will be one of my favorite foods in the kitchen. And it’s one of my favorites to plant.

Garlic is another crop that basically takes care of itself. If you get the right cloves to plant then give those cloves a good start in the right soil at the right time, you should harvest enough nice-sized bulbs of garlic to last through the year.

The Bad News
Garlic is planted in the fall. If you didn’t put your garlic seed (cloves actually) in the ground in October, it’s too late to plant it now.

If you plant in the Spring, you are doomed to fail.  Seed garlic is dormant.  It MUST be exposed to cold temperatures in order to grow and change from cloves to bulbs. 

No cold means no bulbs, spindly growth and frustrated gardeners.
Besides, planting in the fall means that Mother Nature gets to do all the work while you sit inside browsing through seed catalogs and dreaming of spring.

The Good News

Garlic growing in the spring

Garlic in the Spring

If you planted your cloves in the fall, you should already have healthy, happy garlic babies growing in the soil.

Planting when the world is getting frosty, the snow is falling and the wind is cold  seems wrong and it would be if that’s all you did.

But there’s an easy, cheap trick to keeping your garlic safe through the blustery winter months; you blanket them in straw. The straw protects the bulbs from the cold, lets them overwinter safely and ensures they will be ready to start growing as early as March.

Garlic growing through straw

Garlic poking through its blanket

Once Spring arrives, it’s important to uncover the garlic as soon as possible so the sprouts don’t rot.  If they rot, you will lose your garlic crop.  Here’s an easy tip for knowing when to uncover garlic (and onions).  When the forsythia bloom, pull back the mulch.  You may even find a few garlic bulbs already sprouted under there.

Protect cool weather crops with window frames

Sheers stapled to window frames

Depending on your zone, you will probably get a few frosts after you uncover the garlic.  Just toss something over the young plants to protect them.  I use window frames that I’ve stapled old curtains to or an old queen-sized mattress cover and drape it over the corners of the bed where the garlic is planted.

Harvesting Garlic
How do you know when to pull the garlic up?  Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. And the more I researched and read, the more confused I got.

Pull it up on this day/date.  When the leaves on one or two start to brown, push the rest of them over, wait a week and pull them up.  Wait until all the leaves on the plants are brown then pull them up.   Aaaaaaargh…as one our most famous philosophers used to say!

What finally cleared it all up for me was a simple, beautifully written article by one of my favorite garden gurus, Margaret Roach, who clearly understands the garlic harvest conundrum.

Too early, and the bulbs won’t have time to develop to their full size.  Too late and the bulbs will be over ripe, cloves will separate and the harvest won’t store as well.

Here’s the gist of Roach’s advice for harvesting garlic:  Harvest when several of the lower leaves go brown, but five or six up top are still green. Depending on the weather, this typically happens here (New York state) in late July.”

Rip & Regret
A word to the wise: healthy garlic develops a pretty serious root structure.  Do NOT try to pull garlic up by its greenery!  You will break the tops off and the garlic bulbs really need their tops to cure.

So, what’s the easiest way to pull these babies out of the ground?  With a garden fork – not the hand-held kind.  You want a flat-tined, digging fork like the kind you would use to dig out potatoes, like the one you see resting next to my garlic in my wheelbarrow.

  1. Start about 2 to 3 inches away from the garlic bulb.
  2. Push the tines down into the earth, almost as far as they will go.
  3. Rock the fork front to back and side to side to loosen the dirt around the roots of the bulb.
  4. Keep loosening until you can easily and gently pull the bulb from the ground.
  5. Equally gently, lay the cloves into a wheelbarrow.  Banging them will bruise them.

As soon as all your bulbs of garlic are out of the ground, you need to get them out of the sun and into a nice, dry, temperature controlled space with good air flow.  I use my shed.  I lay down an old sheet, then place the bulbs side by side but not touching.  I want air flow around each bulb.  And if one’s going south, I don’t want it to take the others with it.

Curing Garlic
Once you have them in your controlled drying spot, leave them alone for 6 to 8 weeks while they cure.  (I do check them to make sure none are going bad…). When they are cured, If they’re soft neck, braid away.

If they’re hard neck (what I always raise), you can cut the tops and the hairy roots off and store them inside.  I actually put mine in a big tray and shove the tray under the dresser in my sewing room.

The temperature is moderate in this room (I keep the thermostat at 62 in the winter) and the light is dim under the dresser.  My garlic seems to keep perfectly there.

