Cooking beet | Growing beetroot | Site and Soil | Varieties | Sowing | Thinning | Watering | Picking | Pests and Diseases
Commonly called beet root, red beet is related to sugar beet, mangolds, swiss chard and perpetual spinach. All of these vegetables have been derived by selection from the same basic wild species, Beta vulgaris. In its various guises, it produces more root or more top, more or less colour in the roots and stems, and has been selected for these characteristics.
Red beet has been long selected for human consumption as a boiled fresh vegetable or pickled. There are two main forms of red beet, one kind with rounded roots, known as globe beet and the other are the long-rooted types, which are now not much grown. The wild beet is native to Ireland and the shores of Europe and it is so much a seaside plant that even still, beetroot is known to benefit from a light shake of common salt over the ground, something that most garden plants do not tolerate well.
Beet has been grown since Roman times and probably long before. It is grown all over the world in both its root form and its leaf forms. Red beet too has been grown since Roman times. There are some yellow and white forms of this beet but mostly the red kind is grown.
Beetroot has a high content of folic acid and it contains some fibre, B vitamins, vitamin C and a small amount of iron. Beetroot also contains some valuable antioxidants agaisnt the free radical that cause cancer. Beetroot can be boiled, steamed or baked beetroot served with sour cream. The roots can be used raw, grated or finely sliced into a salad. The leaves can be prepared like spinach, either boiled, steamed, microwaved or stir-fried. The skin is easily removed when cooked and cooled.
Site and soil
Beetroot likes an open sunny position in light, fertile soil. It is usually grown in ground that has not recently had organic matter recently added because this can make the roots coarse and earthy in flavour. But it is easily accommodated.
The standard variety has long been ‘Boltardy', a reliable variety that is not prone to ‘bolting', or going to seed. Some seed companies offer ‘Burpee's Golden' and ‘Chioggia Pink', both said to have good flavour. ‘Red Ace' is a new hybrid variety.
Beetroot needs high soil temperatures for good germination and often fails if the ground is too cold and wet. It is not sown until April or May in good weather. Too early sowing leads to bolting. Repeat sowing can be carried out into July for an autumn and winter supply.
Beetroot is sown thinly in rows about thirty centimetres apart an the plants are thinned out in two stages, first to about five centimetres apart and then to ten centimetres apart. But the seedlings can be left crowded to produce a larger number of small beets if preferred.
During dry spells of more than a few days, watering reduces the danger of bolting.
The little beets can be used as soon as they are big enough, even ping-pong ball size. Later the larger beets can be stored in a cool shed.
Pests and diseases
Mangold fly might cause leaf-miner damage to leaves and snails can cause damage. Leaf spot disease may occur though rarely. Generally it is an easy, trouble-free crop.