My Vegetable Progeny

“I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from an Old Manse


For the first time ever, I grew beets, from seed, and harvested them, cleaned them, and peeled and roasted some of them. It’s a red-letter day here, and not only in observance of my beet-red hands and cutting board.


I grew Early Wonder Organic Heirloom beets from Botanical Interests seeds, starting them 2-4 weeks before frost, as instructed, on 5 May. Then I promptly forgot that anything else needed to be done with them, ever, which is my usual downfall when it comes to edible plants. I like to plan and plant; I’m not much on tending or harvesting, except easy things like peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans.

beets, peas, and radishes planted 5 May
beets, peas, and radishes planted 5 May

The other day, while pulling cucumbers and Sungold tomatoes off the vines as fast as they grew, my eye wandered to the two rows of beet plants, untouched since a few days after the snow melted in the spring. What I observed was that most of the plants were now sitting a few inches above the ground, each held aloft by a large, round, dark brown tuber. Curious, I pulled one up. It looked remarkably like a beet in the store or farmer’s market, but much dirtier. I brought it in with the other veggies, cleaned it up, and decided I had better get the others out of the ground asap.

the harvest of one on 14 August
the harvest of one beet on 14 August

Of course, had I read beyond the seed packet’s planting instructions at any time since early May, I would have found the following tip: “For early spring sowings, harvest before summer heat. … Harvest when roots are anywhere from 1½” – 2½” in diameter. Do not let them get too big; the smaller they are, the more tender.” They are labelled for 48 days until harvest; I’m sure I bought this variety for its early harvest time.

My beets are all 3-4″ in diameter.
It’s 94F outside today, and not the first day of high heat this month.
Day 48 would have been 22 June, two months ago! I really don’t think they were ready then, but even if they didn’t poke their heads above ground until four weeks later, they’ll have been ready and waiting for almost a month.

Still, after looking online for what to do with beets fresh from the ground, I washed them (some say don’t if you’re storing them for a while) and peeled and cut two of them into 1/2″ pieces, then cooked them according to Martha Stewart’s second of 4 Ways to Cook Beets, the “pre-cut, fast-roast method,” which meant slathering them with olive oil, sprinkling on pepper and salt, and roasting in sealed foil for 25 minutes at 450F — on the hottest day of the year here so far. Martha doesn’t stipulate that last condition but I wanted to add my own touch to the recipe.

They are DELICIOUS! Entirely tender, sweet, earthy, just perfect. You would never know that they languished in the ground long after their due date.

beets roasted, with fragrant steam rising, today
beets roasted, with fragrant steam rising, today
beets in bowls tonight
beets in bowls tonight

I left several in the ground, not thinking them large enough, but after finally reading the seed packet, I’ve decided to harvest them this week.

some beets still in ground, today
some beets still in ground, today

Maybe next year I will also get around to using the beet greens — apparently best at 6″ or less.

Next up: Brussels sprouts, which I have never grown before and on which some Brussels-sprouty-looking bits are starting to adhere. I’ve got my eye on them.



    1. I know, right? I was sort of thinking of them as round red carrots: harvest whenever, even next spring. But apparently it’s not so. I’m sure yours will be tasty too.

  1. Funny, but that is exactly how I feel when I look at my garden. I stand there and stare at the vegetables, amazed at what I have grown. This year the weeds loved the abundant early rain and I didn’t get to the garden enough, so it is overgrown. We finally got to camp in Maine this past weekend (didn’t go the previously planned weekend) had gorgeous weather and a wonderful time, but left my garden with several nearly ripe tomatoes. I am anxious to get there this morning and see what’s what. I am still hoping to have a party. Maybe even in September. Your vegetables look amazing. I love that story about forgetting the beets. What a nice surprise. I love beets. In fact, I am going to plant some soon. Henry Homeyer recommends a late planting of quickly maturing vegetables: beets, radishes, lettuce. It will be an experiment.

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