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Beets and Chard are usually
biennial. In mild winter areas it is possible to obtain seed by
planting in summer, and allowing the plants to over-winter; they will
bolt to flower the following spring. In cold climates, the plants must
be mulched or dug before the ground freezes hard and then stored to
replant the following spring. Beet can be planted in the spring and
will survive light frosts. Beet and chard are the same species. They
easily cross and are wind pollinated.
Developing Beet varieties went in several different directions, those
for the nutrient-rich greens or tops (silverbeet or chard), those for
the roots that could be stored in root cellars or pickled for
sustenance in more difficult times, the huge mangel beets for livestock
and then selection for the extraction of sugars. What a vegetable!
In the 1970's I was lucky enough to be able to order directly from
Thompson and Morgan in England (before the U.S. retail address was
available). They offered a very comprehensive selection of flower and
vegetable seed varieties that were rarely seen in the U.S. (they still
do). One mixture that caught my eye was a blend of chards with stems of
yellow, orange, pink, salmon and red. I had grown the white ribbed,
dark green crumpled leaf Fordhook, the light green or yellowish
Lucullus and a variety called, Rhubarb Chard.
Since chard often overwinters and keeps their impressive leafy tops
into the winter here on coastal Long Island, the Rhubarb Chard with
their deep red stems especially is a delight to see in the garden when
everything else is drab. The "greens", of course, can be harvested when
very little else is available. T&M's Five Colour Silverbeet looked
very impressive. It would be a great eye-catching addition to the
garden and so I ordered a packet. I doubt if Thompson and Morgan
developed the variety- they are primarily a retailer like most seed
companies that sell to gardeners. But their sources are often British
and you find many of the same British bred varieties also retailed by
New Zealand and Australian seed companies. Five Colour Silverbeet
became especially popular "down under" in parts of the British
Commonwealth and after being dropped by Thompson and Morgan, continued
to be available into the 1980's in New Zealand and Australia. I had
successfully been wintering over and producing chard seed crops from
the original five colour and later, purchased seed from a company
called "Diggers". Long Island Seed marketed a "Genetically Diverse
Chard Blend" from 1980 till 1994 and it always gave us pleasure to
include the genetics of the "Five Colour Chards" in our mixtures.
The most vigorous of the "Five Colour Chards" was the hot pink
selection above and a terrific orange stem variety. As I recall, we
always had enough "hot pink" to add to our mixtures! The above is a
scan from a kodachrome slide stamped 1981.
If you're interested in maintaining a color from Rainbow Chard
(available through Seed Savers Exchange) go right ahead. The Seed
Savers Exchange (Decorah, Iowa) encourage you to save seeds.
I'm aware that some separate colors of chard are now being
patented. The shame of it! There are subtle variations in
stem colors and leaf variations of Rainbow and Bright Lights and even
in different production years because of a certain amount of crossing
and selecting (intentional and otherwise). Kind of like the subtleties
between Rhubarb Chard, Burpees Rhubarb Chard, Vulcan and Ruby Red
Chard. One might claim one is better than the other but they are all
red chards. Is one significantly better or different that it warrants
patenting and how will a small producer of seed know that their not
breaking infringing on a patent by selling the same color! Most of same
colors in all chard (except greens) have a fairly recent parent in
But, all of a sudden mini greens have become big business and the
Rainbow chards are showing up in high priced mescluns. My advice is, if
you use large quantities of a particular rainbow chard- grow your own
seed crop. It is only if you sell patented seed that you risk fines.
Leaf Beets (Chard)
Colored Chards (sorry not this year)
Beta Seed (chard and beet)
Saving seeds of Beets or Chard is less common among gardeners
because it's a two year project. Only after a period of chilling and
dormancy will the seed stalk appear since they are biennials. In harsh
winter climates they have to be dug and stored just above freezing
under high humidity conditions (root cellared). Some of our winters are
mild enough here that we leave the roots in the ground and cover the
tops with a deep mulch before the ground freezes. In the spring we'll
see what we have by digging and selecting out the best plants. They
will be replanted several feet apart since the second year they may
become formidable plants that have to be staked to support the masses
of seeds produced. It is easy to produce several pounds of seed from a
short row of overwintered beet or chard. We will isolate different
kinds (unless we are planning to have them hybridize) in poly tunnels
or in different gardens separated by buildings or hedgerows.
