Beets just can’t be beat

The table beet (also known as garden beet, blood turnip or red beet) is a popular garden vegetable. Beet tops are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of vitamin C. The tops can be cooked or served fresh as greens and the roots may be pickled for salads or cooked whole, then sliced or diced.

Beets are fairly frost hardy and can be planted in the garden thirty days before the frost-free date for your area. Although beets grow well during warm weather, the seedlings are established more easily under cool, moist conditions. If you would like successive planting, plant new areas three to four weeks apart until midsummer, for a continuous supply of fresh, tender, young beets. Make sure adequate moisture is attained once the hot weather arrives, to assure germination and establishment of the later plantings.

Plant seeds about two centimeters deep and three to four centimetres apart. Allow twenty to thirty centimetres between rows. Evidence of poor germination is often the result of planting too deeply or the soil crusting after a heavy rain.

Seed catalogs are out, and gardeners are busy dreaming of what crops they can grow in spring. The Gardening Guru has a little advice – think beets. There are plenty of varieties that grow well in our region. – Times file photo

Hand thinning is almost always necessary. The seedlings should be thinned to three to eight centimetres apart. The small thinned plants are totally edible raw or lightly sautéed. Because beets have extremely shallow roots, frequent hand plucking of weeds is important because beets compete poorly with weeds. Keep your beet plants uniformly supplied with moisture for best performance.

Beets can be harvested whenever they grow to the desired size. About 60 days are required for beets to reach 4 centimetres in diameter, the size often used for cooking, pickling or canning as whole beets. Beets enlarge rapidly with adequate moisture and space. And with many varieties, they become tough and fibrous so make sure not to leave them in the garden too long and enjoy them when they are at their peak.

Traditional Garden Beets (open pollinated)

Detroit Dark Red – 58 days; tender, round, dark red roots.

Early Wonder – 52 days; flattened globe shape; dark red, sweet and tender.

Lutz Green Leaf – 70 days; an heirloom winter-keeper type; purplish red exterior, deep red interior; large, glossy green tops, excellent for greens; roots stay tender even when large; stores extremely well.

Ruby Queen – 60 days; excellent quality; early; round, tender, sweet, fine-grained, attractive, uniform roots.

Sangria – 56 days; ideal globe shape, even in crowded rows; deep red; good greens when young.

Crosby’s Egyptian – 56 days to harvest; uniform, sweet, dark red roots; semi-globe to heart shaped; glossy, bright green tops, excellent for greens.

Specialty Beet Hybrids

Cylindra – 60 days; long, cylindrical; all slices of equal diameter.

Golden – 55 days; buttery color, sweet mild flavour. Gardening Guru Tip: these are awesome in flavour and are a great golden colour that does not stain like the red varieties. I plant these, every year.

Green Top Bunching – 65 days; round, raw interior banded red and white; sweet, mellow flavour; tops superior for greens. Gardening Guru Tip: highly recommended if you like beet greens. The greens are exceptional and the roots are just a bonus later in the season. I plant these, every year.

Little Ball – 50 days; very uniform, small size; good shape; very tender; grows quickly to form smooth roots. These are a great variety if you prefer greens with little beets attached.

Little Mini Ball – 54 days; roots the size of a silver dollar at maturity; round; canned whole; short tops good for greens. These are a great variety if you prefer greens with little beets attached.

I hope after reading this column that you are encouraged to try growing beets in your vegetable garden. You don’t have to grow beets for the intention of making beet pickles. I started growing beets for eating just the greens but soon realized that I really like the beets part as well, especially when small and very tender. Give beets a try because I think you will be pleasantly pleased by the versatility a crop of beets will provide you.