Poor beets, the lone, overlooked and even avoided addition to many salad bars. But the canned beets most of us are familiar with are a poor representation of the variety and flavor you can coax out of a fresh root or green.
Don’t knock them until you try them. Beets can be succulent, juicy and flavorful when prepared correctly, and they’re an easy and fun plant to grow whether you’re a seasoned gardener or new to the soil.
Fall is a great time to get your beets in the ground for a late season harvest, and in just a few months, you can sow them again in the early spring. Here’s all you need to know about this cold-hardy vegetable.
Types of Beets
1. Red Beets
Varieties: Detroit Dark Red, Crapaudine, Crosby Egyptian
These are the beets that you are most familiar with as they are the variety used for the canned beets you buy. But you’re doing yourself a disservice eating them this way. Bring out the full flavor of these beets by roasting fresh roots.
2. Golden Beets
Varieties: Burpee’s Golden, Golden, Golden Detroit
Golden Beets are mild in flavor, which makes them a good intro variety to beets. Bring out their sweetness by roasting them.
3. Striped Beets
Varieties: Chioggia/Bassano, Candy Stripe/Bull’s Eye
This heirloom variety of beets looks like a candy cane.
4. Cylindra Beets
Don’t be fooled, these beets only look like a carrot. They have a soft and tasty texture when cooked.
5. Mangel-Wurzel Beets (Mangold Beets)
Mangel-Wurzel beets look like a top or turnip, but they’re still beets. The Mammoth Red Mangel can reach 20 lbs, but often it’s picked immature when it’s smaller, sweeter and more manageable.
6. Sugar Beets
Off-white and conical, sugar beets can look like a turnip. While the root is usually harvested to make sugar, you can harvest the greens and use them like spinach or Swiss chard. And since the greens grow back, you can get a few harvests in before it’s time to pull the root.
How to Grow Beets
As stated before, beets are pretty easy to grow. They are grown as instructed below from seed in full soil conditions and grow best in 6+ hours of sunlight.
1. Directly sow them into the ground since they don’t transplant well. And sow them into soil that’s at least 50°F. They are a frost tolerant crop, but be sure to sow them at this optimal temperature.
2. Soak your seeds in warm water for 24 hours prior to sowing to help with germination.
3. Turn the soil to loosen it and remove obstructions.
4. Sow half inch deep and 1-2 inches apart.
5. Let them germinate for 14-21 days, keeping them well hydrated.
6. Thin the plants when there is good top growth. You’ll want to create about 4 inches between the plants. Use the greens from harvested plants in salads and compost any leftovers.
7. Plant successively every 2-3 weeks.
8. Keep the beets fed with organic fertilizer since you’ll be consuming them. Phosphorous is the most important mineral to feed them.
9. If your garden is prone to pests, or just to protect your crop, cover the beets with a floating row cover.
10. You can harvest your crop in about 45-60 days, but the greens can be harvested at any time. They’ll continue to grow back as the root grows. In fact, the greens are more nutritious than the root!
11. You’ll know when it’s time to harvest when the shoulders of the root protrude from the soil. Don’t let the greens exceed 6 inches before harvesting. To remove the root, wiggle it out of the soil with a spade or fork.
Now that you’ve grown your own crop of beets, enjoy the fruits of your labor! Roasted, fried, picked or juiced, you’ll be surprised you hadn’t tried fresh beets before.
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