Friday, September 5, 2008

Why Beets?

A guy I was explaining my garden to a couple of weeks ago asked, after hearing all the different vegetables growing out there, “Why beets?” That is a good question, especially considering that I have had to put some effort into learning to like them. It turns out that beets are growing in my garden for more than one reason.

In order to avoid the buildup of disease problems, it is recommended that plants in the same family not be planted in the same spot for a few years. Since so many of my favorite foods are in just a few families (for example, the tomato family includes peppers, potatoes, and eggplants), I needed to increase the variety of my planting. The effort to rotate crops is complicated by the size of my garden: it’s small. So, when I first considered growing beets, it was because the garden needed more plants that weren’t related to the tomato, broccoli, and cucumber families to add to the rotation. Beets are related to chard, which I wasn’t growing at that time, and spinach, which I was.

What tipped me over the edge, into actually growing beets, was a work-related trip. A person in my group made a reservation for us at a Very Nice Restaurant, and I ordered the vegetable plate. The description of the meal included “greens,” which made me a little wary (I have tried to like collard greens for a long time, with no luck), but the greens were a wonderful surprise. They were tasty (no collards!) and included beet leaves.

The very next spring, I planted beets—Detroit Dark Red—in the garden. I went looking for recipes on the internet, found some to try, and I've been enjoying beet leaves ever since. The roots, I’m still working on, but last time I ate them (May of this year!), they weren’t too bad. Maybe this fall’s beets will be delicious!

4 comments:

  1. Hi,

    I just purchased some seeds today for beets. It is now the end of April and we are having some days in the 80's. (Alabama!) Will beets grow correctly for me now?

    Thanks,

    Aurelia Rye
    ryea@bellsouth.net

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  2. Aurelia,

    It is pretty late for beets. In this heat, it is unlikely that they will bulb up for you. They might make greens, but the flavor will probably be affected. You can save those seeds for the fall garden, though! Around here, I plant many of the fall crops, including beets, in late July to mid-August. For beets, I usually start them in a flat in the house to transplant out, because they aren't too happy about having to sprout in the intense heat of late summer.

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  3. I have a beet that got overlooked in the veggie basket, bottom line, it's growing pretty little purple and green shoots, can I plant it or just enjoy the leaves like I do with a sweet potato... will it root and grow more beets?

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  4. Depending on how old the beet is, it might still be good to eat. Back in the "olden days," beets were one of the root crops grown for storage through the winter. If the root has become soft, though, it might not be so great to eat.

    Allowing the old beet to make new greens is going to make the beet-part less good to eat. However, the greens could be very good. If you live in a warmish part of the country, you could plant the beet outside for the greens. If you live in a colder area, you could probably put it in a pot in a sunny window to force the greens.

    As it grows, it won't make more beets the way potatoes make more potatoes. Its growth is more like carrots, which also don't make more carrots on replanting. One seed gives one beet or one carrot, and that's it (sadly).

    Also useful to know: Beets are biennial, which means they flower in their second year of growth. A beet that's gone in and out of the fridge is likely to get confused about how old it is, and it might send up a flowering stem. At that point, the beet itself will definitely be less tasty - a lot of the sugars will get used up in making the flowering stem - and the leaves will probably be less wonderful, too.

    Hope some of that is helpful! Let me know what you decide to do?

    -Amy

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