Chioggia’ is a beautifully coloured old Italian heirloom beetroot, unique in that it has purple and white concentric rings. It also contains the highest content of geosmin, an organic compound that gives beets their earthy taste and aroma. ‘Chioggia’ is named after the northern coastal Italian town of Chioggia where it was first cultivated in the early 1800’s. ‘Chioggia’ is grown exclusively as a table beet, the alternating white and purple coloured rings making the young roots a beautiful slicing beet for eating raw in salads. You can also sow extra seed and use the baby greens that are thinned out for salads. While ‘Chioggia’ is excellent if slightly steamed, roasting brings out the most flavour. ‘Chioggia’ does not bleed like other beets, but when cooked whole the colours tend to blend, the rings disappearing.
How to grow
Beetroot is a valuable home garden vegetable that is semi-hardy and biennial. It can be grown year-round for its sweet, tender, succulent roots, which contain more sugar than any other vegetable. Beets of different colours, sizes and shapes are grown: red, yellow, white, multicoloured, round, long, cylindrical, as well as the huge sugar and mangel beets. The beetroot we know today originated in the Middle Ages, from a plant called sea beet (Beta vulgaris var. maritima) that grew on the dunes along the Caspian Sea. Originally only the leaves were used, as the roots were small and underdeveloped. The Romans were the first people to start cultivating beetroot for the roots, selectively planting seeds from plants with more swollen roots. Beets are very nutritious and contain high levels of vitamins A, B and C, as well as beta-carotene, calcium, folic acid, iron, manganese, phosphorus, silica, and lots of fibre. Beets are best grown from seeds that are planted in situ, as they don’t transplant well. Soak the corky seeds in water overnight to aid in germination, and plant in full sun. They do best in loose, well-prepared soil with lots of organic matter. To grow choice beets, encourage quick, steady growth by keeping the soil moist and weed-free. It takes about 55-65 days to reach maturity.
Did you know that beetroot seed naturally contains a chemical that inhibits germination, which is why seed often doesn’t sprout until after heavy rain? To help nature on its way, soak the seed in lukewarm water for about an hour before sowing. It should germinate within 10-14 days.
Sowing and growing tips
- At this time of the year, sow seed directly into the soil rather than in seed trays, and keep moist.
- Make sure the soil tilth is ne, remove sticks and stones, and rake level.
- Sow seed 5-6cm apart in shallow rows, and space rows 25-30cm apart.
- Thin out the clumps when the seedlings are big enough to handle. It is easiest to keep one strong plant and cut o the others at ground level. Keep on thinning out until plants are 10cm apart, and use the later thinnings as microgreens for the salad bowl.
- Water regularly and fertilise once a month with a liquid organic fertiliser.
Beetroot just for their greens
Beetroot grown just for their leaves can be planted closer together. Water frequently, feed regularly with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser, and pick like spinach, harvesting the outer leaves first.
Grow different colours of beetroot – as well as the tried and tested ‘Crimson Globe’ and ‘Detroit Dark Red’ there are yellow ‘Golden Globe’, ‘Chioggia’ (red and white) and ‘Albino’, a white variety.
Beetroot bulbs are best for picking when they are 5-10cm in diameter. Store leaves and roots separately in the fridge. Cut off the tops leaving 2-3cm long stems. Use leaves within days. Roots will keep for 2-3 weeks.
Did you know?
Beetroot can also be planted in containers, at least 35cm wide and 40cm deep. Don’t let containers dry out and liquid feed once a week