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Beets

By Dick Fehrenbacher, Master Gardener of Hamilton County

Beets are from pre-historic times along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.  They became very popular in France and Germany.  Beets are high in sugar content but low in calories.  Beet powder is used as a coloring agent for foods – some frozen pizzas use beet powder to color the tomato sauce.  Outside of the US, beets are known as beetroots.  Thirty percent of the world’s sugar comes from beets.  Beets are also used to melt highway ice.

My heart BEETS for you.
BOTANICAL NAME Beta vulgaris
PLANT FAMILY Root, which Includes carrots, onions, leek, parsnips, radish, turnip and rutabaga
SEASON Cool Season – Spring and fall, does best in the spring.
SUNLIGHT Full Sun, but can tolerate partial shade.
WEATHER Tolerates light frost, does poorly in heat
WATERING Consistent during early part of growth.  Keep moist but do not over water.
SOIL Well drained, sandy/loose, rich in organic matter.  Does poorly in clay or hard soils as do all root plants.  Does poorly in acidic soil, prefers pH of 6.2 to 7.2.  Root plants require high phosphorus.  Add at planting time using a super phosphorus fertilizer (8-16-16)
SEEDS/PLANTS
PREPARATION Pre-Soak seeds 12 hours or less before planting, use warm water.
METHOD Seed direct to garden, but can be started inside or in a cold frame when transplanted.  Plants emerge in about 5-8 days.  Seeds can be saved for 4 years.  If you want to eat them during their season, plant them every 3 weeks 3 times.  If you are going to can, then plant all at one time.
VARIETIES There are varieties best for pickling, varieties that are more heat tolerant, more resistant to diseases, faster growing and larger sized.  Most beets are a cluster of seeds (2-4), thinning is important to prevent overcrowding.  Thin to 3″ or 4″ by cutting rather than pulling.   There are new varieties that have a single seed that do not require thinning.
WHEN Spring about 30 days before last frost. In the fall about 60 days before the ground freezes, but no more than 30 days before the first frost.  Beet seeds prefer cool soil, about 50 degrees F.  Beets get bitter and stringy in temperatures above 80 degrees F, but remain tasty until the soil freezes.  Start indoors or in a cold frame 5 to 6 weeks before transplanting outdoors.
SOIL Dig soil to 6-8″ depth and mix in a slow acting granular fertilizer following package instructions.
DEPTH Depth 1/2″ In spring and 1″ in Fall.
APART Depends upon variety but generally 3 to 4″
SIZE 6″ to 12″ in height, and 6 to 8″ in width.
PLANTING – MISC. After planting seeds, cover with vermiculite or peat.
COMPANION Do not plant with Pole Beans
WEEDING Pull weeds by hand so as not to damage beet roots.
CONTAINERS As they are a root plant, a deep container is required, preferably 8 or more inches deep.  Look for a container variety beet.
PROBLEMS
PLANTING Late planting increases disease & insect problems
PESTS Aphids, Leaf Miner, Leafhoppers, Flea Beetles, Web Worms
DISEASES Leaf spot, circular reddish brown or purple spots.  If something does not look right, take a sample to your nursery or AG extension agency.
HARVESTING
DAYS to 1ST CROP 40 to 75 days (see seed package for your type).  Harvest days in the fall are longer.
YIELD Approximately 1 lb. per foot planted.
BEET LEAVES Do not cut just the leaves of your plant as removing the leaves will kill the plant.  When you pull the plant, you can use the leaves in a salad or cooked separately.
WHEN TO HARVEST Depends upon your variety, check the seed package.
LENGTH OF HARVEST 4 weeks average length of harvest
PREPARATION Wash in cool water immediately after picking.  Leave 1″ foliage when cooking to avoid bleeding but cut off the root.
PREPARE TO EAT
METHODS Raw, Boiled, Roasted, Sautéed, Canned, Frozen or Steamed.  Leaves can be used in salad.
CANNING Pickled and Harvard
SOUPS Borscht
STORING 3 Weeks in a refrigerator, store in an air tight plastic bag.
FREEZING Freeze younger beets for up to 6 months.
WARNING A minor drawback is that your urine and stools will excrete a red color a day or two after eating beets.  The coloring is harmless and will disappear.
NUTRITIONAL
CALORIES 35 Per cup raw.
THE GOOD Low in saturated fat and Cholesterol.  Good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium and Potassium, very good source of Folate and Manganese.
THE BAD High in Sodium and a large portion of the calories comes from sugar.
OTHER Has a High Sugar Content but Low in Calories.
One of Noah’s greatest worries ….  The TWO termites.

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