A Little History – Don’t Beet Me Down
Somewhere during the Medieval period – between 400 A.D. and 1500 A.D. – beets were being employed to cure a number of digestive and blood ailments.
These red taproots – also called beetroot – were also believed to be able to cancel out garlic breath. So, they were added to a variety of garlic-y dishes.
In the mid 1800’s, beet juice was the coloring of choice for wine – to give it a very distinctive, dark red appearance.
Being “Up-beet” About Beets’ Nutritional Value
Mostly water – 87.5% – with a smattering of carbohydrates – 9.5% – beets are full of countless other nutrients including: a host of B vitamins, protein, Vitamin C, and a ton of minerals.
From providing increased endurance – to reducing both blood pressure and heart disease – beets are a healthy addition to any diet.
An “Off-beet” Tip
If you eat red beets and see something red in the commode when you go to the bathroom – stay calm – it isn’t blood, it is beet juice. Betanin, the red color component of beets, can’t be broken down by your body’s digestive system and is passed as waste.
Oddly enough, betanin is also used to commercially improve the flavor and color of many desserts, candies, cereals, jellies, ice cream – and even tomato paste and sauces.
I Don’t Want To “Beet” A Dead Horse – But…
Did you know that there is a difference between “beets”, known also as beetroot, and “sugar beets?”
Beetroot, the vegetable, is eaten like any other vegetable. They are either red or golden yellow colored.
Sugar beets are grown to make beet sugar. They are white – and larger than the beetroot veggie. They kinda taste like a sugar-coated potato.
Eating This Veggie Can’t Be “Beet”
Eaten raw in a salad, along with other ingredients, is a great way to get all the nutritional benefits of beets. You see them offered in most restaurants that have salad bars for you to make a salad the way you want it.
Pickled beets are very common in North America. Eggs are often pickled along with them – giving the eggs a beautiful dark red color and adding a uniquely “beet-y” flavor. Adding eggs is a twist added by the Pennsylvania Dutch.
Many Europeans love borscht – which is actually just beet soup.
In India, a side dish of spiced beet is an everyday thing. I regular see it offered at Indian buffet restaurants.
Did you know that beet leaves can be eaten? Raw baby leaves can be directly added to salads. Mature leaves are mostly boiled or steamed – and they have a taste and feel just like cooked spinach.
I like to boil beets and add a generous coating of garlic butter. Can’t “beet” that with a stick!
Ever heard of an Australian hamburger? A nice, thick slice of beetroot is oftentimes added to an all-beef patty, along with a number of other flavorful additives. Bite into one of these burgers – and, your heart will skip a “beet.”
How about this? Make yourself a beet burger. Throw some cooked quinoa, a couple of eggs, black beans, and beets into a food processor – add a few flavor enhancers – maybe garlic salt or rosemary – whatever you like. Shape the blend into bun-sized patties and bake them in a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes or so. Now you can savor a great fleshy looking and tangy veggie burger! I like mine a bit spicier so, I hit it with a few drops of Tabasco sauce.
Ever make your own potato chips? Try making beet chips. Sprinkle with a bit of olive oil – salt to taste – and put them in the same oven to cook alongside your veggie burgers. The same method can be used to make beet French fries!
Drum-beet Please – ‘Cause Here Come My Growin’ Favorites
Leading the pack is:
Early Wonder – Hard to “beet”, the sweetness is not only in the taproot but also in the leaves. So, eat the whole darn thing! These red beets can be frozen – and, once thawed, you will find that they have held their flavor well. Matures in 55 to 60 days. Early Wonder seeds are available loose – and also on a seed tape – spaced about 2 inches apart. Just lay the seed tape in the furrow and cover with dirt – a no-brainer.
Coming in a close second are:
Detroit Dark Red Medium Top – These sweet, fleshy, dark red orbs are un-beet-able! Pick them when they are immature for the sweetest possible taste – this will also speed up the growth of the other beet plants. They’ll be ready for you in 59 days – from seed to serving on the plate!
Merlin – I’ve been asked, “What is the sweetest beet I’ve ever grown?” My answer? This one! For a red beet, in the vegetable category, Merlin has the highest sugar content. Great in salads – or as a side dish for meat and fish – this variety is also very resistant to leaf spot fungus. They also have the shortest growth cycle – ready for you in 48 days.
