Natural Perspectives: A blue-ribbon beet and radiant radishes

Vic and I had a great week of agricultural and biological adventures with relatives and friends. Last Tuesday, I took my last large beet to the Orange County Fair to enter in the giant beet contest. Mighty Max wasn't the biggest beet that I've ever grown, but at five pounds, it was respectable.

I also entered three radishes that our granddaughter Megan had grown. She had planted the radish seeds as a preschool project.

Megan was the only child in her class who still had radishes surviving at the end of two weeks. I transplanted them for her into a large pot with potting soil, and she took care of them after that. Every morning on her way to preschool, she stopped by the pot to talk to them. After about two months, they were ready to harvest.

Her mother thought that Megan would want to eat them, but no. Megan wanted to enter her radishes in the Orange County Fair to win a ribbon. She had seen me win ribbons last year, and she wanted to do the same thing.

I hurried back from the fair because we were expecting a houseguest. Katie Hertzog, 18-year-old daughter of Vic's college buddy Paul Hertzog and his British-born wife Sue, is going away to college at Sonoma State next week to major in environmental science. Katie, who is like a niece to us, came to stay with us for a few days for a crash course in practical environmental biology.

First, Vic took Katie to the Bolsa Chica Conservancy, where she watched the snakes being fed dead baby mice. She correctly assessed that one snake was getting ready to shed its skin, which was why its eyes were clouded over. It turned out that Katie already knew a great deal about wildlife and environmental issues. It was clear that she'd had a good high school education.

I took Katie to my community garden plot, where she watered and planted beans for me. Katie also fed our chickens, gathered eggs and helped release an opossum that we live-trapped in our back yard. She was not only well educated, she was a big help.

One day, we went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido. After seeing elephants, tigers, giraffes, rhinos and a lot of birds, we drove the short distance to our son Scott's house. Katie hadn't seen the twins since they were toddlers, and had never seen Megan and baby Mike. She was eager to meet them. We went to swim class with the three little girls and then out to eat at a sushi bar.

You would think that was enough activity for one day, but no. Mark Singer had set up his new black light and a white sheet in his yard back in Huntington Beach and invited us to come "mothing." Spell check wants to change that to "nothing," but mothing is a verb that means to attract and photograph moths and other night insects. Katie observed that mothing is a pretty strange hobby. She correctly noted that it was mostly sitting in the dark, talking and drinking wine. I love mothing.

The next day, Vic took Katie to Huntington Beach City Hall to meet Scott Hess, the director of planning. Hess was kind enough to talk to her about city planning as it relates to environmental science.

That night, we went to Irvine Regional Park to go owling with Mark. Owling is a bit more active than mothing. We walk the roads of the park in the dark, looking for owls and occasionally playing recordings of various owl sounds.

We got no response to the barn owl or screech owl calls, but got a big response to the great horned owl call. We spotted first one, then another juvenile great horned owl. The youngsters screech rather than hoot, and it was the first time I had heard that call.

Mark, Katie and Vic walked down the road and saw two more juvenile great horned owls. I got distracted by the rising full moon and took a series of photographs, wishing that I had thought to bring a tripod.

We talked to Katie about the very real hazard of mountain lions, and what to do in case we spotted one. We don't run! We yell, wave our hands, stamp our feet and try to look as large as possible. About that time, coyotes started howling from the nearby brush. That pretty much finished owling for Katie. She headed quickly for the safety of the car.

On her last day with us, we went to the Orange County Fair, where we had arranged to meet our son and his family. Megan wanted to see how her radishes had fared in the competition. I think she was disappointed to see how badly her radishes had wilted. However, she won a blue ribbon, which made her happy.

And much to my surprise, Mighty Max, my giant beet, took first place in the giant beet competition! My beet won out over four other entries. I think I was more excited by my blue ribbon than Megan was about hers. She had expected to win. I hadn't.

We had one more big adventure with Katie that involved chickens, but I'm saving that story for next week. After Katie left, I fell asleep on the couch and slept for 16 hours straight. I dreamed about blue ribbons at next year's fair.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

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