Bright And Beautiful Beetroot
Beetroot is a stalwart of the garden; an efficient crop, grown year-round for its root and foliage, that doesn’t take up much space and is also very nutritious. The sweet, succulent root contains more sugar than any other vegetable, while the leaves are an excellent source of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.
There are beets of different colours, sizes and shapes – red, yellow, white, multicoloured, round, long, cylindrical, as well as the huge sugar and mangel beets.
For success, beetroot needs three things: full sun, soil that is friable and drains easily, and regular watering.
Sowing and Growing:
- Beetroot can be bought in seedling trays or grown from seed. They are best grown from seeds that are planted in situ, as they don’t transplant well. They enjoy loose, well-prepared soil with lots of organic matter.
- Soak the corky seeds in water overnight to aid germination, and plant in full sun. The seeds should start to germinate within 10 – 14 days. Because the seeds are actually seed clusters of two to five seeds, the seedlings will appear in fairly dense clumps. Thin out the seedlings to 5cm apart when they are 5cm high. Thin the rows a second time when they are about 7cm high. The remaining beetroot should be about 10-15cm apart. The seedlings from the second thinning can be planted as greens for the table or can be used immediately as small salad leaves for the salad bowl.
- 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.
- For a continuous supply, sow beetroot at four- to six-week intervals throughout the summer. Water your plants regularly throughout the growing season and feed them once a month with a liquid organic fertiliser.
- Beetroot can also be planted in containers, at least 35cm wide and 40cm deep. Do not allow containers dry out and liquid feed once a week.
- Onions and kohlrabi are particularly good companions for beetroot and, if you have the space, sow a row of each next to each other. Other good companions are dwarf beans, lettuce and cabbage. For maximum flavour harvest your crop when the roots are 5-10cm in diameter.
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. The roots will keep for 2-3 weeks.
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 under-developed. The Romans were the first people to start cultivating beetroot for the roots, selectively planting seeds from plants with more swollen roots.
Why not grow different colours of beetroot? As well as the tried and tested ‘Crimson Globe’ and ‘Detroit Dark Red’ there are yellow ‘Golden Globe’, ‘Albino’, a white variety, and ‘Chioggia’ (red and white).
Chioggia’, in particular, 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. It 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.
Fresh Eating Ideas:
- Grate raw beets for use in salads and as a garnish. They add colour, flavour and excellent nutrition.
- Dress grated raw beetroot, grated raw carrot and paper-thin cucumber slices with olive oil, lemon juice and some chopped fresh dill. Garnish with parsley. Serve as a starter.
- Use beet leaves in salads in place of lettuce.
- Roast beets with other veggies in the oven or on the grill.
- Sautéed beet leaves.
- Sauté garlic in olive oil, add chopped beet leaves and sauté lightly. Remove from heat, dress with lemon juice and serve immediately.
- Sprinkle hot beetroot with lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper.
- Serve hot or cold beetroot with a yoghurt and horseradish sauce.
- Sliced summer salad.
- Chill cooked beetroot. Arrange sliced beetroot, sliced purple onions and segments of orange on a bed of watercress or lettuce leaves. Dress with a vinaigrette.
- Beetroot juice is a simple and delicious way to increase your nutrient intake. Start with small quantities to avoid an upset tummy. Mix with carrot or apple. 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.
Try these delicious beetroot recipes with your first harvest: