BEETS, GROWING AND COOKING Anne K Moore
I have lived in the South for more than 30 years but, since I grew up “up Noth”, the only greens I was acquainted with as a youngster was spinach. Southerners have always used many different types of greens with their meals. One that is grown throughout most of the country mainly for its bulbous root is the beet. And yet, historically, beets were originally grown for their tops. If you use heirloom seed, you might be disappointed in the size of the root. Check descriptions carefully when purchasing seed if you want to have large bulbous roots.
Beet seed is actually a hard capsule that contains several seeds. If you soak the seed for 24 hours, you will get quicker germination. This misshapen “seed ball” usually contains two to four viable seeds.
Beets need a soft growing area so their roots will mature correctly. Prepare a seed bed deeply in a well-drained area. Add plenty of compost to improve both clay and sandy soils. The pH should be between 6.5 & 7.5.
Sow the beet seeds 1/2 to 3/4 inches deep, 3 inches apart, in rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Keep the soil moist but not wet.
The most critical thing to do when growing beets is to snip off all but one beet plant seedling so the bulb will have room to grow. Since beet seed is actually several seeds in a cluster, you have to thin the seedlings by cutting off all but the strongest plant in each planting hole. (Do not pull them; you can damage the roots of the plant you want to save.)
Begin thinning when seedlings are about 4 to 5 inches tall. Thin to 3 to 4 inches apart if you plan to harvest young, small, or cylindrical-shaped roots, or 6-inch spacing for larger roots. Don’t waste the young tender thinnings, toss them in a salad.
Beets Tolerate temperatures to 40 degrees F. so plant them early in the spring. A late fall crop can be planted, too. Think about the coming temperatures. Beets will bolt (send flower stalks & be inedible) with temperatures as little as 50 degrees, if these temperatures last for more than 2 weeks.
Gardeners usually love or hate the earthy taste of beets. I love beets and usually eat them after oven roasting.
They are delicious served hot as a vegetable side or cold as a summer-time salad. To roast beets, trim the tops and root to about an inch long. Cutting them close can result in the red color “bleeding” excessively from the cuts. Don’t peel them. Scrub them clean with a brush and warm water.
Pat dry and coat each beet with olive oil. Using a fork, prick the skin on the beet, then wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees fahrenheit. Roasting can take 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the beets.
Let them cool until you can safely peel them and remove the tops and root sections. They can be stored in the refrigerator and reheated in a pan or microwave.