Here’s a great way to get your winter garden off to a productive start: plant beets. Beets are an ideal vegetable, cold weather or not, for a variety of reasons:
- For those of you frustrated with vegetable damage due to insects and other garden pests. beets stand out as the Superman of produce, seemingly immune to most pest varieties.
- Beets have a wide variety of health benefits not found in many other winter crops: they’re high in vitamins and minerals like the B vitamin folate, manganese, potassium and copper. They’re also high in dietary fiber, and contain healthy amounts of magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin C, iron and vitamin B6.
- Beets also contain betalains, which not only give the root vegetable its color but also possess antioxidant and other healthful properties such as protecting the body from damage against free radicals.
- Prepared in many ways, beets are extremely tasty, benefiting from their high sugar content.
- Beet tops, the shiny green leaves, also provide excellent food for the table. Picked young, the tops can be eaten raw in a salad. Older, larger leaves can be sautéed like spinach.
While beet seedlings are available at most nurseries, the highest quality beets will come from the planting of seeds.
A search of the literature reveals nearly two dozen varieties, including both open-pollinated and hybrid types. Among the more favored varieties (including days to harvest) are:
- Crosby’s Egyptian, (56) sweet, dark red roots, great tops for raw and cooked greens dishes.
- Ruby Queen, (60) AAs winner, excellent quality; round, tender, sweet.
- Sweetheart (58) extra-sweet, round, tasty bulbs; tops good for greens.
- Big Red (55) best late-season producer, excellent flavor and yield
- Red Ace (53) early producer, sweet, vigorous grower.
- di Chioggia (50) Italian heirloom, candy red exterior, banded red and white, sweet below flavor,
- Golden (55) buttery color, sweet mild flavor.
Plant 3 or 4 seeds about 1/2 inches deep and two inches apart in a row, spacing the rows 12 to 18inches apart. Hand thinning will be necessary once the seedlings begin to grow. Since beets have very shallow roots, all weeding must be done by hand to keep from accidentally uprooting the plants.
Cooking beets is very simple: wrap each beet in aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for one hour. Once cool, the skins of the beets remove easily by rubbing them off with a paper towel. After that the beets can be sliced, diced, or used whole in a wide variety of recipes.