Of all the crops to grow in the garden the prize for the easiest must surely go to beetroot. Easy to germinate, willing grower, not fussy about soil, untroubled by pests or diseases. There really is so little that can go wrong. Occasionally I find teeth marks where a mouse has nibbled on the globe that is protruding from the soil when its ready for harvest but other than that it’s a clear run.
I am not one for buying in transplants for root crops. Catalogues will try and sell you transplants or young plants. Don’t do it. Beetroot like to be sown from seed and left alone so that bolting does not happen.
When to do it
The lovely thing about beetroot is you can begin sowing in spring and sow right up until September and expect to get results. From sowing to golf ball size beets takes 60 days in high summer, a bit more in spring and autumn.
A clear bed with a fine crumbly tilth out of which you can take a seed drill with the tip of a trowel is perfect. Seed drills should be 2cm deep and 20-25cm apart. Beets don’t need much room whatever type you are growing. As long as the rows are far enough apart so you can the hoe between them. Even a few seeds sprinkled on top of a deep pot of compost or soil will be ok for beets.
After germination you need to be ready to thin out. The plants in the beet family which also include Swiss chard and perpetual spinach (other name: leaf beet) have a bonny little crinkly seed which is, in actual fact, a fruit with several little tiny black seeds within it.
So when you sow them you may well get four or five seedlings appear in the one place from the one crinkly fruit. Sometimes you might want to thin out. Now it all depends on what size you want your beets. I like mine no bigger than golf balls so I never thin out I just let them develop, which they will, in a huddle and harvest them small.
Remember that if you do thin out then you will need to water the row of seedlings back in because there will have been plenty of root disturbance. On a hot day this can lead to the little seedlings becoming stressed so I tend to thin out on cloudy days and always last thing in the day.
Harvesting, Cooking and Nutrition
Never cut a beetroot before it is cooked, it will bleed, over you and into the cooking water and will lose a lot of nutrition in the process. When you pull the beet out of the ground screw/twist the leaves off the top of the globe and leave the root on. Wash the soil off and only then cook it in boiling water. Never peel it before cooking. They take a fair bit of cooking and you may need to add more water as you go along. When they are almost cooked drain the water off and let them finish in their own steam with the lid on the pot. This seals in the flavour. After they have cooked the skin you will be able to push the skin off. My favourite way to eat baby beets is cold in olive oil and garlic.
To say that beetroots are good for you is a massive understatement. They cleanse the liver and the blood, give you lots of fibre and are full of all the right vitamins and minerals. One thing to remember is that the next morning when you go to the loo you have not haemorrhaged, just eaten beetroot.
Detroit Globe is a favourite of mine and Bull’s Blood is extremely tasty too.