Oh yes, more important, if you
are producing a beet seed crop and a chard seed crop in the same year,
they could cross. Most likely, you may end up producing a worthless
crop of beets from seeds unintentionally crossed with chard. Chard
roots are not of value from a culinary perspective and will cause a
significant decline in the quality of your beets.
When the corky seed balls become dry and brown the stems are cut and
brought out of the weather to dry some more. Roll the brown fruits off
the stems with your fingers if you're producing small amounts of seed.
Each fruit contains a few seeds and if they all germinate after
planting, will require thinning.
I don't enjoy eating plain boiled beets. I will eat them in a
salad with minced onions au vinegarette but otherwise I just don't
particularly enjoy the flavor. So why do I spend so much time breeding
Beets are beautiful. Like the multicolor stems of chards, beet roots
can be found in a range of colors from snow white to near black with
pinks, yellows, oranges and purples in between. I like the diversity of
beets. We have been crossing a number of beets, including
cultivars from USDA that were collected in the Middle East in the
1940's. Our objective is to develop a blend with a nice range of
colors, good shape and good sugar content. I'll leave it to others to
give me the thumbs up on flavor as I bring my new creations to the
A modern spinach in the
Spinach is a major small farm crop on Long Island. Typically, it
is sown in late summer for fall harvest or fall for an over-wintered
spring crop. Raising spinach from a late spring- early summer
sowing often results in failure because spinach is very day-length
sensitive. It is a LONG DAY plant meaning that instead of producing
masses of large leaves, it is compelled to put it's energy into
producing flowers when day lengths are getting longer.
Better get an early start to develop a large plant before the long days
of May and June.
Some spinach cultivars have been selected for their long-standing or
bolt-resistance since one would rather be able to produce and harvest
those leaves for as long as you can. Breeders have selected for
bolt-resistance by rouging out early bolters. You should do the
same. Spinach is a hardy annual.
Ladybug Beetle on Prickly or Sharp-Seed Spinach
Prickly-Seeded spinach cultivars were common at one time, but not any
more. Smooth or round seed types are easier to clean and sow. We
collected some prickly seed varieties from China, Holland and the
Heritage Gardens at Monticello just to see if there were some traits
that made them useful in our breeding program. In Jefferson's days
prickly varieties were considered the most cold-hardy. We find
that they don't have much bolt resistance so should be sown in the late
summer as a fall crop or to overwinter as an early spring green.
This would have made this kind of spinach essential in the colonial
days where cold resistance could allow them to harvest nurient rich
"greens" before other crops were ready to be harvested. They
reallly do have nasty seeds though!
LISEED SPINACH EVALUATION:
Over the years we have been interested in finding a really great
tasting spinach. One with a lower metallic oxalic acid taste. In recent
years two stand out as very good. Unipack 12, a commercial processing
hybrid with it's round, smooth leaves (and good bolt resistance) and
Monnopa, an open-pollinated variety from Europe which is well-regarded
by organic growers there.
We are participating in the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farmers
Association) trial of Butterflay from Turtle Island Seeds this year.
Butterflay is a winner in the taste-test. Quick growing and vigorous
from an April sowing, it is a quick germinator and in spite of this
spring's heat, kept it's fine flavor. In this year's trial it out
performed Unipack in our sandy soils and has many similarities with
Unipack. It resisted bolting until temperatures reached in the 90's for
several days. Cooler weather would have given us a better, extended
harvest since cold can suppress bolt proneness. We'll plant it again in
late summer to see how it performs in cold.
A smooth-seeded type spinach.
In most spinach varieties plants are dioecious (there are also
monoecious types with both male and female flowers on the same plant
stalk). Here the male plant is in the front and the female plant is in
the background. Large clustered fruits (containing the immature seed
can be seen on the female stalk. The males appear first and shed lots
of wind-blown pollen. If you are producing pure seed of a variety make
sure that there aren't any other varieties shedding pollen for at least
several thousand feet. It is easy to develop your own designer hybrid
though by intercropping two varieties. The males will wither and die
leaving the often taller, more robust female plants to mature their
seeds. Spinach is a very easy crop to harvest seed from.
Wait until the plants brown and dry.