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Information about beets

Beta vulgaris, commonly known as beet or beetroot, is a flowering plant species in the family Chenopodiaceae. Several cultivars are valued around the world as edible root vegetables, fodder (mangel) and sugar-producing sugar beet. Table beet (also known as garden beet, blood turnip or red beet) is a popular garden vegetable throughout the United States.
The color is more than just captivating; beets along wth prickly pears make up the only edible sources of the valuable family of pigments called betalains. Current research is discovering the ability of these pigments to act as powerful antioxidants, helping in the fight against the damage caused by free radicals. Beets also provide potassium, vitamins A and C, magnesium, riboflavin, iron, copper, calcium and zinc.
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.
They do poorly in hot weather. Beets are well suited to large or small home gardens since they require little room. They are grown for both the roots which usually are pickled and the young tops which are used as greens.
Beets do well in most deep, well drained, friable soils except tight clay. The soil should have adequate organic matter to prevent it from crusting. Hard, crusty soil causes beet roots to be tough. Beets do best in sandy soil in the spring and heavier soil in the fall because sandy soil warms faster than heavy clay soil.
Clear the planting area of rocks, trash and large sticks. Mix fine pieces of plant material such as grass, leaves and small sticks into the soil to enrich it. Spade the soil 8 to 10 inches deep. Be sure all plant material is covered with soil so it will break down quickly.
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.
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. 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.
Beets also make an excellent raised bed crop since soils are generally less compacted and there is less foot traffic. Beets are also sensitive to soil acidity. A low soil pH results in stunted growth. They prefer a pH of 6.2 to 6.8 and will tolerate 6.0 to 7.5. Fertilizers and lime are best applied using soil test results as a guide. Arrangements for soil testing can be made through your local Extension office. A fertilizer with the analysis of 5-10-10 can be applied at the time of seeding and again when the plants are about three inches high.
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.

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