To Beta Vulgaris: A Belated Thanksgiving and a Fond Farewell

Posted on November 30, 2011

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Spinach seedling on the left; chard seedlings on the right in a grow box

I know this is late, but I’d like to take this time to thank the Food Project for the free seeds they gave out at the first CultureFest in downtown Lynn 2 years ago. I selected chard, spinach, shell bean and snap pea. I finally got around to planting them in my community garden this past spring, and these little seeds have given my family more than enough delicious, healthy meals. Seeds are a miracle, small condensed packages containing the instructions grow into a variety of leafy green, woody and flowering plants that then produce the very same packages of instruction to live again.

Ultimately though, my thanks goes to the vegetables themselves or to who or what, if anything, created them.

Chard (scientific name Beta Vulgaris) gave me a gift that just kept on giving. For as long as I harvested it, it kept coming back, growing new leaves to be used in salads, substituted for lettuce in sandwiches and sautéed as a side. My experience with chard prompted me to look up some facts about it.

Beta Vulgaris is a close relative to the beet. Where beets were bred for larger roots, chard was bred to increase its leaves. It is Mediterranean in origin and a biennial, meaning that it flowers in its second year. The flowers are inconspicuously small and grow on dense spikes. Maybe I’ll get to see them next year.

The spinach was good too, but it is an annual, flowering in the same year it’s planted. Spinach loves colder weather. As it gets hotter, spinach does what is called bolting. Something about the longer days and increased heat causes it to stop producing its wide leaves and send up a single stalk with narrower leaves. On this stalk, you’ll see dense arrays of inconspicuous flowers, very small with no petals, and containing an abundance of pollen, which clouds the air if you disturb them.

Snap peas also like to start early, in the colder weather. I planted them too late perhaps, in full sun, so the yield was low. Fresh snap peas off the vine, as well as cherry and grape tomatoes, are nature’s candy.

When the shell bean pods turned yellow with purple highlights, it was time to pick and break them open. Again, not a large yield there, but enjoyable nonetheless. Next year, string beans.

Side with the Seeds
Lyrics by Wilco

Tires type black
Where the blacktop cracks
Weeds spark through
Dark green enough to be blue
When the mysteries we believe in
Aren’t dreamed enough to be true
Some side with the leaves
Some side with the seeds

The treetops nod
the rain applauds
The park grows dark
And the swings all slowly die
But you and I will be undefeated
by agreeing to disagree
No one wins but the thieves
so why side with anything

The streetlights glow
Comes and goes
When the sun comes back
As we all can plainly see
Embracing the situation
Is our only chance to be free
I’ll side with you
If you side with me

Beans, Snap Peas and Tomatoes

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Posted in: Urban Gardening