For several weeks now, we have been handing out decks of Veggie School flashcards, for youngsters who have yet to learn their basic veggies. This weekend we added sample packets of Crosby Egyptian Beets, for their older brothers and sisters. Each packet contains a couple dozen pods of 4 to 6 seeds each, enough for several containers or half a row in a home garden.
In their day, Crosby Egyptians were one of this country's most sought after beets among market gardeners. Their early growth cycle, their extended youth, and their ease of preparation for market all brought more money to market gardeners’ bottom lines.
The Crosby Egyptian was first cultivated in the late-1860’s on a farm owned and operated by Josiah Crosby, one of the largest farms in Arlington, located on Lake Street facing east towards Cambridge. The Crosby Egyptian was a much improved version of a beet called the Flat Egyptian, imported from Germany, where beets had been first developed.
The Crosby Beet set itself apart from the Flat Egyptian in several ways that made it a better value proposition for many market gardeners. It liked cool weather; so it could be planted earlier in the growing season and brought to market sooner, when beet prices were higher. It was not as quick to turn tough in its growth cycle. Crosby Beets stayed tender and tasty longer than Flat Egyptians, during most all of the growing season. Finally, the Crosby’s skin was much smoother, which made it easier and more efficient to clean in preparation for market. Altogether, Crosby Beets meant a better bottom line for market gardeners, compared to the Flat Egyptians from which they had been evolved.
Though the owner of one of the largest market gardening farms in Arlington (much larger, for example, than the Robbins Farm), Josiah Crosby was not a seed distributor. He was not set up for that kind of business. So in the early 1880’s he sold the rights to his new beet to James H. Gregory, one of the country’s leading commercial sellers of seeds, based in Gloucester, MA
Gregory added the Crosby Beets to his catalog in 1885, where they became an instant success. In one of his seed catalogs from 1890, Gregory quotes George B. Courtis, “one of our best resident market gardeners” as saying “After trials of many varieties, I pronouce the Crosby’s Egyptian the best for the early market.”
Even today, with their heart-like shape, their smooth crimson skin, and their sweet red flesh, Crosbys are still regarded by many home gardeners as one of the finer beets around.
It looks like no rain this week. With seeds and seedlings for 2 dozen different veggies now settling in, that means we'll be watering every day.
Some plants will be fine with a dousing every second day, but some need a daily slug. These include carrots, beets, arugula, cilantro, basil, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, book chi, salad turnips, scallions, spinach, mesclun and radishes.
The cycle time for hand watering is roughly 3.5 minutes per 2 gallon watering can (Fill from tap: .5 min, Carry to plot: .5 min, Sprinkle: 2.0 min, Return to tap: .5 min). That's about 2 hours for the 32 gallons needed for the water-every-day veggies.
Left to one's self, watering becomes almost a meditation. But when supervisors join in from the playground next door, it shifts to a different realm.
Today was our first comfortably warm day at the Garden. Another new member, Agnes, joined up, bringing with her a wicked fine camera. We were also visited by a half dozen curious kidlets with young parents in tow.
Today we planted eight more veggies: basil, cilantro, arugula, bok choi, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and sunflowers. Avery put the finishing touches on his excellent drywell that surrounds our now-working faucet. Alan, Mike, and Steven started a pea trellis that will strech half the length of the garden. We also added a spindly arbor at the Garden's front gate with the hope that this summer's nasturtiums will make it beautiful.
Yesterday we would have normally planted the seedlings Elizabeth and Lisa started a month ago. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not been cooperating. Overnight temperatures dropped close to freezing several times last week; so there's been little chance for the seedlings to harden off, and the schedule had to slip.
So yesterday was mostly maintenance and get-acquainted conversations with the Garden's four new members: Yue, Susan, Corinna, and Ed.
We did finish placing the new posts on the playground side of the Garden. We added another stone container for one of the more slopey plots, plus repaired our rabbit defense system and finished up the dry well that should reduce runoff from the Garden's spigot.
Meanwhile, the veggie signs stand silently off to the side awaiting their postings.