Thinning beets

Today the heat is scheduled to break and we’ll leave a record string of 90 degree weather way down to the upper/middle 80’s. I enjoyed seeing the weather report this morning to see that College Station PA was buried in 6” of snow and experiencing the coldest weather and earliest snow in recorded history. Nancy experienced some 28 degree temps in Utah so she’s lovin’ this warm-up for her.

I got out to the garden early so I could get a few things planted before it rains this afternoon and to take advantage of the overcast and cooler temps. Put in a couple rows of celery that I had started from seed about 2 months ago and another row of onions, seeded about a month ago. The big job was thinning beets. For those who haven’t grown beets from seed, let me explain. With most veggies the seeds are singular – that is, one seed, one plant. With beets, the seed is actually a cluster of seedlets and it’s quite common that 3 or 4 plants sprout up exactly in the same location. The instructions are to just pull out the weaker members of the family. But I’ve found that if I’m extremely careful and work the cluster with a tiny instrument – such as a tooth pick – I can wheedle out the individual beet plants and set them back in a new location. I get about 75% recovery so one 8′ row of seeds gets me 3 x 8′ rows after thinning. Beet seeds are cheap so it doesn’t really make any sense to spend so much time bent over the bed, thinning and replanting, but I kind of like doing it and the challenge of making it work.

It also becomes obvious that beets and swiss chard are related. Aside from the fact that both have red stems when they germinate, chard seed are also cluster pods and sprout the same way as beets. If you just look at the first couple of leaves, you can’t tell the difference between them. I thin these guys too. So if I plant just 3 chard seeds, I can end up with 8-10 plants – which is more chard that you can deal with from an eating standpoint. You don’t pull out the plant but just cut off the leaves as you need them so it’s a continuous crop. Of course with beets, it’s one pull. A packet of chard seeds has about a 100 seeds so one packet gets you two lifetime’s of greens. For $3. Beet greens are edible but if you grow chard, why bother. The seed catalog designates some beet varieties as “grow for greens”. Maybe that’s where the line blurs between chard and beets in their evolution.

Not sure what the deal is on the grapefruit this year. They are mostly yellow at this point which is a month or more early. I haven’t cut one open yet but am not expecting them to be really good. It’s pretty well known here that you need a few cold snaps to sweeten the fruit but unless things get really weird, we’re a couple of months from a deep enough cold to sweeten the fruit. And they’re smaller than past years. My guess is that either the really hot summer or the really wet summer has changed the normal cycle

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Found another place I’m ok with Obama so far. This one’s important since it involves forestry and my grandson, Simon, who is considering a major in forestry. There are two theories about running forests. One is to just let them do whatever it is that nature intends. Leave them alone, No harvesting, no thinning, no forest fire reduction activities, no beetle fighting, no roads, no people. Up until now that has seemed to be the position of each Dem administration since Jimmy Carter. The other guys believe in managing forests. That means allowing harvests, controlling and fighting fires, fighting bugs, fungus etc etc. So each time we’ve had an admin change, the forest policy has changed accordingly. But the early rumblings are that this administration may leave the Bush policy in place.

I was always a let nature do what it will kind of guy until the great Yellowstone fires and the Pine beetle infestation took hold out west. I used to spend lots of time in the wilderness when we lived in Utah and never ceased to marvel at the beauty and extent of the forests there. Then came the pines beetles and in the course of just a year or two, hundreds of thousands of acres of lodgepole pine were dead. And if that wasn’t bad enough, fires hit yellowstone. And the theory was to just let it burn. 10 years later and it still looked completely devastated. It just was never the same and never will be in my lifetime. So I jumped over into the managed forest camp and am fine with controlled logging, controlled burning – so long as it can be controlled – and bug and disease control. Obama, being a Chicago city boy, may be ok with Republican style forest policy.

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