In addition to naming an annual and a perennial as their Year of plants, the National Garden Bureau also chooses a vegetable to highlight. This year, the beet has been given the honor. Hear ye’, hear ye’! 2018 is the Year of the Beet.
Beets are grown by most for their roots. They are cool-season vegetables that tolerate frosty nights, perfect for growing in spring and fall. Beets are the most colorful and flavorful when they are grown in cool weather and full sun. They will, however, grow quite satisfactorily in part shade.
Planting Beets from Seeds
In spring, wait until the soil has dried enough to work. Some years, seeds can be sown in March. Other uncooperative years, like this one, planting may be delayed until April.
Before planting seeds directly in the garden, prepare the soil by amending with lots of organic matter. Root crops, like beets, need light, well-drained soil. It’s difficult for their roots to grow properly in clumps of heavy clay.
Plant seeds ½ to an inch deep and about an inch apart. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate. To speed up germination, soak the seeds in water overnight before planting. Thin seedlings as they emerge so plants end up growing 3 to 4 inches apart. Cut them instead of pulling to avoid damaging the roots of their neighbors, and don’t throw them in the compost bin. Instead, toss them into your salad at dinnertime.
For a continual supply of beets, plant some seeds every 2 to 3 weeks until the temperatures are consistently above 75°.
Planting Beets from Transplants
Impatient gardeners can find beets started as transplants at their local garden centers. Be sure the soil is prepared as it is for seed sowing and space plants 3 to 4 inches apart. After planting, water plants thoroughly.
Growing Beets in Containers
Grow beets along with other annuals or by themselves in containers. Make sure the pot is at least 6 inches deep so beets have room to develop. Fill the pot with potting mix – don’t use garden soil. Start them from seeds in a container by themselves or plant transplants with pansies or other cool-season annuals.
Caring for Beets as They Grow
Keep plants well-watered as they grow. Give plants at least an inch of water each week unless Mother Nature provides it for you. Mulch to help the soil maintain moisture and pull weeds to eliminate competition for water and nutrients. Beets growing in containers will have to be watered more often.
Most varieties of beets mature between 50 and 70 days from the time seeds are planted, although they can be harvested at any time. Beets with roots up 2 inches in diameter are the most tender. The larger they grow, the tougher they are. They are very easy to harvest – just pull! Leave an inch or so of the stems attached to reduce ‘bleeding’ when they are cooked.
Cooking with Beets
Beets are nutrition powerhouses. Along with plenty of vitamins A and C, lots of fiber and iron, they are also chockful of antioxidants, folic acid and potassium.
Beets can be roasted, steamed or boiled. You can preserve them by canning, freezing or pickling them.
I don’t care how you cook them or how you preserve them, truth be told, I hate beets! I don’t even like the smell of them cooking. But I can still take advantage of their nutritional benefits by eating their greens. Most varieties offer greens that are delicious in salads.
The youngest leaves are the best for using in salads. Larger leaves can be sautéed or lightly roasted in the oven.
Varieties of Beets
Bull’s Blood produces tasty beets, and the foliage is spectacular. Deep reddish-purple leaves are beautiful growing in containers. Young leaves are very sweet.
Burpee Golden beets are pretty yellow-orange with a sweet and mild flavor. The leaves are sweet, too.
Chiogga is an Italian heirloom beet – light red on the outside; rings of red and white inside. It is very tender with a sweet, mild flavor.
Detroit Dark Red is a garden classic. An heirloom variety from 1892, it grows uniformly, great for cooking and preserving, and its leaves are tasty, too.
Early Wonder Tall Top is an heirloom from the early 1800’s. Some say this is the best beet for eating the greens.
Formanova produces long, cylindrical roots that grow a lot like carrots. An heirloom from Denmark, it is tender and sweet.
Fresh Start is grown only for its sweet and crunchy leaves. It does not form beets.
Lutz Green Leaf is a beet chosen for its tasty leaves, but it also has sweet and tender beets.
Ruby Queen beets are one of the most tender varieties. It was named an All-American Selection in 1957.
Have you planted your beets yet? It looks like the weather this weekend might finally turn more spring-like, so get out there and garden with me!