NOTE:  check the cloves about every 6 weeks, especially if there is any aroma of  “garlic” wafting through the air.  If you can smell the garlic, it means one of the bulbs is probably going bad.  If you leave it in the general population, it may turn other heads bad, as well.

Save 8 to 10 bulbs of your garlic for planting in October and November and enjoy the rest, all winter and spring.

Free Organic Gardening Book: How To Grow Onions

Organic onions are easy to grow.

Organic onions & beets enjoying summer.

In my early gardening years, way back in the dark ages when I had a stick and some dirt, I never, ever considered raising onions in my garden.

I didn’t use a lot of onions in my cooking, well to be honest, I didn’t cook much, either.  I was a road warrior and spent most of my life in a plane, on a train or riding in a limo.  There was no dirt under my nails, no canning jars in my pantry and no garden in my back yard.

Besides, my Mom never raised onions or garlic.  But then, my Mom wasn’t married to an Italian.  So when I traded in all my gold credit cards and came home to life on the homestead, I decided to give onions a try.

Getting Onions In The Ground
My first experience with raising them was hilarious. I decided to start them from seed.  One cold and windy day in early March, I went out, worked the soil loose with my hand rake and spread seeds.  I was a little liberal with the amount of seed I put down but I’d never done it before. 

Onion seed is small and dark and disappears right into the soil.  I covered what I thought were the seeds with a tiny bit of soil, covered the bed with a fence section and a sheet, went back inside to thaw out and promptly forgot I’d planted onion seed.

Four weeks later, in the middle of April. I was preparing a bed for beets.  There is no finesse involved in prepping and planting these babies and the seeds are so big, I didn’t need my glasses, I thought.

I knelt down by the bed and was stunned to see a ton of baby grass growing in the bed.  I grabbed handfuls and began madly tearing out what I thought were seeds.  About 3 minutes later I froze; I was tearing up baby onions! I tend to use sets, now.

Seed or Sets
Raising onions from seed is easy as long as you remember that you planted it and don’t rip it out, willy nilly.  Once the seeds sprout and the onion babies get to be 3 inches high, all you have to do is thin and transplant them using the same technique I use for baby beets.

Raising onions from sets is even easier but your choices are limited to what your favorite, organic seed company is growing.

Growing organic onions is easy

Organic onions love sun and good soil.

I prefer red onions so I usually end up with Stuttgart or Candy Red.  Both are good tasting, sweet onions but only the Stuttgart is a long keeper.

FYI onions like cool weather so you can put seed  or sets in the ground as soon as you can work the soil in the spring.  If you’re going for sets, the best time to order your sets is early.  If you don’t order early, you may not get the varieties you want.  Raising onions in the backyard, especially organic onions, is getting more popular and nurseries run out of sets pretty early.

White, Red or Yellow
Onions come in quite a few colors – that would be your first choice.  They also come in long day, short day and intermediate.  Clearly, the names refer to how long the onions take to mature.  And picking the right onion for your zone and growing season is important to how well the onions grow and how big and healthy they are. 

Like many plants, onions grow roots and leaves first then begin to form bulbs but only when daylight hours reach a particular length.  Onions are what’s known as “photoperiodic.”  That means they regulate their growth by the duration of light and dark at the time of year they are growing.

If you try a long day onion in the deep South, you’ll get great tops but very small bulbs which will be killed when exposed to too much heat.  A short day onion that’s planted in the north will try to produce bulbs before the leaves have formed.  Without leaves to supply food, the bulb won’t be able to develop and size of the bulb will be limited. 

Onions growing in July

Onions in July

So, rule of thumb, plant long day varieties if you live north of latitude 36º — roughly the Kansas/Oklahoma border.  Plant short day types south of this line.  Put long day varieties in the ground as early as possible in the spring.  Put short day onions in the ground in the fall to give them a head start in the spring.

Planting Onions
If you are putting onion sets in the ground, most organic companies will ship them to you in the fall and within 2 weeks of the optimum time for you to plant.  When the sets arrive, they may appear wilted but they are pretty hardy and should do well if you plant them quickly. NOTE:  if you cannot plant as soon as they arrive, just put them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

When you are ready to transplant, simply trim the tops to about 3 inches high and the roots to ¼ of an inch.  I use a sharpened pencil to create a hole for each set that’s about 1 to 2 inches deep – deep enough to cover the white part of the baby onion.   I plant the sets about 4 to 6 inches apart, in rows about 18 inches apart.  

