Beets – Beta Vulgarius
Beets are a biennial that are very hardy.
Beets were first used medicinally. The Romans in the 2nd and 3rd centuries started cooking the roots of beets. Before this the leaves of beets along with chard were used as a potherb.
Beets came to China in the 7th century.
In the 14th century some recipes popped up in England using beets.
The common beet as we know it, red with a round ball root, was talked about in Germany in 1558. The term for it then was the “Roman Beet”. In the 16th century it traveled to northern Europe and France via Italy. (Boswell)
There were only two types of beets listed in the seed catalogs in the 17th and 18th centuries. Until the 1800’s the types were Red and Long Red. Red being a globe variety and long Red being a Long Rooted or Tapered variety.
Let’s not forget the good old USA,. We came on board with beets in 1806 there was one lonely variety listed in seed catalogs. 22 years later there were four kinds listed in the seed catalogs of USA showing how well this vegetable took off. Many varieties are still used today but may have adapted slightly over time. The chiogga beet as we know it, was grown in the United States it was a little flatter then than it is now. It was origannaly called Barbabietola di Bassano and grown in Italy. The bassano beet was also called Candy Stripe for the striping that is on the inside of the beet.
In the 19th century the first sugar factory using beets as a source for sugar was built.
Beets are not only super sweet they are super healthy. This a a winning combination in my book! Beets are high in folate, manganese, potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus. But wait, that is not it there is still more. Beets have unique pigments called betalains, which are red-violet in color. Betaxanthins are yellow in color. These pigments are important because the are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Hold the phone, you thought that I was done with the benefits, well not yet. Beets have lutein and zeaxanthin, two very powerful antioxidant carotenoids. Why are these important to you? This makes beets super for eye and nerve tissue health.
Beets are also packed with phytonutrients that inhibits the activity of cyclooxygenase enzymes, which includes both COX-1 and COX-2. This is huge for people with inflammation and diabetes.
Another benefit of beets are that they are a Phase 2 detox. The beet pigment hooks up with toxins and makes them water soluble and you excrete them in your urine.
Try some beets today and eat your self into a healthy lifestyle.
Beets are well known for handling the cold weather. There is good reason for this, they do not tolerate heat well, so get them in early!
If you get them in the ground 30 days before the first frost they will withstand temperatures that are consistently in the 30‘s. Beets have been growing wild in other countries for a long time. They have been very popular then and are very popular now with people from many different backgrounds. Beets are eaten in cold soups, hot soups, steamed, sautéed pickled, raw, boiled, dehydrated, frozen, canned, roasted and even the tops are eaten. As a matter of fact some people grow beets just for the tops and not for the wonderful roots. Especially now with the salad mixes out in the world. Beets have found there way into most everyones home, and most people don’t even know it! There are the people who have been eating beets for half a century and love their texture an flavor, including the tops. The tops when young are eaten in salads. When older the tops are cooked like spinach or swiss chard.
Then we have the new wave of people who are sprouting the beets as micro greens for all the nutrients. Beets are also very popular in restaurants used as micro greens. Micro greens are very small greens that are usually 10 – 30 days old.
Then we have raw foodists that like to grate, chop, juice and do all sorts of wonderful things to the sweet raw beets.
Beet seeds come in clusters of true seeds.
Recommended soil Ph 6.2 to 6.8, but will grow in 6.0 to 7.5.
Average daytime temperature is 40 to 75 degrees F, with an optimal range of 60-65 F
Minimum Soil temperature 40 F optimum range is 50 – 85 F
Beets prefer sandy loam but will survive in any soil. If you have a soil with a lot of clay content then add a lot of compost to keep the soil friable and keep it from crusting up.
Requires even moisture. Lack of moisture will result in a slow to mature product that may end up being tough and fibrous or woody.
Heavy feeder that also requires boron and potassium.
Companions – Onions, Kohlrabi
Dislikes – Pole Beans
Beets take 55 – 60 days to come to maturity.
Plant in full sun to part shade.
Germination time is 10 to 14 days
Soak seeds for 4 -12 hours for best germination results.
You may ask how many beet you need to plant for yourself. On average a 10 foot row is adequate for the average person. You can adjust that to your needs.
Remove stones and large pieces of debris before planting seeds. Dig garden bed at least 12 inches deep to ensure success of your beets, making it easier for them to grow.
Make sure to add in an all purpose organic fertilizer at the time of planting and again when the beets have reached 3 – 4 inches high.
If soil requires Boron add at the time of planting to prevent black spot.
Space the seeds 3 inches apart and plant them 1/2 inch deep. Use the end of a pencil to make a 1/2 inch hole and drop your beet seed in. Cover lightly with soil. Sprinkle your newly planted seeds lightly with water as to not wash them away. Plant your rows 18 inches apart.
In the fall beets are best planted 30 days before last frost, so they are well established before the freeze. In the spring beets are sown as soon as the soil can be worked, and then every two to three weeks to make sure you have a continuous crop. You must stop once the temperature reach 80 degrees however. In San Marcos Texas our planting dates for beets are as follows Feb 15 – May 30 take a break, then plant again August 15 – October 30.
When the plants come up and are 3 inches tall thin them to three inches apart using a pair of scissors. Use the cuttings for a salad.
