The benefits of beets, an essential ingredient in the winter kitchen. Their deep red color is gorgeous on the plate, the flavor is earthy yet slightly sweet and they are delicious freshly roasted from the oven or cold in a salad with dill and a light vinaigrette. Best of all, beet roots are packed with nutrition. One medium cooked beet has only 44 calories but contains a whopping 40% of the recommended daily value (RDV) of folate, a key nutrient in heart health. That single beet also contains more key minerals: manganese (14% RDV), copper (8%), potassium (7%), magnesium (6%) and iron (4%).
Beets are a winter vegetable, meaning for them to sprout, the temperature must stay in the range of 45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprouting takes 14 to 21 days; that means they can only be planted in December or January. This vegetable will wilt and suffer in hot weather. Further, as the heat increases in late March, pests will begin to attack the greens. If planted in early January, beets should be fully mature and ready for harvest by the end of March, before the heat and bugs give them trouble.
Detroit Dark Red: This is the best overall performer and is the most popular with gardeners. Its well-formed roots and tall, vigorous greens are very delicious. This variety takes around 55 days to mature.
Early Wonder: This variety grows fast, taking around 45 days to mature. It produces smaller roots, nice flavor and minimal greens. Make sure to harvest before the weather warms, or roots will get hard.
Chioggia: This tends to contain the most beautiful beet root on the market with a red exterior and concentric stripes of red and white on the inside. The flavor is also delicious. Keep soil slightly moist, as it can be temperamental. This variety matures in about 60 days.
Bull’s Blood: Featuring a gorgeous dark red root, the Bull’s Blood culture is similar to the Early Wonder, though it grows quicker; it takes around 50 days to mature and should be harvested before the hottest part of late March.
A Need to Know Basis
Full sun. Plant from seed. Well-tilled, well-drained soil. Add 2” to 3” compost to bed. Add generous pastured poultry manure and homemade wood ash to fertilize. Draw parallel lines across the width of garden bed 3” apart and ½” deep. Sprinkle beet seeds down each row and gently rake in (don’t bury seeds too deeply). Water bed often with rain function on sprayer until sprouting; then twice per week. Thin to 3” for final spacing.
Harvest when tops show 2” to 3” across. Water the soil before pulling, to make it easier to pull the beets. Grasp greens to pull beet root from soil. Sometimes, the greens break off in your hand; if this happens, use a turning fork to gently loosen and lift the beets from soil. Harvest beets once fully ripe or they will become tough and bitter. Store beets in the fridge for weeks or months.
Sugar beets (a different variety than those listed above) are a major source of white sugar in the U.S. Sugar beets are processed into a white sugar molecule that is identical to cane sugar, and are grown in climates too cold for sugar cane. Until the 20th century, beet sugar was by far the most commonly used sugar in America, and still accounts for over half of the white sugar production in the U.S.