Plant of the week: Beets

Beets are a deliciously versatile vegetable.  They’re grown for both their roots and their leaves (greens).  The beetroot is often eaten fresh, boiled, or pickled; the greens are added to salads or steamed.  A cousin, the sugar beet, is used as both animal food and to make sugar and molasses.  Natural red dye can be extracted from conventional red beets.

Beets are great sources of vitamin C and folic acid, and they also contain potassium.

Ideal growing conditions

Like most root crops, beets prefer well-cultivated, light soil that has been enriched with compost, and that has good drainage.  Beets prefer cool temperatures; they can be grown in sun or partial shade.

To improve germination, you can soak the seeds in warm water for 10-15 minutes before planting them.  Direct sow them about an inch deep and 2 inches apart, as soon as the soil has warmed.  As each seed produces multiple seedlings, you will need to thin them so that each seedling has adequate room to grow.  Enjoy the tender greens of the thinned beets!  You can repeat sowings every couple of weeks until the onset of summer.

Beets may benefit from a high nitrogen compost.  Do not water them excessively.

Types

Beets come in a variety of shapes and colours, including red, white, golden, and striped colours, and bulbuous and cylindrical shapes.  Their leaves may be solid green or green with red stems and veins.

Harvesting, using, and preserving

In the fall, pull the beets from the ground, of lift them using a garden fork.  To store them as is, twist the tops off a few inches from the root, then keep them in a location that has high humidity and a temperature of around 0 degrees Celsius.

Cooking beets

Before you can freeze or pickle beets, or enjoy them as part of a meal, you must cook them.  Here’s how:

  1. Twist or cut the tops off close to the root.
  2. Immerse beets in a large pot of water and boil until the largest beet is tender in the middle (use a knife to test).
  3. Drain the hot water from the pot.
  4. Put the hot beets under the cold water tap, or in a bowl of ice water.
  5. Using your thumb and forefinger, push on the beet skin.  It should come off easily.
  6. Enjoy!  Try them in borscht, or add them to cake, to which they add moisture, colour, and sweetness.

Friends

  • Beans
  • Brassicas
  • Garlic
  • Mint
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Potatoes

Foes

  • They get along with pretty much everything!

Fun facts

  • During Roman times, beets were used as aphrodisiacs.  They contain (and need) large amounts of boron, which is used in the production of human sex hormones.
  • Beets can be used to make wine.

 

Soil pH

pH is measured using a scale that ranges from 0 to 14, where 7 is neutral.  Most plants grow best in soil that has a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, although some plants prefer soil that is slightly acidic or alkaline.

If your soil is too acidic or alkaline for the plants you have chosen to grow, you may notice that their growth is stunted, they have yellow spots on their leaves, wilting leaves, blighted leaf tips, or poor stem development.  Moss and weeds thrive in acidic soils.

There are many types of home soil test kits and devices, such as the meter photographed above, which you can use to assess the pH of your soil.  You can also perform a simple test using baking soda and vinegar, if you want to test whether your soil is acidic or alkaline (but not to which degree):

  1. Obtain two scoops of soil from your garden.
  2. Add vinegar to the first scoop.  If the soil begins to bubble, it’s alkaline.
  3. If there is no reaction with the vinegar, add distilled water and baking soda to the second scoop.  If the soil begins to bubble, it’s acidic.
  4. If both tests fail, your soil is neutral.

Plants that like or tolerate acidic soil (pH < 7.0)

  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Currants
  • Garlic
  • Gooseberries
  • Parsley
  • Peanuts
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Raspberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet Potatoes

Plants that like or tolerate alkaline soil (pH > 7.0)

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots

Altering the pH of your soil

You may need to work additives into your soil if the pH is not optimal to the plants you wish to grow.

  • To increase your soil’s alkalinity, you can add limestone, ground oyster shell, gypsum, or wood ashes.
  • To increase acidity, add coco peat or pine needles.  Peat moss is a common additive, but it is one you may want to avoid.  When peat moss is harvested, the delicate balance of the bogs in which it is found is often damaged.

 

 

School plant sales

It’s that time of year when school associations often organize plant sales to raise funds for various project.  This is a good opportunity to purchase flowers and vegetable plants that will thrive in your particular area.  Here at GIMBY, we are preparing some pepper, eggplant, and kale seedlings for a local sale tomorrow.

Check out your local school’s calendar of events soon to see if you can purchase–or donate–some plants!

Plant of the week: Zucchini

The zucchini, or courgette, is a fast-growing variety of summer squash.  Its flavour is mild, so it takes on the taste of whatever delicious sauce or stir-fry you add it to. Better yet, you can grate it and add it to baked goods, improving their moisture and introducing added nutrients, such as manganese, vitamins A and C, and dietary fiber.

