THE LAST BITE: Mr. A. Beet

A Love Story

lastBiteMrABeet

MAY

I persuade my husband to buy a tiller and a pallet of topsoil, and put them to use on a 12-foot square of our rather ropey and neglected lawn. (He has bigger muscles than me, and a natural aptitude for outdoor machinery.) But once the tilling is complete, as agreed, he “hands me the keys of the project,” as he put it. It is me who really wants a garden; this is going to be mine to grow.

My first lesson: There are a LOT of rocks out there—big and small. It doesn’t matter how many I pull out of the garden: the next day, more have inched their way out of the soil. This is backbreaking work. I am beginning to wonder if I am being a bit ambitious. When we moved up here, there was no vegetable garden. We inherited a blueberry bush that with careful pruning now yields good fruit; and two years ago I uncovered a couple of heads of rhubarb in the weeds that I have transplanted and split, getting enough fruit to produce one or two pies a year.

And this year … well, this year I finally have the time to do “a garden.” How hard can it be? Never mind that we live at 1,800 feet and the weather is the boss up here. The growing season seems to be not much more than Memorial Day to Labor Day. Am I ready?

JUNE

Seeds planted just before Memorial Day as follows: beets – three rows; turnips—three rows; Swiss chard— two rows. The beets and turnips are my choice; the Swiss chard, not a vegetable I know well, is a concession to my husband in return for his tilling efforts. I feel that three vegetables are enough to start with. My husband is immediately skeptical of seeds, encouraging me instead buy seedlings. I look at the unforgiving dirt, still strewn with rocks, and consider. But being both cheap and ambitious, I stick to my guns.

Late in the month, on my daily rock patrol, I see little two-leaf shoots starting to pop up. Something is growing in the Swiss chard rows, and maybe in the beet rows! Now my greatest fears are a) killing the plants with kindnes— overfeeding or overwatering; and b) Japanese beetle season. I didn’t even know what a Japanese beetle was until I moved up here, but now they are my sworn enemy.

JULY

I have been doing some rather aggressive weeding, and now worry that I have pulled out some of my vegetables. But we do have a few heads of Swiss chard! The turnips seem to be goners, though. There are no signs of growth at all.

But I do have one beet! It is very small, but definitely a beet. For fun, I name him: “Mr. A. Beet.” The name sticks. When watering and feeding the vegetable garden, still hoping for more beets to appear or for a small miracle on the turnip front, I talk to Mr. A. Beet, giving him encouragement. As the sun sets outside my kitchen window, I see him standing alone, but proud, in the garden.

AUGUST

The Swiss chard is delicious, and miraculously regenerates each time I harvest leaves. Not a bad investment. We drive to the Connecticut River Valley on hot afternoons, stopping at roadside farm stands. I see huge, huge beets by the bunch. I marvel at their size; the farmer offers to sell me a bushel, and I am tempted. I bring two bunches home, boil them and eat them sliced and warm. I feel unfaithful to Mr. A. Beet, alone in our sparse little garden. But the purchased beets are fantastic. September

The Swiss chard keeps giving and giving; even when the weather turns colder it persists. The turnips never do show. As we head into fall, we sit in the kitchen on chilly mornings, looking out over our vegetable garden. This year, I learned that gardening is a lot harder than I thought, but I love it. We are already making plans for next year, to expand our garden, to prepare the soil better, and not to over weed. I think my husband is secretly aiming for a field of Swiss chard.

After tending to him for weeks, the day comes. I harvest Mr. A. Beet. I take a picture of him on the deck to remember this moment. He is, after all the first root vegetable I have grown from seed with my own hands. Then we boil, peel and eat him. Mr. A. Beet is just delicious.

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