The Vegetable Garden

Beet

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    Beet
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    Table beet (also known as garden beet, blood turnip or red beet) is a popular garden vegetable throughout the United States. Beet tops are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of vitamin C. The tops are cooked or served fresh as greens and the roots may be pickled for salads or cooked whole, then sliced or diced. Beet juice is a basic ingredient of Russian borscht. The garden beet is closely related to Swiss chard, sugar beet and mangel. Mangels (also known as stock beets) are considered too coarse for human consumption but are grown for stock feed.
    Beets require cool temperatures and a loose, moist soil for best production. An adequate supply of potash in the soil is necessary for roots to form. Test soil before planting. Beets do not tolerate acid soils. Beets are shallow-rooted, so never let the soil dry completely. Because beets require cool temperatures, you can grow them in spring and fall.

    Varieties

    Garden (open pollinated)

    • Crosby’s Egyptian (56 days to harvest; uniform, sweet, dark red roots; semi-globe to heart shaped; glossy, bright green tops, excellent for greens)
    • Detroit Dark Red (58 days; tender, round, dark red roots)
    • Early Wonder (52 days; flattened globe shape; dark red, sweet and tender)
    • Lutz Green Leaf (70 days; an heirloom winter-keeper type; purplish red exterior, deep red interior; large, glossy green tops, excellent for greens; roots stay tender even when large; stores extremely well)
    • Ruby Queen (60 days; AAS winner; excellent quality; early; round, tender, sweet, fine-grained, attractive, uniform roots)
    • Sangria (56 days; ideal globe shape, even in crowded rows; deep red; good greens when young)
    • Sweetheart (58 days; extra-sweet, round, tasty roots; tops good for greens)

    Garden (hybrid)

    • Avenger (57 days; uniform, vigorous; smooth, medium, globe- shaped red roots; glossy tops, good for greens)
    • Big Red (55 days, best late-season producer, excellent flavor and yield)
    • Gladiator (48 days; juicy, fine-grained flesh, deep red throughout; holds color without fading when cooked; uniform shape, size and flavor; excellent for canning)
    • Pacemaker (50 days; early; short tops, excellent-quality roots)
    • Red Ace (53 days; early; sweet, red roots; resists zoning in hot weather; vigorous grower)
    • Warrior (57 days; highly uniform, globe shape develops quickly, holds quality as roots grow large; dark red color inside and out; tops fringed with red)

    Mini

    • Little Ball (50 days; very uniform, small size; good shape; very tender; grows quickly to form smooth roots)
    • Little Mini Ball (54 days; roots the size of a silver dollar at maturity; round; canned whole; short tops good for greens)

    Specialty

    • Cylindra (60 days; long, cylindrical; all slices of equal diameter)
    • di Chioggia (50 days; Italian heirloom; rounded, candy red exterior; raw interior banded red and white; sweet, mellow flavor; bright green tops, mild and tasty; germinates strongly and matures quickly; does not get woody with age)
    • Golden (55 days; buttery color, sweet mild flavor)
    • Green Top Bunching (65 days; round, bright red roots, good internal color in cool weather; tops superior for greens).


    When To Plant

    Beets are fairly frost hardy and can be planted in the garden 30 days before the frost-free date for your area. Although beets grow well during warm weather, the seedlings are established more easily under cool, moist conditions. Start successive plantings at 3 to 4 week intervals until midsummer for a continuous supply of fresh, tender, young beets. Irrigation assures germination and establishment of the later plantings.

    Spacing & Depth

    The beet "seed" is actually a cluster of seeds in a dried fruit. Several seedlings may grow from each fruit. Some seed companies are now singulating the seed for precision planting, by dividing the fruit. Plant seeds about 1/2 inch deep and one inch apart. Allow 12 to 18 inches between rows. Poor stands are often the result of planting too deeply or the soil’s crusting after a heavy rain. The seedlings may emerge over a relatively long period of time, making a stand of different sizes and ages of seedlings. Some gardeners find that placing a board over the row after planting preserves the soil moisture and eliminates crusting from hard rains. The board must be removed as soon as the first seedling starts to emerge.

    Hand thinning is almost always necessary. The seedlings should be thinned to 1 to 3 inches apart. If thinning is delayed until the plants are 3 inches tall, those removed may be cooked greens, similar to spinach. Some cooks leave the small root (usually about the size of a marble) attached to the greens.

    Though it is seldom done, beets actually may be transplanted. Some care must be taken to get the roots oriented vertically so that the beets can develop properly.

    Care

    Frequent shallow cultivation is important because beets compete poorly with weeds, especially when small. Because beets have extremely shallow roots, hand weeding and early, frequent and shallow cultivation are the most effective methods of controlling weeds in the rows. Deep cultivation after the weeds are large damages the beet roots. Like most root crops, beets need a fertile soil (especially high in potassium) for vigorous growth. Keep your beet plants uniformly supplied with moisture for best performance.

    Harvesting

    Beets can be harvested whenever they grow to the desired size. About 60 days are required for beets to reach 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the size often used for cooking, pickling or canning as whole beets. Beets enlarge rapidly to 3 inches with adequate moisture and space. With most varieties, beets larger than 3 inches may become tough and fibrous. Beets may be stored in a polyethylene bag in a refrigerator for several weeks. Beets also may be stored in outdoor pits if the beets are dug before the ground freezes in the fall. Cut off the tops of the beets one inch above the roots. Beets store best at 32°F and 95 percent humidity. Do not allow them to freeze.

    Common Problems

    Poor germination is a common problem with beets. This typically happens in dry soils where an impenetrable crust has formed on the soil surface. A light layer of mulch, applied after sowing, will prevent washing during rainy periods and prevent crusting of the soil during dry periods. Regular watering during dry periods is also advisable.

    Overcrowded seedlings are another common problem when growing beets. Seedlings should be thinned to 3 to 4 inches apart to ensure good root development. Each "seed" that is sown is actually a fruit that contains several seeds. So, even if you sow the "seeds" several inches apart, you may still have to thin the seedlings. When thinning, remove the smaller, weaker seedlings and leave the more vigorous ones.