Beets are a sweet vegetable so if you have a sweet tooth this might be your number one choice of a vegetable. It is so sweet that some varieties are grown to produce commercial sugar (yes, that’s what a “sugar beet” is.) Even more interesting is the fact that Swiss chard is also a beet but a variety that has been bred for its foliage.

Beet roots are very nutritional and are particularly high in folate, a substance that has been found to prevent neural-tube birth defects and aid in the fight against heart disease and anemia. They are also a good source of vitamin C and are hig,in fiber so help to keep things running smoothly in your intestinal tract and aid in reducing cholesterol levels. The leafy tops are a good source of vitamin A and can be used cooked or as greens in salad.

Beet roots are delicious cooked in various ways but roasting, which concentrates the sugar, brings out their sweetness. Beet roots are an important ingredient in borscht, eaten cold in summer and hot in winter. Beets can also be frozen, pickled, or canned.

Here are nine steps to growing unbeatable beets:

1. Beets are fairly frost hearty so plan to plant your beets in spring as soon as the soil can be worked, or about 30 days before the last frost and then again in late summer for a fall crop.

2. If you soil is sandy, lucky you, proceed to the next step. If you have a heavy soil, dig a shallow trench, almost fill it with organic matter (leaves or compost), and sprinkle soil on top.

3. Soak beet seeds overnight to shorten germination time.

4. Sow seed thickly (the germination rate in not high), and cover with ¼” sand, vermiculite, or finely pulverized compost. Beet seeds are slow to sprout so don’t get discouraged.

5. When the seedlings emerge thin them so that they stand 1-3” apart. Each beet “seed’ is not actually a seed, but a fruit containing many seeds and each fruit will put out zero to several sprouts. Crowded beets will not develop into good beets so be tough and firm, pull out the seedlings, and eat the greens.

6. Apply a fertilizer high in potassium along the row of beets every 3-4 weeks, scratching in the fertilizer and watering thoroughly after you finish,. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers and use a 10-10-10 or equivalent if you can’t get one with high potassium. Take care not to disturb the root system of the beets; they have shallow roots and are easily disturbed.

7. Keep the beets free of weeds being careful not to disturb the beet roots.

8. Water the seeds and sprouts well especially during times of drought. The key to success with beets is quick growth and that can be achieved by keeping the soil moist.

9. Begin to harvest the beets when they are about 1” in diameter letting the remaining beets grow to 2-3”. Very large beets tend to be woody.

Beets can also be started indoors and transplanted but this is not usually necessary because of the early planting date. Beets can also be grown in containers; use 12″ deep containers and thin the seedlings to 3′ apart.

Beets vary in several ways including: shape of root, sweetness, tenderness, quality of greens, storage potential, and days to maturation. Here are some good cultivars.

    ‘Ruby Queen’ (round, tender, sweet, fine-grained, 60 days to maturity)
    ‘Early wonder’ (flattened globe shape, sweet, tender, greens good, 5 days to maturity)
    ‘Detroit Dark Red’ (round, good keeper, 58 days to maturity)
    ‘Green Top Bunching´ ( round, bright red roots, good internal color in cool weather; tops superior for greens, 65 days to maturity).

Beets take about two months to develop good sized roots ready for the table so for a continual supply of beets, sow seeds once a month after the initial planting. Stop about a month before hot weather settles in as beets don’t like heat. Pests and diseases don’t usually bother beets so no spraying or dusting is needed.

Vegetable Gardening pointer

By Karen