How much beetroot do you eat? Probably a jar a year? Well it may surprise you to know that, according to most seed companies, beetroot seed is among the best-selling veg seed. So people like growing it (or at least think about growing it) even if they don’t actually eat it! In fact, not much else likes eating it either and it rarely gets slugs, has no specific pests unlike carrots and cabbages, and even rabbits don’t bother with it much either. So if you are one of those people that adore beetroot, this is a crop that is dead easy to grow – even the seeds are big and easy to space! Makes you wonder why they cost so much to buy fresh!
And there are lots of reasons why you should eat it. Highly coloured veg are rich in antioxidants and veg doesn’t get much more coloured than beetroot. I do wonder if the human body actually utilises the colour in beetroot though (betanin) – red colouring in raspberries and strawberries seems to be processed by the body while that in beetroot seems to pass through us unchanged (beeturia). But they do contain fibre and nitrogen compounds that may reduce blood pressure so if you like them its worth eating them.
How different can they be?
I sowed a total of 18 different beetroot this year; a fairly random selection, to see if any were significantly better than others. They were all sown at the beginning of May. Beetroot ‘seed’ is different from most seed because they are not really seeds but fruits with several seeds inside so you get two or three seedlings from each ‘seed’. Modern ‘monogerm’ varieties, that often have a name prefixed ‘mono’, make the job of thinning easier and, like most modern veg developments, were designed for farmers. The seeds are easy to sow 4-5cm apart and about 1cm deep. As long as you keep the soil moist the seedlings appear in about two weeks. As soon as they have two or three leaves you need to thin out the clusters to one seedling and thin out the rest so they are about 8cm apart.
Thinning is a tough job – killing all those seedlings and playing God, deciding which will live or die – but at least you can eat the young leaves in salads so they will not die in vain.
As they grow you can harvest the baby beets, ideally alternately so you leave the remaining roots room to grow. You can harvest them as you need them until late autumn when you should pull up the remaining roots. In theory you can store them in moist sand or old compost kept in a cool place or you could pickle or cook and freeze them.
The best (and worst) beets
I think the results showed that fresh, tender, small beets have the best flavour and texture and there were only two varieties I wouldn’t grow again. Being a sucker for anything new and unusual I grew a white and yellow beet. These proved to be monsters and by November must have weighed at least a kilo each – far too big to fit into a saucepan to boil them! Worse though was that, when I cooked them, the yellow flesh was dirty cream and the white dirty grey – I could hardly bring myself to eat them! Ridiculous I know but it shows how important looks are! I wont give up on the yellow though and will try ‘Burpee’s Yellow’ (Johnsons seeds) and ‘Touchstone Gold’ (Real seeds) next year.
As to the rest, they were all good. Long (cylindrical) beet are often recommended because of their ability to give you lots of slices of the same size; it’s true but as they get larger they may not fit so easily in a saucepan. They do look weird though as they emerge from the soil like some strange serpent.
So for a heavy crop, good texture and to fit in jars I would go for ‘Renova’ but ‘Cardeal’ and ‘Red Ace’ were also good. I think a proper taste test is needed next year!