Although it’s still cold outside, it’s time to get that garden started. Even with the threat of a couple frosts may remain, there are some vegetables you can plant now that will not only survive but thrive. As long as you can work the soil, now is the perfect time to start your carrots, potatoes, parsnips and of course beets! These hardy cold crops are ready for you to directly sow the seeds in your garden and take advantage of an earlier crop.
Beets, sometimes called beetroots, are easy to grow in your home garden and incredibly useful both for nutrition and medicine. The most common beets are the red globe varieties; but white, yellow, and sugar beets are just as easy to grow.
Before planting, decide how many you want to grow. Each beet plant will yield several small harvests of greens and one beet. The beet can be harvested in 40 to 60 days. So do you want one meal of beets per week all summer, or do you want more so as to can or pickle, or are you just looking for greens, and don’t care about the beetroots? Deciding ahead of time will show you how big a bed you need and when to plant.
In general, if you are only going to harvest the greens you can plant fairly close together. Surrounding the perimeter of the garden with beet plants works well, as does container or border planting. Fertilize about once a month with a high nitrate fertilizer, and thin the leaves regularly just like any loose leaf greens. The leaves taste best when 4-6 inches tall. Wash well and use in salads, or lightly steamed like spinach.
For largest yield, beetroots should be planted in rows at least a foot apart, in a well-worked garden or raised beds. You will want succession planting; that is, plant more every three weeks. You can start planting two weeks before the last frost, and keep planting well into the season. Beets germinate fairly quickly, and the roots are edible in as little as 55 days.
Beets like cool weather but tolerate heat. They also can withstand light frost once they are well established. Sunny locations do best. In arid regions, a winter crop is best as the soil will hold moisture better. Beets need even, regular watering of at least one inch per week, and more when it is hot.
Check your soil before going any further. Beets like a loose, loamy soil with good drainage. Both heavy clay and light sandy soil will benefit from adding perlite and organic matter. You may want to check the PH level as beets will not tolerate either too acidic or too alkaline soil. Heavy clay soil tends to have a low PH value and be acidic. If so it will benefit from adding lime. Sandy soil tends to have a high PH value and be alkaline. It benefits from adding sulpher or ammonium sulphate. If you are unsure, there are inexpensive soil test kits on the market. You can also call your local agricultural extension service, located at the state university or parks and recreation office. Usually they will test a soil sample for free.
Culturing Plant seeds 3 inches apart. Fertilize with a 5-10-10 fertilizer and keep moist until they sprout. Thin when the seedlings are 3 inches high. The culled leaves will make great salad greens. Fertilize again and mulch to protect the plants.
From this point on, you should use a diluted organic fertilizer lightly every 3 weeks to promote fast growth. The leaves can be thinned periodically and used as salad or cooked greens. Just be sure to leave enough on each plant for healthy growth. The beetroots will be ready for harvest in as little as 40 days.
Beetroots are excellent peeled and boiled. They are served hot as a vegetable side dish, chilled and cubed or shredded in salads, or pickled with hard boiled eggs. They are easily canned or pickled for long-term storage.
Curative properties – Beets, both greens and roots, are rich in iron, calcium and potassium. They are extremely beneficial for treating anemia; also for cleaning the gall bladder and kidneys. Beet juice is often kept for medicinal purposes. Juice the beets and keep chilled. Add the juice of a lime and drink as a liquid food to treat jaundice, hepatitis, diahrea and dysentery. Add a little honey and drink before meals to calm a gastric ulcer.
Beets are also thought to help break down inorganic calcium deposits; as such it is used for patients with arteriosclerosis and heart trouble. Beet juice mixed with carrot and cucumber juice is reported to have great cleansing effects on the gall bladder and kidney.
One drawback to beets is their high sugar content. Diabetics and others who must regulate their sugar intake, should use care when incorporating beets into their diet.