Add one more vegetable to your spring growing list: Beets.
This humble vegetable is having its moment in the sun, and the National Garden Bureau has declared 2018 as “the year of the beet.”
Beets are considered a “superfood.” People who want to eat healthier are adding beets to their diets. The veggie is high in fiber, iron and Vitamins A and C, along with antioxidants, potassium, folic acid and calcium. Some people are sipping beet juice as an energy drink.
The table beet (beta vulgaris) originated in the Mediterranean, according to NBG, and it is now grown around the world. The characteristic red color comes from betalain, an antioxidant which was used as an ingredient in makeup and continues to be an excellent source for red pigment to make natural dyes and for food coloring.
Beets are a biannual crop, flowering in the second year of growth, but the roots can be grown annually in 50 to 95 days, depending on climate and root size, says the NGB. Plant seeds — which actually are clusters of 2 to 4 seeds — directly into the soil ¼- to ½-inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart in rows or blocks. Or beets will grow well in containers.
Thin seedlings when they reach 1 to 2 inches tall to encourage larger roots. Beets prefer slightly acidic soil with some boron content and limited nitrogen, NGB says, and 1 inch of water per week.
Beets also tolerate cool temperatures. Harvest roots by pulling the tops or digging roots when they reach 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter. You also can harvest smaller or larger beets. NGB advises that root size is strongly determined by sowing density.
Typically beets are red to purple in color; some are red with white rings inside or yellow, including “Touchstone Gold” and “Chioggia Guardsmark.” A pure white, very sweet beet is “Avalanche,” an All America Selection winner.
You’ll also find globe-shaped beets (“Ruby Queen”), cylindrical shapes (“Alto,” “Rodina,” “Cylindra”) top-shaped, flattened types (“Crosby Egyptian”). Traditional varieties include “Detroit Dark Red” for canning and pickling and “Early Wonder Tall Top” for greens and roots.
Not everyone likes the flavor of beets. Newer hybrids have milder flavor and higher sugar content for improved flavor.