Originally from Southern Europe and the Middle East, it has been cultivated there for many centuries. The remains of beets, perhaps the wild form, have even been recovered from the pyramid at Thebes, and from a Neolithic Site in the Netherlands. Apart from Mice, it has few pest or disease problems, and is one of the most widely grown crops on allotments.It is grown both for salads (the young leaves, are more nutritious than Spinach, and can be eaten as well as the root), and for pickling the roots for winter use. Beetroot come in several different shapes and colours (see photo), and are naturally quite sweet. A close relative is sugar beet which is the major source of sugar in Europe.
Health benefits. Recent research suggests that eating two beetroot a day can lead to a blood pressure decrease of up to 10 mmHg. This is because the dietary nitrate in the beetroot is converted to nitrite by the body, and then the gas nitric oxide causes the blood vessels to dilate. Also contains vitamins A and C, as well as manganese and potassium.
Sow the seeds in ground prepared to a fine tilth in April in the South and May in the North of the UK. The soil temperature should be at least 7 C. Make sure that the ground is not allowed to dry out for the first few weeks.
Thin them out in the summer, while you are weeding them and eat the thinnings, leaving the rest to grow to maturity. Keep them well watered, especially in hot dry weather otherwise they can run to seed. When picking beetroot for the pot, remember to leave about 5 cm of stalk attached to the root to reduce the colour loss while cooking.
Pests and diseases. The problems that you are likely to meet, are holes in the leaves caused by a beetle, which you can ignore. In the Autumn, mice are likely to start eating the roots, starting with “Chioggia” in preference to other varieties. To avoid mouse damage, try covering with environmesh, well waited down at the edges.
Chioggia would be my first choice. Easy and fast to grow but not so suitable for boiling as the colour will leach out, unless you boil it with a couple of red ones at the same time.
Bolthardy. Globe shaped and resistant to bolting.
Pablo. Globe shaped, red.
Wodan. Globe shaped, red.
Burpee’s Golden. Produces globe shaped, golden coloured beetroot. Seems to be more difficult to germinate and not as prolific as the others. Remember to cook it separately from the others to retain the yellow colour.
Storage of Beetroot. For short term storage, they can be put into the fridge crispator for a week or so. They are not worth storing in the freezer as they become soft and flabby when defrosted.
A traditional method of storing beetroot over the Winter, is to lift and wash them and cut off the tops about an inch from the bulbous roots. Then place them in layers in strong boxes, separating each layer with damp sand or peat. Securely cover the top of the box, as mice love beetroot, especially the variety “Chioggia”, as it is so sweet. Do not start this method until it is cold, say November, and store the container in the coldest spot you can find. If the Winter is mild, the stored beets will start to grow.
Fresh beetroot leaves are also nutritious (vitamins and minerals C, K, magnesium, more iron than spinach), and can be chopped up and added to salads, or steamed. Sauté them in a little oil, add balsamic vinegar and mix with pasta.