Table beet (also known as garden beet, blood turnip or red beet) is a popular garden vegetable throughout the United States. Beet tops are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of vitamin C. The tops are cooked or served fresh as greens and the roots may be pickled for salads or cooked whole, then sliced or diced. Beet juice is a basic ingredient of Russian borscht. The garden beet is closely related to Swiss chard, sugar beet and mangel. Mangels (also known as stock beets) are considered too coarse for human consumption but are grown for stock feed.
When To Plant
Beets are fairly frost hardy and can be planted in the garden 30 days before the frost-free date for your area. Although beets grow well during warm weather, the seedlings are established more easily under cool, moist conditions. Start successive plantings at 3 to 4 week intervals until midsummer for a continuous supply of fresh, tender, young beets. Irrigation assures germination and establishment of the later plantings.
Spacing & Depth
The beet "seed" is actually a cluster of seeds in a dried fruit. Several seedlings may grow from each fruit. Some seed companies are now singulating the seed for precision planting, by dividing the fruit. Plant seeds about 1/2 inch deep and one inch apart. Allow 12 to 18 inches between rows. Poor stands are often the result of planting too deeply or the soil's crusting after a heavy rain. The seedlings may emerge over a relatively long period of time, making a stand of different sizes and ages of seedlings. Some gardeners find that placing a board over the row after planting preserves the soil moisture and eliminates crusting from hard rains. The board must be removed as soon as the first seedling starts to emerge. Hand thinning is almost always necessary. The seedlings should be thinned to 1 to 3 inches apart. If thinning is delayed until the plants are 3 inches tall, those removed may be cooked greens, similar to spinach. Some cooks leave the small root (usually about the size of a marble) attached to the greens. Though it is seldom done, beets actually may be transplanted. Some care must be taken to get the roots oriented vertically so that the beets can develop properly.
Frequent shallow cultivation is important because beets compete poorly with weeds, especially when small. Because beets have extremely shallow roots, hand weeding and early, frequent and shallow cultivation are the most effective methods of controlling weeds in the rows. Deep cultivation after the weeds are large damages the beet roots. Like most root crops, beets need a fertile soil (especially high in potassium) for vigorous growth. Keep your beet plants uniformly supplied with moisture for best performance.
Beets can be harvested whenever they grow to the desired size. About 60 days are required for beets to reach 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the size often used for cooking, pickling or canning as whole beets. Beets enlarge rapidly to 3 inches with adequate moisture and space. With most varieties, beets larger than 3 inches may become tough and fibrous. Beets may be stored in a polyethylene bag in a refrigerator for several weeks. Beets also may be stored in outdoor pits if the beets are dug before the ground freezes in the fall. Cut off the tops of the beets one inch above the roots. Beets store best at 32°F and 95 percent humidity. Do not allow them to freeze.
Questions & Answers
Q. What causes the beets in my garden to develop tops but no roots?
A. The most frequent cause for beet plants failing to develop roots is overcrowding from improper thinning.
Selection & Storage
Beets can be harvested at any stage of development, from the thinning to the fully mature stage at about 2 inches in diameter. The "thinnings" are beets that have been pulled from the ground prematurely to make room for others when rows are overcrowded. Thinnings can be eaten raw, tops included, in salads or roasted. Beets are high in natural sugar and roasting brings out the natural sweetness. When harvesting beets, separate the green tops from the roots leaving an inch of stem on the beet. Beets larger than 3 inches in diameter are often fibrous and woody.
Beet greens are packed with nutritional value but must be prepared separately. Upon storage the greens will quickly draw the moisture from the root greatly reducing flavor and the beets will become shriveled. Leave one inch stem and the taproot intact to retain moisture and nutrients. After separating, beets store well for about a week in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. Use beets while they are still firm and fresh.
Nutritional Value & Health Benefits
Beets are particularly rich in folate. Folate and folic acid have been found to prevent neural-tube birth defects and aid in the fight against heart disease and anemia. Beets are also high in fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber helps to keep your intestinal track running smoothly and soluble fiber helps to keep your blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels on track.
Nutrition Facts (1 cup cooked, sliced)
Protein 1.5 grams
Carbohydrate 8.5 grams
Dietary Fiber 1.5 grams
Potassium 259 mg
Phosphorus 32 mg
Folate 53.2 mcg
Vitamin A 58.5 IU
Preparation & Serving
Wash beets carefully without breaking the skin. Breaks and tears allow color and nutritional value to escape. After cooking the skin can be easy rubbed away when the beets have cooled. Beets are known for their powerful red pigment which stains dish towels, wooden cutting boards and sinks. Don't worry about your hands. Salt easily removes stains from skin.
There are many schools of thought on cooking beets. They can be microwaved, steamed, boiled, pickled, roasted or eaten raw. Because beets contain more natural sugar than starch, they are particularly delicious roasted in a hot oven.
Roasting concentrates the sugar rather than leaching them out into cooking liquid. Beets of different size and color cook at different rates. Select beets uniform in size to prevent overcooking. They are done when easily pricked with a fork. Raw beets need only to be scrubbed and grated or sliced as thinly as possible. Borscht is a popular beet soup which can be served hot in winter and cold in summer.
Beets can be frozen, canned or pickled and dried beets yield fairly good results.
To Freeze -- Freezing does not improve the quality of beets, it only preserves the quality you begin with. Freezing magnifies imperfections and woodiness in over mature beets. Select deep, uniformly-red, tender, young beets for freezing.
1. Wash gently and sort according to size. Trim tops, leaving an inch of stem and tap root intact to prevent bleeding of color during cooking.
2. Cook in boiling water until tender -- for small beets (1 inch in diameter) 25 to 30 minutes; for medium beets (2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter) 45 to 50 minutes.
3. Cool promptly in cold water or ice water. Carefully rub peel away and trim the stem and root.
4. Cut into slices or cubes. Package, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal and freeze for up to one year at zero degrees.
To Can -- Beets with a diameter of 1 to 2 inches are preferred for whole packs. Avoid canning beets more than 3 inches in diameter as they are often tough and fibrous.
1. Remove leafy tops, leaving an inch of stem and tap root to reduce color loss. Scrub well. Cover with boiling water. Boil until skins slip off easily, about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on size. Cool.
2. Remove skins, trim root and stem. Leave baby beets whole. Cut medium or large beets into 1/2 inch cubes or slices. Cut larger beets in half then slice.
3. Pack into clean, hot jars, leaving 1 - inch head space. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to pints; 1 teaspoon to quarts, if desired. 4. Fill jars to 1 inch from top with boiling water. Use a rubber spatula or plastic knife to remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process.
5. Process in a Dial Gauge Pressure Canner at 11 pounds pressure or in a Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner at 10 pounds pressure. Process pints for 30 minutes and quarts for 35 minutes.
Roasted Beets with Dijon Dressing
3 pounds beets, uniform in size (about 2 inches)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
juice of one orange
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash, trim and dry beets. Leave 1/2 inch stem and root intact.
2. Place beets in a large bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Using clean hands, toss to coat beets with seasoning.
3. Place beets in a roasting pan in a single layer.
Roast 45 minutes or until beets are tender.
4. Remove from oven and cool enough to handle but still warm. While beets are cooling, make dressing.
5. In a large serving bowl, whisk together mustard, orange juice, sugar, and vinegar.
Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and add rosemary. Set aside.
6. Rub skins from beets and cut into quarters. Place warm beets in bowl and toss with dressing to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while beets absorb dressing. Serves 6.