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beets, turnips, transplanting, gardening, beet varieties, superstitions, dyes, wine, marriage bed
Handwritten manuscript entitled, "Beets!: De Rode-reeva!", compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated August 10, 1953. Within, Dieffenbach discusses the various ways to cultivate beets and their subsequent uses thereafter. He also provides anecdotes and superstitions surrounding this vegetable.
Packet 577-213-19 to 577-213-23
Beets! - “de Rode-reeva!”
“Ya, des sin de rode reeva!“ (Yes, these are the beets!) But no red-beets. My dander gets up whenever I hear that expression for there is no such thing. Turnips are called “reeva”; and beets resemble turnips in growth and are similar in appearance, so on account of their color, they are called “rode-reeva”, and I’d sooner say red-turnips than red-beets.
So my friends, let it be understood - there are turnips and beets - “reeva un rode-reeva”; but there are NO red-beets.
Beets are usually raised as a border in the garden. But the easiest way is to plant or sow the seed quite thickly in shallow drills or rows in the garden. When quite small you can thin them out by pulling out a few and transplanting them. They will grow readily if the tops are cut off about ½ of their length. I pinch a hole in the soil with a pointed stick, pour in some water, and put the tiny tap-root in the hole.
I have transplanted beets when they were as big as a walnut, and had nearly all of them growing; but I wore a rain-coat and rubber boots while transplanting them in a thunder-shower. They require a good rich soil, and like any other crop, you cannot keep them too clean. If planted in drills they should be at least eight inches apart, so one can easily weed with a hoe. They require no spraying. When quite small they can be tied in bunches and find a ready sale on the market.
Beets, in the days of our forefathers, were supposed to build red blood, and give color to the cheeks and lips. Even great-grand mother would sneak out in the garden, grab a few beet-tops and rub it over her cheeks before going to the hoe-down. Naturally, by the time she had washed her face with a coarse cloth and some home-made soap, a lot of the added color would be gone. Some folks have a florid complexion, so when a young man had a very red face and a prominent red nose, he soon acquired the sobriquet -: “de rode-reeb”! (The beet.) But one morning another chap who also had an extra large smeller that curved like a pretzel called the former - “Hello, rode-reeb”! He promptly responded with -: “Hello hoy-rupper!” (Hello, hay puller) meaning a wooden hooked spear that was thrust into a hay or straw stack, and on being pulled out it would bring along a mouthful of hay or straw. Neither got mad; and neither could feel that he had set back his rival.
Grandmother would tell of how they would put a big beet in the bed of the bridal couple on their wedding night; I never could find out what it was supposed to prevent or to aid; it could have been used for a lot of different purposes.
Years ago, while engaged in doing custom-shearing among the farmers, a friend of mine and I formed a temporary partnership; he furnished the car and the gas, and I the clipper; and whatever we earned we split fifty-fifty. One day we got way out in the back-woods; we met a man who had quite a flock of sheep, and we were there for dinner. He took us into the cellar and gave us some wine that looked like blood; he said "it grows in the garden!” I said currants; my pal said sour-cherries, and we guessed till we had named every vegetable that ever grew in a garden, but one. So I said - “Beets?”; and he said “Yes, it is made from beets.” It was wonderful.
Beets were used in some form or other for dyeing cloth long ago; some mordant was added so as to make it stick, or as we today say color-fast; what part of the beet was used I do not know. But it was only at certain times that there was a demand for them.
Some old wise-acres claimed that if hogs were fed on beets the flesh would turn red; others predicted that if the cows ate beets the milk would be colored red. As much as I know both these beliefs were fallacious.
The sugar-beet, while being of the same family, is a different plant than the edible beet. It is converted into beet-sugar, and the residue is used for feeding to dairy cattle.
Swiss chard and maugel are also related to this garden vegetable. While the longer rooted bees, (or one might say the old-fashioned variety) will take a longer period to mature, they are also better keepers for storage. The half-long or sometimes called turnip-rooted grow faster, and mature earlier; and some of these have a better flavor; but with age they become woody and insipid. It is preferable to have a later sowing for an extra crop for storage.
It will be found advantageous to raise beets on ground deficient in lime or an acid soil. Some folks use the tops from the young plants for a salad. When getting them ready for family use the tops should be cut so as to leave at least an inch of the stems; this will cause them to have a deeper color. An early frost will not injure the roots if left alone until the frost has disappeared; and these, when they are harvested and stored, will be found to be much superior in flavor to the earlier crop.
While they do well in almost any soil, heavy clay soils should be avoided as the long-rooted varieties will be unable to penetrate to the desired depth, and a lot of bent, twisted and disfigured roots will be the result.
Too heavy an application of fresh stable manure is to be avoided, as it will cause a very rank foliage to the detriment of the root crop. Well-rotted manure or a commercial fertilizer is much better.
Seed should not be put in too liberally, as there are a number of tiny seeds in one shriveled unit or fruit.
In a very dry season I have planted the seeds in their permanent location, and later thinned them; in this way none need be transplanted; if the season continues to be dry, the tiny plants can be heeled in a shady spot and transplanted later. I prefer to pinch off a long root - never to double it up. I have seen market-gardeners make a furrow and lay the beet-plants on the sloping side and sprinkle them and in a few days they took hold; then the furrow is filled up with soil; and some use a mechanical planter, same as for tomatoes.
August 10th. 1953 Der Oldt Bauer
English and Pennsylvania German
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Dieffenbach, Victor C., "Dieffenbach on Beets, August 10, 1953" (1953). Alfred L. Shoemaker Folk Cultural Documents. 176.
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