Red beets are one of the earliest vegetables and one of the most nutritious crops for the home gardener. Beets, or beetroots, are a root crop and both the underground beet and the top greens can be used.
Both are high in Vitamin A and C, fiber and other minerals, such as potassium, calcium and the leaves contain more iron than spinach.
Although the most common beets are the red varieties, beets can come in a range of colors including white, yellow, orange, and a candy cane striped variety called “Chioggia”. They all taste similar and all provide the same health benefits.
Beets are the sweetest vegetable grown in the home garden. Commercially, more sugar is produced from red beets than sugar cane in the United States.
Beets, while perhaps not the most popular vegetable, can be used in a number of recipes some claim oven baked retain the highest flavor and sweetness.
They can be can canned and pickled, made into chips and are the basis for Russian borscht soup. Raw beets do not freeze well, so young beets should be cooked before they are frozen.
The leaves can be cooked like spinach or other greens or eaten raw in salads. Because the leaf is high in magnesium, about 25 percent, the extras are great additions to the compost pile.
Companion planting is growing plants together which are beneficial to each other. Red beets grow well together with bush bean but not runner or pole varieties.
Other early spring crops to plant near beets are lettuce, onions and kohlrabi. Beets also enjoy being planted close to all of the brassicas family of vegetables and garlic.
Beet seeds, technically a fruit, are somewhat large and easy to work with in the garden or in containers.
Beets are not normally sold as nursery plants. The red beet seed is actually a collection of two or more seeds which will sprout within a week or depending on weather conditions and soil.
Some growers will soak the seeds overnight before planting to encourage more rapid germination.
The soil, with a pH factor between 6.2 and 6.8, should be well drained and loose, or loamy, with compost or other organic matter added into it.
Beets should be planted about inch deep and about an inch or so apart in rows 12 inches to 18 inches apart. After the seeds sprout and begin to grow it is usually necessary to begin thinning.
Beets grow best in cool weather and can survive a light frost. They should be planted where the area gets as much sunlight as possible with adequate moisture.
As the beets develop a layer of organic mulch will help control the moisture in the soil.
For a good supply during the growing season, beets should be planted at two week intervals. Most beet varieties can be harvested in about 55 days.
Beets are relatively pest and disease free although they can be attacked by aphids and flea beetles which can be controlled with organic sprays or companion plantings. Dark spots on the beets can be an indication of a soil deficiency.
When the beets reach two inches in diameter the tender skin can be left on while cooking. There is no need to peel them. However, beets can be harvested anytime later and they will still retain the same flavor and sweetness.
Red beets are colorful additions to the home organic vegetable garden with multiple uses in the garden. They are one of the healthiest vegetables to grow as well as one of the easiest and sweetest.