Make sure you plant the baby onions as directed above because they don’t like to compete for foods and fertilizer with each other or other plants, including weeds.  In fact, there’s a saying in the onion business – you can grow onions or weeds but not both.

If planting in the fall, mulch heavily – I use 14 to 18 inches of straw to cover the whole bed. Mulching keeps the plants from sprouting during the January thaw and prevents the freezing and heaving cycle when warmer days play tag with the cold temperatures of deep winter.

In the spring, when forsythia start to bloom, pull the stacked straw off the plants but leave a light layer of mulch.  The mulch suppresses weeds.  Put a light cover over your baby onions if frost is predicted.  I use old sheer curtains.  Water onions regularly; they need about an inch of water a week.  And that’s about it.

Harvesting & Storing Onions
Onions are ready for harvest when the tops turn yellow and begin falling over.  For those that are not quite ready, you can finish bending the tops so they are horizontal to the ground using your hand.  Bending the leaves stops sap from rising into the leaves and forces the bulb to mature.

When the outer skin on the onion dries, remove from the soil, brush the earth off each onion, clip the roots and cut the tops back to 1 inch from the bulb.  Store onions in a cool, dry place and try not to let them touch each other.  If handled properly, onions can last up to 1 year in storage.

Onion Pests & Diseases
Onions are pungent so they tend to repel most pests.  Onions can also be inter-planted to repel pests from other plants, too.  The bigger risk for onions are fungal diseases.  It is also a risk that is very easily mitigated.

Smut, downy mildew and pink root are common problems encountered while raising onions.  The easiest way to avoid all three of them is rotation.  Do NOT plant onions or garlic in a bed where other allium crops have been planted the year before and, preferably, two years before.

In fact, the longer you can avoid planting onions in a bed that was used for raising alliums, the better.

By the way, if you want to find out everything about onions…just visit the National Onion Association read the FAQs and browse the types, colors and recipes.

FYI – Growing garlic is just about as easy as growing onions as I shared in an earlier post.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Recipes
I love raw onions in salads, on the top of black bean soup and on dishes of beans and feta cheese.  But my favorite way to eat onions is caramelized.  A stick of butter in a cast iron pan, toss in about 8 onions and just cook until they are the color of caramel and salty/sweet.  They are good plain, they are great on hamburgers. 

And they are great in Onion Frittata — a recipe that owes a whole lot of its flavor and richness to caramelized onions.

RECIPE:  Onion Frittata

INGREDIENTS:
8 large eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 basil leaves torn in pieces
3 minced sage leaves
1tsp minced rosemary
3 T olive oil
1 or 2 c sliced onions
1 ½ to 2 cups ricotta cheese
Kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400°
Put olive oil in large, cast iron frying pan and heat.
Put onions in frying pan and cook until just turning brown and starting to caramelize.
Reduce heat to low.
While onions cook, whisk eggs, parmesan cheese, basil, sage, rosemary salt a pepper together.
Pour egg mixture into frying pan over onions.
Spoon dollops of ricotta over the top and cook on the stove top until frittata begins to set.
Place frying pan in oven and bake for 7 to 9 minutes until it is set.
Slide frittata onto plate or serve from frying pan by cutting into slices.  Serve hot or cold.

 

Free Organic Gardening Book: How To Grow Eggplant

Organic gardening tips

Organic gardening is so easy.

Another week and another free chapter of my organic gardening book, Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us!

This week I will share some tips and secrets for growing great eggplants! When you think of the most popular vegetables to grow in the back yard, you probably don’t come up with eggplant.  In fact, when Mother Earth News did a survey of who was planting what, the most popular homegrown vegetable was the tomato., which was followed by peppers, green beans, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, summer squash, carrots, radishes, and sweet corn.  Eggplant didn’t even make the list!

Okay, so eggplant is not a favorite with a lot of gardeners but the reason just may be that most gardeners have never had young, sweet flavorful eggplants plucked off their own plants.   Instead they’ve tried those large, purple cylinders they buy in the grocery store.  I was the same way until I grew a few plants and discovered there is no comparison.

Bianca Rosa eggplant

Bianca Rosa eggplant enjoying the heat.

There are three tricks to getting full-flavored fruit from an eggplant; buy the right seeds, start the plants early and harvest the eggplant when they’re small.

My favorite eggplant is the round, striated one called Bianca Rosa from High Mowing Organic Seeds.   This is a Sicilian eggplant with light pink fruits that are streaked with white and violet. The flavor is mild and creamy with no bitterness and a low number of seeds.

