A descendant of the wild sea beets of the Mediterranean coast, this root veg is enjoying a culinary revival. Gone are the days when beetroot was only served saturated in malt vinegar.
It is now better understood just how chock-full with nutrition beetroot is, and how tasty. It is full of antioxidants and tastes wonderful baked, grated, roasted or juiced. But it is arguably at its best when eaten raw.
Beetroot is very simple to grow in the right spot. It needs an open site, and rich but light soil with high levels of nitrogen.
Plant several crops over the growing season for a regular harvest, and pick when the root is the size of a golf ball.
Storage: up to 4 years
Germination: 8-12 days
Try ‘Pablo’ for growing baby beets in containers
Grow near brassicas, garlic, carrots and parsnips
Try ‘Boltardy’ for delicious, smooth skins or ‘Detroit Dark Red’ for sweetness
‘Albina Vereduna’ is perfect with fish or poultry and has a vitamin-rich top leaf
RED AND WHITE
Grow ‘Barbabietola di chioggia’ for its quirky concentric rings and mild flavour
Sweet-tasting ‘Burpee’s Golden’ has vibrant golden flesh and is great in salads
Sow in pots
This method is best for round rather than cylindrical cultivars. Fill a pot 20cm (8in) in diameter and 20cm (8in) deep with compost. Firm the soil, leaving a 4cm (11’2in) gap between the soil surface and the top of the pot. Sow seeds thinly, then cover with soil and water them. Thin out seedlings when they’re about5cm (2in) tall, leaving 12cm (5in) gaps between them. Keep pots weed-free and well watered.
Sow directly outdoors
A few weeks prior to sowing, remove the weeds and stones from the soil and sprinkle with blood, fish and bone. Soak for 30 minutes before sowing. Make straight rows, sowing two seeds every 10cm (4in) along the row.
You can harvest beetroot at any stage, from small to fully mature roots. Depending on the variety, this will be between seven and 13 weeks after sowing. The smaller the roots, the more tender and sweet they are. Lift by the leaves and loosen from the soil with a trowel.
When boiling, scrub the skin but don’t cut it as cut beetroot loses flavour. Keep the skins on when roasting. Eat raw – sliced or grated – with a dip.
Beet greens are tasty and highly nutritious but often get thrown away. Instead, when you harvest the roots, remove the foliage, leaving a stub of stem on each root. Eat them boiled or steamed.
Roots can be stored in the ground and lifted when needed – though they eventually become woody. Cover with a layer of straw or cardboard and they will last until March. But if the weather is very cold, store indoors. To store fresh young leaves for a few days, rinse and dry, and keep in a plastic bag in the fridge.
The featured extract is from SowHow: A modern guide to grow-your-own veg by Paul Matson and Lucy Anna Scott