Tuesday, March 03, 2015


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/28/2015)


          While a soldier in the U. S. Army, my unit, Special Troops, often patrolled Alaska’s bush hunting criminals and saboteurs. Such forays in the winter were more arduous than in the summer although the ground was firmer.  In the summer, it was marshy and mosquito infested.  As an 18 year old buck sergeant, I was in charge of a squad tracking a native soldier who had killed his wife with an ulu knife.  Happily, an Alaskan Scout was our guide.


          Without sunlight, without showers, with the Northern Lights, living on field rations for several days, we stunk.  We craved hot showers, warm beds, warm food, and fresh fruit and vegetables.  The cooks had prepared a special treat for us, cherry Jello.  Since they didn’t have any cherries, instead they used canned beets.


For reasons other than cherry Jello, beets have been out of fashion for several years, considered plebian along with turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips; however, beets and their allies are now becoming de rigueur.  Carrots have always remained standard fare, not quite fashionable and bourgeois.  However, root vegetables are now happily chic.


Root vegetables are naturals for Flagstaff and the Colorado Plateau.  Unlike tomatoes, they don’t wilt at the first sign of frost.  A hardy lot, they’re nutritious, attractive, and easy to grow. 


The Detroit Dark Red is an heirloom developed in 1892 by a Mr. Reeves in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.  He began with an Early Blood Turnip which was also grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson whose gardens were undoubtedly tended by his slaves.  Aside from that, the Detroit Dark Red has a noble lineage.


An all around vegetable, almost all of it can be eaten.  The

young leaves can be used in salads, and before they are too old can be used as a

side dish or in soups and stir fry.


          However, the real triumph of the Detroit Dark Red is the root, a delightful globe, best plucked early while it is still tender and tasty.  To prevent the dark red from staining everything in sight, the globe is best boiled, baked, or roasted in its skin with the small base of leaves attached to the top and the small pig tail left on.  After cooking, the skin can easily be slipped off without red stain running all over.


          Not all beets are dark red globes.  The Italian heirloom, Chioggia, with its interior rings of bright pink and white offers a great contrast to the Detroit Dark Red.  With its sweet and peppery taste, it’s also an eye catcher when properly sliced.


          As the name suggests, the Golden Beet is golden in color and doesn’t bleed as do the red beets.  A fetching contrast to the red beets, it’s attractive, sweet, and nutritious.


          The Bulls Blood Beet is, also, an heirloom.  With an earthy yet sweet flavor, it’s darker and richer than the others with its leaves a deep maroon.  When picked young, its leaves are a striking contrast in salads.  It’s a beet connoisseur’s beet.


          The rules for growing beets are simple.  Sow the seeds a few weeks before the expected last frost and keep sowing on through to fall.  Plant an inch deep about 12 to 15 seeds per foot and thin to 2 to 3 inches.  Plant in well-composted soil and keep the watering even.  When harvesting, choose a dry day, cut off tops near the crown, don’t wash the root, and store in the crisper in a plastic bag with small holes.  They’ll last a long time.  They can be stored, boiled, pickled, roasted, baked, canned, and frozen. 


          As far as pests are concerned, aphids are a possible threat.  Dill, coriander, and bronze fennel draw the insects which feed on aphids.  Lady bugs are excellent predators on aphids.  Spray insecticidal soap and detergent on the leaves’ undersides where the aphids hide out.  Never use systemic poisoning.  Systemic suicide is a horticultural no-no.


Beets bring a delight to the eye, a pleasure to the palate, health to the body, and clarity to the mind.  As with tomatoes, beets are great when canned, but forget the cherry Jello.


Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and blogs at http://highcountrygardner,blogspot.com.



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