Golden – A sweet beet with a somewhat milder flavor, this golden yellow sphere is not only gorgeous it won’t leave a telltale stain on your hands during preparation – like the red beets will. In just 55 days, you can find that out for yourself.
Beet-ing The Bushes
Growing beets are as simple and uncomplicated as falling off a log.
You know the basic drill: full sun for at least 6 to 8 hours a day and soil that drains well.
More specifically, beets aren’t too happy about acidic soils – so, make sure your soil pH is somewhere between 6.0 and 7.0 – to make them happy. They also do better when temperatures don’t reach the scorching summer heat and high humidity of the South. If this is a possibility, you may want to plant them in an area that gets partial shade.
I prefer running my seeds through the germination, transplanting, and hardening off steps prior to lining them up in a garden row. If you follow this process, start about 6 weeks before planting the seedlings in your backyard plot. Germination will take a couple of weeks – followed by transplanting which adds another 2 weeks under the grow lights. And, finally a 2 week hardening off regimen.
- Till the soil.
- Make a nice, straight row furrow 2 inches deep.
- Line the bottom of the furrow with a one inch layer of Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture.
- Place seeds an inch apart in each row – and cover them with a half inch of Jim’s soil mixture. The Early Wonder seed tape spaces the seeds about 2 inches apart – so, just lay the tape down in the furrow and cover with Jim’s soil concoction.
- Or – dig a hole twice the size of the root ball to place plants 3 inches apart – adding some soil mix to cover the plant base.
- Keep the beet rows a foot apart.
- If you planted seeds – wait until the seedlings are a couple inches tall and thin them to 3 inches apart.
- If you planted Early Wonder using the seed tape – eyeball the seedlings to ensure they are thinned to roughly the 3 inch mark – but, don’t get crazy pulling out any healthy looking seedling plants just because you think the spacing is critical – 3 inches is just a “rule of thumb.”
- Water thoroughly – and ensure that your beets get at least an inch of water a week. TIP: Simple rain gauges can help determine if your plants need a drink.
- Soaker hoses are the best bet to keep plants from getting thirsty and to combat diseases that can occur with overhead watering.
- Be sure to add mulch around the plants and the rows to help retain moisture and reduce weed growth.
Nothing “Beets” Harvesting
Start picking leaves when they get about 4 inches long. At this time, the beet taproots will be a little less than 2 inches wide.
At the same time you start picking some leaves, you can also pull a few taproots. These are baby beets and they are a little sweeter now – than they will be after they’ve matured.
If you want mature beets, let them get about 3 inches in diameter before pulling them up.
TIP: Peeled beets will bleed a lot when cooked. If don’t want them to bleed, cook them BEFORE you peel them and trim off the smaller root shoots. Besides, after cooking and cooling, their skins will slip off easily just using your fingers.
Caution – They Will Get “Beet” Up
Yes, many common everyday plant destroyers are also ready and waiting to assault beet plants, too.
Pests like the beet webworm, the vegetable weevil, and those tiny little aphids can decimate a healthy beet plant in a New York minute! Nail them with a healthy helping of Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer. It will drive them away and your plants will thank you!
Several of the most common diseases for lettuce, spinach, kale, potatoes will also attack beet plants. By name, those would be downy mildew, powdery mildew, and fusarium. Hit them with a top-notch fungicide like Daconil or Physan 20 to keep them at bay.
TIP: If critters or diseases get the best of a beet plant – and the plant can’t be rejuvenated – pull the entire plant up by the roots before it infects its neighbors, bag the dying plant, and pass it along to your weekly trash pickup professional. Do not introduce it to your compost pile or your own yard waste area. If you do, you will be sorry for it next year – I guarantee it! Mistakes like these have a tendency to come back and haunt you – even when it’s not Halloween!
A Tribute With A Down-“Beet”
Here’s a little song – I think it’s called, “Beet” Me Daddy – Eight To The Bar.
By the Andrews Sisters…
Well, maybe it was actually “Beat” Me Daddy…
Enough of the “Beet” puns – whatcha think about growing some beets? Makes me wanna go right out and get started.
I’d love some comments and emails. So, don’t forget!