How To Grow Eggplant
Growing eggplant is a bit like growing peppers – both like warm summer days.  In fact, I think eggplant is even more cold-sensitive.  To get eggplant to flower and set fruit, you need warm soil and a long, warm growing season – from 100 to 140 days with temperatures consistently between 70° and 90°.

Bianca Rosa love sun and heat

Italian eggplant love sun and heat.

If you want to get healthy eggplant plants you need to start them from seed and very early. By early, I mean at least 10 weeks before my last frost date.

Like all my seeds, I start them in cells.  I don’t soak them overnight before putting them in the cell but you can to shorten the time to sprouting.

Once the eggplant seedlings get their second set of leaves, I transplant them into 2 inch peat pots, raise the tray up off the heating mat (I use two bricks – not high-tech but cheap and easy) and keep them warm.

Bianca Rosa and any eggplant for that matter need heat to thrive.  When they get to between 4 and 5 inches high, I transplant them again, this time into 4 inch peat pots.

Why not go directly from cell to the 4 inch peat pot?

Eggplant, peppers, cukes, and zukes hardening off on the patio.

Veggie transplants hardening off

Remember, eggplant like warm soil.  Take them from warm, moist soil and stick them in cold dirt and they get shocky – I know, I tried.  All my eggplant were stunted and fruit came late in the season.

So unless I plan far enough ahead to prepare the 4 inch pots and put them over the heat map to warm the soil (that’s unlikely), I just go from cell to 2 inch then 4 inch peat pot.

Once they have settled into the new pots and are thriving, I move the trays off the heat mats and onto my lighted plant stand (which I bought used almost 20 years ago and am still using).

When To Transplant Eggplant
Eggplant have the same needs as those of bell peppers.  Transplants should only be set in the garden after all danger of frost is past.  Remember, warm soil, warm air and warm days, lots and lots of all three are what eggplant need to thrive.

Eggplant like support from tomato cages

Eggplant growing in tomato cages

If your eggplant are happy, they will need more space than you might anticipate.  Eggplant should be spaced about 2 feet apart.  I don’t plant them in rows, I zigzag them.  Like pepper plants, eggplant can be pulled over by the size and weight of their own fruit so I use tomato cages for support.

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row and stagger them so you can get 6 to 8 plants in less space.   Make sure you leave about 2 to 2/12 feet between rows, especially if you are planting in raised beds like this old truck bed. This way, you can get to the plants and the fruit, easily.

Care
Once in the ground, give the transplants a good watering to settle them into the ground.  I always mulch eggplant but before I do, I put a ring of composted soil around each plant to feed it.  Then I mulch with straw or grass clippings or both to keep the weeds down.

You can also use a nitrogen fertilizer if you don’t have any composted soil, feeding the plants when they are half-grown and right after you harvest the first fruits. But being a lazy gardener, I prefer using composted soil.

Once the plants are established, eggplant love the heat of the summer.  You only have to water if you are in a persistent dry period then wait for those lovely, sweet eggplant to start emerging from each lavender flower.

Fresh eggplant parmigiana

Freshly made eggplant parmigiana

Harvest 3 or 4 of your eggplant, marry them to your own tomatoes and basil and make yourself the most delicious eggplant parmigiana you have ever tasted!

 

Tips for Getting Your Beets Started Early

Baby beets grown indoors from seed.

Transplant beets started indoors outdoors as soon as you can work the soil.

Want to get a jump start on your garden? Get your beet babies started, indoors!

Beets are known as cool season crops.  They really like cool temperatures and can be seeded as soon as you can work the soil.  They can also be started indoors and February is the month to get going.

My mom raised the absolute best beets I have ever eaten.  Every time I drove to her farm in the far end of Virginia, she would somehow know exactly when I was arriving.  There, on the table, steam rising, butter melting, would be a big bowl of sliced beets, just for me.

But I never planted beets in my own garden, not before she died, not after she died.  Then, one day, while browsing through GrowItalian.com, I saw Chioggia beets.

Beautiful, round and ruby-red on the outside but when you cut them open, there are concentric white bands all the way through each slice. I fell in love with beets, again.

Beets Are Easy Peasy
I’ve had beets in my garden now for the last 5 years and think they are among the easiest plants to grow.  But if you Google “growing beets,” you will literally get more than 1 million entries.

Don’t be scared!

