How to Grow Beets

How to grow beets and enjoy one of the sweetest and most nutritious vegetables.

| April/May 2004

The humble beet has provided earthy subsistence to cottagers and kings since prehistoric times, and many gardeners and cooks today remain passionate about the crop because of its easy culture, unique flavor and exceptional nutrition.

Baby leaves of beets make a scrumptious addition to your salad mix soon after they sprout in spring. As winter approaches, their hefty roots are one of the last crops to come out of the garden, and they are easy to store through the cold season. And amazingly, beets have twice as much natural sugar as corn, carrots or tomatoes.

This vegetable is widely adapted to most of North America; deep sandy or loamy soil, free of stones and with good drainage, produces the most uniformly shaped beets.

A crop will grow best under cool, moist conditions but, once well-established, will tolerate hot summer weather well — as long as the soil has sufficient moisture for even, steady growth. Beets are quite cold-hardy. They can go into the ground during your first early spring plantings, and the plants can remain in the garden until after fall freezes. Beets remain undamaged even when temperatures drop into the mid-20s.

Another convincing reason to grow beets, in contrast to such root vegetables as carrots or potatoes, is the speed at which they produce a crop. Within three weeks of sowing, you can have young plants cranking out leaves for salads; certainly within five weeks, you can harvest succulent baby beets to cook whole for gourmet fare; and within eight weeks (depending on the variety), you can harvest market-sized beets and lots of leaves for steamed greens.

A Super-Nutritious Choice

Nutritionally speaking, beets are exceptional sources of essential vitamins and minerals. They are rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin A and vitamin K. Beets store most of these nutrients in their leaves — which beet-eaters sometimes neglect — but recent investigations into their nutritional make-up bode well for the roots as well. Irwin Goldman, a beet geneticist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has shown that beet greens and beet roots are one of the best dietary sources of folate, which is one of the B vitamins.

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