Saturday, June 11, 2016

All about beautiful beets

Freshly pulled beet from pot in early summer

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The beet ancestor is chard and is native to the Mediterranean region.  Chard itself has been around for thousands of years.  It is thought that a mutation of spinach resulted thick ribs which were cultivated into what became chard.  Then some chard  grew with thick roots.  These were cultivated to become the beet.  Beets are a biennial and sometimes a perennial.

The beet was grown mainly for its greens until French chefs made the root popular in the 1800's.  Beets came to America with the settlers of the colonies.  Thomas Jefferson even grew them in his garden.

Beets are a natural source of tryptophan, boron, folate, manganese and also contains betaines which may help reduce homocysteine.  Beet nutritional info  There has been research that shows beetroot juice can reduce blood pressure.  Beet juice reduces blood pressure  Beet juice is also used as a red food coloring and sweetener.  Be careful handling red beets as the juice can stain!

Beets can be sown from early spring when the daffodils bloom into June.  Then again in mid-July for a fall harvest.  The beet seed is actually a fruit containing a cluster of seeds.  When you plant, expect to have to thin to 2-4” apart.  You can use the beet thinning in salads or separate and replant elsewhere.  There are 'monogerm" seeds available that have only one seed in the pod.

I like growing beets in pots.  Potting soil is loose which beets really like.  If planting in the ground, loosen the soil prior to planting.  If you want a dedicated plot to beets and carrots, adding sand to the soil provides the perfect growing spot.  A soil rich in organic matter also provides a good growing medium.

I'll ring a potted pepper plant with beet seeds.  The beets will be ready to pull well before the pepper plant starts producing.  Sowing in pots, you can expect to get true leaves within two weeks.  
The secret to great beets is consistency in water and fertilizer.  If growing in a pot, apply a balanced fertilizer weekly.  Letting the soil get too dry will result in a woody beet.
The root and the leaves are both edible.  Beet thinnings and new leaves are tasty in salads.  You can take up to one third of the beet greens without harming the beet.  As the beet ages, the greens get stronger.  If too strong for taste raw, they can be steamed like spinach or chard.
Check the seed packet for days to harvest.  Beets are ready anywhere between 50-80 days depending on the type.  Beets should be pulled when they are 1.5” in diameter up to 3” in diameter.  Before storing, cut the greens from the root, leaving only an inch or two of stalk.  The leaves will wilt well before the beet shrivels.  Beets keep in the frig 2-3 weeks.  Beets can be roasted, grilled or steamed.  

I wasn't too sure if I liked beets or not until I grilled them.  Grilling concentrates the sugars and totally changes the taste.  They are fabulous grilled!  With all my grilled veggies, I just slice, coat with olive oil and grill at about 340 degrees F to stay below the smoke point of olive oil.  Sometimes I leave them plain, other times I add my season salt or dried herb mix.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"  You can also roast in the oven and get a similar flavor.  

Variety of baby beets
There are different types and colors of beets.  There are round beets and beets that resemble carrots.  The oldest round variety that is a deep red will bleed on anything it is cooked with.  Then there are yellow beets, white beets, pink beets.  The round Chioggia beet is an Italian heirloom from Venice.  It is a striking  pink and red with intermittent rings of color and white.  They are quite cool looking when sliced and don't bleed.  The cylindrical beet like Cylindra gives about 4 times the harvest in a pot since it grows up.  The cylindrical types actually grow up out of the soil.  Making it easy to tell when they are ready to be pulled.

Try some this season!

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