IGOT SHUT OUT LAST YEAR after I read about the beet called Three Root Grex in the Fedco Seed catalog and added the item to my list too late—sold out! This year I made sure to order fast, but in the meantime I’ve dreamed of the beet—or shall I say beets, since it’s a group of three colors from the same parents—craving it more because of the delay in satisfaction. Turns out the wait paid off, because along the way I got a lesson in botany; a re-introduction to the wild wonderfulness that is Dr. Alan M. Kapuler, who bred it; an unexpected source for more tempting seed-catalog listings than I have ever seen compiled in one place; and finally—yes!—I got my seed. Meet the new beet (above), and other Beta vulgaris I have loved.
THE FEDCO CATALOG ENTRY (in the box below, or go read it here) reminded me that Kapuler was the founder of Peace Seeds—certainly one of the oldest non-traditional seed companies in my memory bank (and I have been gardening a long time). Kapuler went on to co-found Seeds of Change, and was its first research director. A couple of years ago, Fedco posted this profile of Kapuler on their website. It was a tale of a boy who loved orchids and baseball, entered Yale at age 16, went on to a Ph.D. in molecular biology but shifted from the fastlane of that world—where he knew what he created might be put to uses he was not at ease with—to “find a life that had a heart.” The beet, just one of his babies, in Fedco’s words:
3 Root Grex: (54 days) Open-pollinated. The genius of Alan Kapuler at work, this is an interbreeding mix of three heirlooms: Yellow Intermediate, Crosby Purple Egyptian and Lutz Saladleaf. Eight years ago it absolutely wowed me in the trial … There are three distinct colors in this gene pool: a pinkish red with some orange in it, a bright gold, and a beautiful iridescent orange. We were impressed by the unusual vigor, glowing colors and length of these gradually tapered elongated roots. The Lutz influence manifests in their size, as much as 3-1/2″ across and 7–8″ long.
In more than 30 years of breeding plants, Kapuler (above, packing seed with Eliyrea Serena Kapuler and Dylana Cosecha Kapuler) has done it for the public domain—not to try to own or patent the resulting genetics, but to make available good crops to help feed people and the planet—a little bit of peace. More on him:
- Alan Kapuler speech and slideshow from the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s online magazine in 2010 (photo from the Flickr set by photographer Heather Zinger)
- Alan Kapuler video and profile from Cooking Up a Story website
The Botany Lesson
WHEN I FIRST HAPPENED on the latest beet of my dreams, I thought it was a variety—like ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce, or ‘Yellow Brandywine’ tomato. Then I dug deeper, wondering what a grex was, anyhow. I had to go all the way to England, to the Royal Horticultural Society, to get schooled. The RHS says:
In some plant groups, notably within orchids, where complex hybrid parentages are carefully recorded, the group system is further refined. Each hybrid is given a grex name (Latin for flock) which covers all offspring from that particular cross, however different they may be from one another. Individual cultivars may then be named and propagated by division or micropropagation. Although a grex is similar to a botanical hybrid in principal, backcrossing a member of a grex with one of its parents results in a new grex, with a new name, whereas backcrossing a hybrid makes no difference to the hybrid name.
So no single quotes around the name—and a charming connection back to Kapuler’s since-youth love of orchids, perhaps? Plus, bird person that I am, I love that my beet-to-be is a flock. (Thanks for indulging me in this digression into science. You are all so patient.)
Other Beets I Grow
I LOVE BEETS: What (besides the skin of a homegrown potato) tastes more of the earth than they do? I always grow one for its greens—‘Bull’s Blood,’ with its wine-toned foliage, is my favorite choice—and one for late-season harvest that stores well (‘German Lutz Winter Keeper,’ which Nichols Garden Nursery has a great strain of, would give you greens, and big beets that keep in winter). I love them in my favorite salad, above, or as a side dish, and recently had the very best dark-chocolate cake ever that was made with beets.
The Mother Lode of Seed-Catalog Listings
AND AS IF THAT were not enough: Courtesy of the web page for Peace Seedlings, the seed company created by Kapuler’s youngest daughter, Dylana, and her partner, Mario DiBenedetto, I found the mother lode of seed-company listings to pore over for the rest of my days on earth—only about half of which I know of. It’s here. (If you don’t hear from me ever again, it’s because I am still clicking through all those pages, ad infinitum. See what craving a single packet of seeds for more than a year can do to a soul?)