Growing beetroot in your vegetable garden is like getting two crops for the price of one. Both the leaves and the roots can be eaten, what a great idea!
Beetroot, also called Beet, is a great source of fiber, is very low on calories, and’ has no fat. It’s reputedly good for the prevention of cancer and has built this belief through its many users in Europe, who believe specific anti-carcinogens are available in the red coloring matter. The leaves which are also edible, are a great source of foliate and iron. All these are great reasons to find a spot in the garden to grow beetroot.
The site needs to be sunny or partially shaded, sheltered from the wind is good; ensure the soil is well prepared beforehand with well rotted organic matter, and remove all stones which will hinder growth. Beetroot likes fertile free draining soil with a pH of 6.5-7 and does very well in a raised garden bed since the soil is usually less compacted.It can also be grown in pots and containers. The bolt resistant varieties are the best choice if you are sowing early.
Beetroot is sold in all garden centers as seed and should be sown into the garden beds in the spring, make successive plantings 3-4 weeks apart for a continuous supply.
Before planting, prepare the surface by using a rake to get a level and fine surface, plant the seeds in shallow rows about 1 inch deep following the instructions on the packet. Use string to get a straight line and if extra rows are needed they should be 1 foot apart. Gently cover the seeds with soil, lightly firm the soil with the head of the rake. Finally, water them in and keep the soil moist throughout the growing season, do not let it dry out or you will get woody crops.
When the seedlings are 3-4 inches tall they need to be thinned out (the tops taste great in a salad). Each beetroot seed is actually a fruit which contains several seeds so thin to 4 inches apart leaving the strongest plants to ensure a good crop.
The vegetables are usually ready for harvesting 55-70 days after planting when they are 2-3 inches in diameter, tender and delicious.
Beetroot is a naturally environmentally friendly crop and rarely needs to be treated with pesticides.
- The leaves of the beetroot are edible and when young can be used in salads and when older can be cooked.
- If you want to eat beetroot raw, then you can just peel it, chop or grate and it’s ready. Wash your hands after or else you will get red fingerprints everywhere! Just 3 baby beetroot a day equals one of the five recommended daily serves of fruit and vegetables.
- Beetroot can be steamed or boiled, just leave some of the stalks on along with peel to stop it bleeding and losing its color. To cook just gently wash it and pop it in a pot of boiling water. It takes about 20-40 minutes depending on the size of the beetroot; you can poke it with a fork and when it’s soft, it’s ready.
- To bake: Preheat oven to 170’C/325’F. Put the whole beetroot into a baking dish, cover with foil and cook for 1-2 hours (depending on the size). Leave till cool enough to handle, and remove the skins ‘ they should slip off easily.
- Beetroot can also be canned, pickled or frozen for use all year round or simply stored in a cool dry environment such as a wooden box filled with sand.