Ideal growing conditions

Zucchini prefers full sun or some shade.  To prepare a site for it, dig a hole about a foot across and a foot deep, and fill it with mature compost so that it forms a slight mound.  After all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has warmed, plant a few seeds an inch deep and a few inches apart in the mound.  There are two main types of zucchini plants–bush and vine.  Vine zucchini mounds should be a few feet apart; bush plants can grow closer together.

Zucchinis need consistent moisture, so ensure that they are well watered until the plant begins to produce fruits.  They have distinct male and female flowers, and are pollinated by insects.  Zucchini fruits generally grow quite quickly in succession.

Types

As mentioned above, there are two types of plants–bush and vine.  The colour of the skin may vary from dark green to gold; some varieties are striped or patterned.

Harvesting, using, and preserving

Harvest zucchinis when they are 4-8 inches long and about two inches in diameter.  If they grow too big, don’t worry–the larger specimens are ideal for grating and adding to bakes goods (core them before grating them if the seeds are too coarse).

Avoid the temptation to break these tender fruits off the plant; they may break or bruise.  Instead, cut them off with a sharp knife.

Before freezing zucchini, you can slice and blanch it, or simply grate it.  It can be used fresh in a variety of sauces and dishes, and grilled on the BBQ.  There are many ways to preserve it, such as in zucchini relishes and even zucchini marmalade!

Friends

  • Corn
  • Beans
  • Herbs
  • Radishes

Foes

  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins

Fun facts

  • The flowers of the zucchini are often sautéed or stuffed.  They also make pretty and edible garnishes.
  • Zucchinis have more potassium than bananas, and just 25 calories.
  • The largest zucchini on record was 69 1/2 inches long and 65 lbs in weight!

Choosing fruit bushes

Like many shrubs, fruit bushes can add dimension to your landscape, and obscure unsightly areas–but they also bear delicious fruit!  Although some garden centres have fruit bushes for sale now, now is not a good time to plant.  Fruit bushes should be planted in early spring, when the plants are dormant.  Transplanting them now, when it is warm, is too much of shock to their systems.  Instead, purchase 1-2 year old plants from a reputable nursery that will deliver plants during the late winter or early spring.

Most fruit bushes prefer full sun, and patience–it takes a few years for them to start bearing fruit, and some do so only every two years.  Once they have taken hold, though, they will produce for many years.

Some of these berry bushes may thrive in your backyard:

  • Blueberries like moist, acidic soils.  They produce more when at least two varieties are grown together.
  • Raspberries grow well in moist, neutral soil, and they tolerate a range of climates.  They propagate by sending up shoots (they spread easily).
  • Blackberries like very rich, moist soils, and are very hardy.  They also propagate by sending up shoots.
  • Honeyberries tolerate a variety of soils, but prefer claylike soil over sandy soil.  They are very cold hardy; they are the first fruit of spring.  Buy at least two plants to enable pollination.
  • Gooseberries and currants (shown above) prefer cool, moist, well-drained soils.  They are very cold hardy.  You only need one plant to ensure pollination.

Tips

  • Consider growing shrubs against the side of your house to provide shelter and extra warmth.
  • Unless you wish to share your crop with–or lose it to–the birds, you may want to cover the plants once the produce berries.  Birds know exactly when the fruit is ripe!

 

Plant of the week: Chives

Chives are one of the easiest plants to grow.  You can plant them from seed, but since they grow in clumps, oftentimes it’s easy to get a slice off someone else’s established clump.

Chives are part of the family that includes onions and leeks; they taste like mild onions.  They are high in vitamin A, K, and C, as well as folates, antioxidants, and other nutrients.  For a complete nutritional breakdown, see http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/chives.html.

Ideal growing conditions

Chives prefer rich, well-drained soil and full or partial sun, although they can make do in other conditions.

Harvesting and using chives

Cut chives close to the ground, otherwise their stalks will become tough.  Use them as garnishes, in soups, or as replacements for green onions.

Friends

Since chives are perennials, it’s best to put them in a permanent location, and change their neighbours if necessary.

  • Basil
  • Cabbage family
  • Carrots
  • Fruit trees
  • Mint
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes

Foes

  • Beans
  • Peas

Fun facts

  • Chives produce pretty purple flowers– they do not look out of place in a flower garden.
  • Chives were first cultivated in the middle ages.

Thank you, Mom

For many of us, our first exposure to gardening was through our mothers.  If you’re of a certain age, gardening was a pastime that was more common amongst women than men, although that’s not to say that our fathers, grandparents, uncles, and male neighbours didn’t participate too.  In my community, it was the women who did much of the work in the flower and herb gardens, and both parents worked to grow vegetables and fruits. 

As is often the case, as new crops succeeded, their small gardens grew into larger projects, which fueled our appreciation for the vibrant world around us, and filled our bellies into fall and winter.  Gardening together was a simple way to get us interested in the world around us, and the food we ate.  As my parents quietly showed us how to do things–such as plant, weed, harvest, and cook–we never realized that we were learning lessons that would positively impact our health for the rest of our lives.

So thank you, Mom and Dad.  🙂