There are only a couple of things you need to know to raise not just 1 but at least 2 crops of beets every year. (That’s how many I can grow in Zone 6a.)  WARNING: if you ignore what you are about to read, you will get red marbles…that will not cook or eat easy.  I know.  My first crop was used in a game of ringer.

The Dirt
This is almost one of the only requirements of beets and it’s one of the most important.  It’s also the bit of information I didn’t have when I raised my first crop of red marbles.  Beets really, really like loose, well-drained soil. They will put up with a wide range of conditions but won’t grow as big or as beautiful.

So do a bit of soil prep if you can. It may take a bit of time and effort but it’s worth it; I know.  And if you get the soil right, it’s smooth sailing to harvest time.

Remove stones since they will hinder growth.  If you’re growing in clay, add compost to loosen the soil and keep the soil from crusting after watering or rainfall.  And make sure your soil is acidic – beets like a pH range of 6.2 to 6.8.

When To Plant
Don’t plant in the middle of your summer season.  Beets won’t like it.  They are a perfect cool weather crop.  Although they can live through the heat (like the rest of us), they prefer a temperatures of 60 to 65 F and bright sunny days but they can also survive cold weather as long as they don’t get caught in a freeze.  So, beets are a great, “long-season” crop.

How To Plant
You can (and I do) start beets indoors but beet seeds are also outdoor babies from the get go.  As soon as your soil can be worked in the spring, you can plant them.  The seeds aren’t really just one seed – each of these little jewels contains a couple of beet seeds.  Sow the seeds 1/2-inch deep and I drop each seed about 3 inches away from the other seeds.  I also plant in rows about 12 inches apart.

Beets seeds are pretty slow to germinate so make sure you keep the bed moist until you see their little heads peeking out of the soil.  I usually water a bit, every day.  Once they start to pop up through the soil, I keep watering but usually every other day.

Once they are established, just make sure that you don’t let them dry out.  But don’t over water either.  Too dry or too wet and your beets will not be happy.

Transplanting
TIP:  I don’t thin; I transplant.
Most advice online and in books says you have to thin beets rather than transplant.  Wrong! Despite what people will tell you, you can transplant beet seedlings and almost double your crop. And it’s easy to do.

I wait until the leaves on the plants are about 2 inches long before I try transplanting.  The night before the big move, I water the bed thoroughly.  Then, early in the morning, armed with a #2 pencil, I head to the raised bed where my beets live.

I look for beet plants that are too close together. Because I’m not be most patient person when dropping seeds in soil, I can usually find 3 or 4 beet babies clumped together.

DON’T PULL THEM OUT ONE BY ONE! Once I’ve found the baby beet clump I want to move, using a tablespoon or serving spoon, I gently dig around the whole clump and bring up a spoon full of soil with the beet roots intact.  Then I push my pencil into the ground, making holes spaced about 3 inches apart, for each of the babies.

Teasing the roots apart, gently, (a trick I learned from my Amish neighbors) I drop each beet baby into its own hole, pack dirt gently around it and move on to the next clump.

I have not lost one beet baby using this method and I practically double my yield.  Oh, and beets are a twofer in my garden – I also eat beet greens in salads.  Wait until the leaves are 3 to 4 inches high, then cut a couple off each beet plant.  The beets will keep growing and you’ll have some truly delicious greens for lunch or dinner.

Care & Feeding
Like I said, beets are easy peasy.

I have never fertilized my beets and they grow like champions.  It could be because I enrich my raised beds with a bit of compost every spring.  I do put a bit of mulch – straw – down around the plants once I divide and transplant them.  It helps hold moisture during the hotter, summer days.

Keep The Beets Coming
I plant in March, April, May then hold off until early August when I start putting in seeds, again.  I do that to avoid asking the beet seeds to germinate when the daytime temperature is above 80 degrees.  They don’t like it.  Plant in early August and within 55 to 70 days, you should have your next crop.

Nowadays there are so many varieties of beet to choose from — Early Wonder, Detroit Dark Red, and Red Ace.  You can even add some color to your beet dishes with the lovely striped Chioggia (which started me on my life of beet crime) or Burpee Golden and Albino White

No matter how you slice them…beets are a great addition to any garden.

By the way, one of my favorite resources when I am trying to get solid, basic growing information is colleges like Cornell, which posted a nice guide to growing beets.

Buy butter from grass-fed, organic cows and dig in to one of my favorite dishes. Happy Valentine’s Day, every body!

If you want fast access to all my gardening tips and tricks, you will find them in my Kindle book, Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us.