Weeding is very important with beets as the roots are very shallow and they become out competed with weeds very quickly. Don’t let the weeds steal all the nutrition and sunlight that was meant to be your dinner! Frequently cultivate shallowly around your beets, being very careful not to damage the beet roots. The easiest way to do this is to use a hoe frequently and shallowly around the beets.
The time between sowing and lifting globe and cylindrical varieties is 11 weeks. Long varieties take a little longer to mature as they put on a lot more mass. Long varieties take
Do not add manure right before you plant beets. You can add aged compost, but do not add fresh manure as it will burn the plants and create branching. You never want to add manure that has not been composted for more than 4 months or you run the risk of getting E. Coli.
Beets are a very fun vegetable to grow and the tops are very nutritious. You can eat them in salad or cook them as you would swiss chard or spinach. The bottoms come in a wide variety of shapes and colors from red, white, striped and yellow.
The typical round variety such as Detroit Dark that you are familiar is called a Globe variety, also called a ball or round variety. Bulls Blood has the darkest red greens available.
Cylindrical Varieties are also called Tankard or Intermediate varieties. The advantage of this variety is that they slice the same from bottom to top. I like Cylindra and have grown it here with much success.
Long Varieties are also called Long-rooted or Tapered varieties. These take deep soil that drains well.
Insects and Disease
Springtails – Springtails are usually found in compost and in areas rich in compost. They usually do not bother gardens. If they do bother your beets the damage will be to the seedlings and will cause a puckering much like aphids only there will be no aphids around. They may also much on the exposed flesh of the beet root.
Leaf Miner – The major economic loss of the leaf miner is from the leaves. The delicious beet leaves that are so prized will have tunnels through them. Insecticides should be applied every 10 days.
Alternaria Leaf Spot
Damping-Off – This is a very serious fungus that attacks young beets. Fungi attacks the young seedlings at the soil level, causing the seedling to fall over. Make sure that the soil dries out in between watering. Wait until the soil warms up to at least 40 F . And the outside temperatures are 40 F. Rotate crops.
Cercospora leaf spot – a fungus that exhibits brownish or gray spots with reddish purple borders, The fungus is spread by splashing water and overwinters in diseased crop residue, insects, is wind borne, transferred by contaminated tools and seed. Use appropriate treatments, disinfect tools and hands after being in garden. Rotate crops.
Scab – a bacteria that is well known for causing potato scab. This bacteria causes dry spots on the beets. Make sure that you do not plant beets where you have planted potatoes for this reason. Dry conditions increase the likelihood of scab as do a high Ph.
Black Spot – Black spots in the flesh of the beets that are caused by a boron deficiency coupled with a lack of water. Apply boron at the time of planting, being careful not to apply too much as it is toxic to other plants in large amounts. the amount of boron to use is .25 to .50 lb. an acre to be mixed in with fertilizer at the time of planting.
Curly Top – this disease is spread by leaf hoppers, and effects young plants. The leaves of plants pucker and roll inward. They are also characterized by blister like thickenings, and veins that appear clear and swell and then wilt and the plant dies.
Beets are a biennial. Beets are wind pollinated. You need to separate them from each other and chard by 1/4 mile or by buildings and or wood lots. They will not flower the first season. You will need to bring them in over the winter or you may have success covering them well if we have a mild winter. store them indoors in peat over the winter and replant them to the same level in the spring. The flower stalks will reach up to 5 feet tall. When the seeds are completely dry you will be ready to thresh with a 1/4 inch screen. Beet seeds remain viable for 4 to 6 years if kept cool and dry.
Harvesting and Storage
Beets should be harvested when the roots are as early as 1 1/2 inches in diameter to full maturity at 3 inches in diameter. If you harvest them after they have reached 3 inches in diameter they will be fibrous and woody.
Harvest your beets on a dry day. Loosen the soil with a digging fork being careful not to disturb the etc. Pull beets from the ground and cut the greens off at the crown leaving 1 inch of stem at the top so they do not bleed. Make sure you do not cut off the tap root as this will cause the beet to bleed. Do not wash the beets, lightly brush off the dirt, being careful not to disturb the skin. Put the beets in a plastic bag that has holes punched in it (this way the beets will not mold). You will be surprised at how many months they will last in the fridge!
The tops should be eaten as soon as they are picked, or soon after. They will only last a few days in the fridge so put them in a plastic bag. If you think that they will go to waste because you have harvested too man beets you can always blanch them and freeze them or dehydrate them.
Recipes and Cooking Instructions
Rinse beets under cold running water being careful not to tear the skin or you will loose all of the beautiful color.
Do not salt your beets until after you are done cooking them or the color will be dull.
Lemon Juice or Vinegar added to your beets will make your beets brighter.
Baking soda will make your beets turn a deeper purple.
After cooking beets rubs off the skins.
Grate beets and add to salads.
To maximize beets health benefits eat raw, steam them for only 15 minutes or roast them for no longer than an hour.
Beet greens are great sautéed with a little olive oil, sea salt, onions and garlic.
Boswell, Victor R. . “First Beets Yielded Only Greens.” Vegetable Travelers. (1949): n. page. Web. 9 Nov. 2011. <http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/vegetabletravelers/beets.html>.