Beets are often an overlooked, unappreciated vegetable. Yet, they are a nutritious and versatile vegetable. All parts of the beet plant are edible. The tops or greens are can be cooked and enjoyed like spinach or turnip greens. But it is the root that we prefer. While the bulbous roots are most often dark red, they can also be yellow, white, and striped like a candy cane. Don't let the color fool you -the white ones are as sweet and tasty as the red ones! Root shape can vary as well. They can be round, flat, or cylindrical.
Beets perform best in loose, well-drained soils in sunny locations. Heavy clay and/or poorly drained soils should be amended with large quantities of compost, well-rotted manure, or other forms of organic matter.
Gardeners can begin sowing beet seeds in early April. Successive sowings every 2-3 weeks ensure a continued harvest into fall. The last practical planting date for a fall crop is early August. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep. Rows should be spaced 1 to 1 1/2 feet apart.
Poor germination is a common problem with beets. This typically happens in dry soils where an impenetrable crust has formed on the soil surface. A light layer of mulch, applied after sowing, will prevent washing during rainy periods and prevent crusting of the soil during dry periods. Periodic watering during dry periods should also promote germination.
Overcrowded seedlings are another common problem when growing beets. Seedlings should be thinned to 3 to 4 inches apart to ensure good root development. Each "seed" that is sown is actually a fruit that contains several seeds. So, even if you sow the "seeds" properly, you may still have to thin the seedlings. When thinning, remove the smaller, weaker seedlings and leave the more vigorous ones. Remember, you can use the thinned plants as greens.
Weeding and weekly watering during dry weather are the only necessary maintenance chores after the beets have been thinned. Little or no fertilizer is needed in fertile soils.
Beets can be used fresh, frozen, canned or pickled. They also can be stored for 3 to 4 months in a cool (32˚F to 35˚F), humid location.
Below is a list of several popular cultivars or types of beets available. Seed can be purchased at your local garden center or through mail-order catalogs. And remember, for nutrition and versatility - very few vegetables can beat the beet!
|Large roots stay tender
|Heirloom; burgundy/red tops; best harvested young
|Burpee's Golden (Golden Globe)
|Heirloom; often germinates poorly
|Uniform size slices; bestharvested young
|Detroit Dark Red
|Best when small
|Lutz Green Leaf
|Good winter storage
|High sugar content
|Popular for canning; AAS winner
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