Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: The beet goes on
 
 

January/February 2017 California Bountiful magazine

Old-fashioned vegetable enlivens gardens, plates

 
 



 More online: Gardening Q&A, Gardening to-do list and Sprouting Wisdom advice column

With spring just around the corner, it's time to start planning the vegetable garden, and this year I recommend a bed of beets: yellow ones, pink and white ones, dark red ones, even snow-white beets. Think of the gorgeous salads and vegetable dishes you'll create with these vitamin-rich, low-calorie roots. The bonus? The young leaves are great in salads, too.

Beets are really "in" these days—and what's old is new again. One of the most widely grown beet varieties is a pre-1840s Italian heirloom called Chioggia, nicknamed "candy cane beet" for its stunning rings of pink and white. Also gaining popularity is a Danish heirloom called Cylindra. It makes a 6-inch-long, 2-inch-wide root. Cooks love it because it can be cut into uniform, round slices.

It's easiest to grow beets from seed. Some gardeners suggest soaking them in warm water for 24 hours to soften the seed coat so they germinate more quickly.

Beets are a cool-weather crop, so the key is to get the seeds in the ground a few weeks before the last frost. Then plant another crop a week or two later. For much of California, this means you can plant the first seeds in late February, and then plant successive batches every two weeks until June. You can usually squeeze in a fall crop with a late-September planting.

Beets like friable soil—that is, easily crumbled. Go easy on the nitrogen fertilizer (too much will result in tall, spindly plants with tiny roots). They do appreciate some phosphorous in the soil. A bit of bone meal thrown into the planting beds each year should suffice.

Plant seeds about 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart. You can also sprinkle the seeds in an area and thin the excess seedlings for beet greens in spring salads.

Keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged.

It takes 50 to 75 days to harvest, depending on the variety. I prefer harvesting them earlier, when the roots are a bit smaller, because I think they are sweeter and more tender. The larger they get, the tougher they get. Once harvested, you can cut off the tops and store them in the refrigerator up to a week.

Pat Rubin

Popular varieties

Chioggia

With its pink and white rings, this is one of the most beautiful beet varieties. The Chioggia has a sweet, mild flavor, and the color doesn't run or disappear when cooked.

  

Cylindra

This one looks like a red carrot. Take a bite and you will know it is definitely a beet.

  

Albino

As its name suggests, this variety has pure white roots.

  

Golden

The roots are a buttery yellow, although the skin tends more toward orange.

  

Detroit Dark Red

Another old-fashioned beet. This one can grow quite large—up to 3 inches in diameter.


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