beet of my heart: 3 root grex from alan kapuler

Three Root Grex beet Alan Kapuler

IGOT SHUT OUT IN 2011 after I read about the beet called 3 Root Grex in the Fedco Seed catalog and added the item to my list too late—sold out! The next year I made sure to order fast, but in the meantime I’d 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.

alan kapuler, the man

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), now doing business under his children’s leadership as Peace Seedlings. Kapuler went on to co-found Seeds of Change, and was its first research director.

A number 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.”

Alan Kapuler copyright Heather Zinger

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:

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.)

beets on salad

other beets i grow

I LOVE BEETS: What (besides the skin of a homegrown potato) tastes more of the earth than they do? Uprising Seeds is working on improving the strains of some great beets, including the bull’s-eye striped ‘Chioggia.’ I always grow one beet for its greens—‘Bull’s Blood,’ with its wine-toned foliage, seen as baby greens below, 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.

Bull's Blood beet greens foliage more from peace seedlings

(3 Root Grex beet photo up top from Peace Seeds; photo of Kapuler and family from the Flickr set by photographer Heather Zinger.)

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Suburban Hobby Farmer. They are among the best keepers of any crop, I think; the root vegetables are generally good in storage. It depends on the variety, the maturity of the crop when harvested, and your storage spot. With the “keepers” I want to store, I wait till just before the ground will freeze to harvest, for best results (more on that in this Colorado State bulletin). You would want to have timed the sowing of your storage crop to match up with that approximate date — in other words, I don’t store my earliest spring-sown beets, but some of my later ones.

      The basic idea is that you cut the greens off (leave on an inch of stem; use the greens right away as they do not last), rinse soil off the beets, pat them dry and put them in plastic bags in the crisper, for example (I don’t have a root cellar that’s cold enough so I use the fridge for carrots, beets, parsnips…). They want near-freezing but humid, which is what the crisper is.

      Don’t tie them up in thick plastic bags but just put them in the lightweight ones from the vegetable department and leave them loosely closed, or use perforated plastic bags. You don’t want to rot them, nor do you want to leave them to dry out. I have some in my crisper drawer in the fridge from months ago and they are fine.

  1. shira says:

    Those beets are just gorgeous. Bull’s blood are my ever faithful go to also, although last year seemed to be kind of crappy for beets here in the Northeast, I know several other farmers here in CT who had the same issue.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Shira. Last year here I swore everything would just swim away much of the time! And when it didn’t rain nonstop it baked things a few times. What a relentless year on many fronts. Glad you like ‘Bull’s Blood,’ too — so gorgeous, besides delicious.

  2. bethalina says:

    oh no!
    I already ordered my seeds…how will I restrain myself with this new list of seed companies? And those are beautiful beets.

  3. leslie land says:

    Hi Margaret

    Thanks for the terrific post! LOVE that digging deep – and the credit to really good people.
    Thanks to an addiction to Fedco, I’ve grown three root grex for a couple of years now. Pretty good – among other things the yellow one seems to be tastier than golden grex, though for all I know it’s really the same thing or as close as don’t matter. I also don’t know if lutz saladleaf is the same as lutz winter keeper (there seems to be a lot of “will the true lutz please stand up” going on in the world of seeds). But I do know that at least so far the grexes don’t hold quality when huge the way lutz winter keeper does; they’re best when peach size or smaller. Hope they do super-well for you (and that Jack keeps the voles at bay; they go for the white ones first but get at them all eventually).

  4. Kerry says:

    Hi Margaret,

    The 3 root grex is a great beet that performed well in our Concord MA garden last year. We enjoy the beets grilled; just wrap in foil, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

  5. Terryk says:

    I am not sure I will do the veggie garden this year, lots of work and with limited time, the rest of the garden suffered. I also think my soil is too heavy for the beets to grow well. Would a large container with a lighter container soil be any good? Also would the tomato Juliet that you have written about do well in a container?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Terryk — and yes, I think you could do in a whiskey barrel (not a regular sized pot); have never tried. The tomato would need a whiskey barrel size pot, too, and a good, big cage or stake or other support.

      Hi, Kerry. Glad to hear it was a winner for you just across the Mass Pike a hop, skip and jump. Hope to see you soon again here.

      PS to Leslie: You know me, I love all the old hippies. These are my heroes, people who have been at it for the good cause for so long.

  6. Sue says:

    The Three Root Grex look almost too pretty to eat. You have mentioned meeting book deadlines. Have I missed it? Will you have another book out this year?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Sue. Handed in the NEXT book, the first draft, a gardening book. (!) It will be published in January of 2013, and I will have lots of info about it starting in a month or so, once we have the OK from the publisher to go ahead and spill the beans, er, book. :) So that will mean one published in 2011 (the dropout memoir) and one in 2013.

  7. Sue says:

    It will be hard to wait a year for another wonderful book from you, but I’m excited to know that it’s on the way! Thanks for filling us in and thanks for being so generous in sharing your gardening expertise with all of us.
    Must get back to the seed catalogs on this cold Iowa day.

  8. Sandy says:

    The 3 root grex beet picture was simply irresistable, as evidenced by my $100.00 order placed at Fedco today after seeing it! Longing for spring……

  9. Dd says:

    Great post! I planted my beets the end of july for fall and they never grew ! very disappointing! I’ll try these this year. btw, love the science!

  10. Mary says:

    Those are the most beautiful beets!! I would love to taste the. I tried to grow beets in my Texas garden last year without success. I may plant a few soon and see what happens.

    You are such an inspiration and great resource. I love your blog.

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Kristina. I trim and wash them, and simply leave the skins on and roast/bake them till softened enough to stick a fork in that feels somewhat tender. I then let cool and peel (some people like to wear gloves or use a plastic bag to protect fingers from juice stain) and slice and put in a vinaigrette to use in salads, or you can eat them warm as well (some people even put butter on them, or mix with fennel seeds or otherwise improvise). But I love them as a salad ingredient, like in this post/photo.

  11. Irena says:

    I am glad to see the chocolate beet cake issue being rectified:).

    Also, it is great to learn about people who are not just about the science, but also about the effects of their findings. My Thank You to all who’s priorities are Respect and Responsibility.

    Now that I have put my two cents, I’m gone seed-shopping…

  12. Emily says:

    Anyone one try using the Three Root Grex for pickled beets? I usually grow the Early Wonder Tall Top for pickled beets, but want to try something new/fun this year. I’m also wondering if the Touchstone Gold might make good pickled beets. I bet they’d be beautiful!

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