I never grew beets before this year. It was hard to get over being forced to eat them as a kid by my grandma. Of course, my taste buds have matured and after sampling a tasty beet salad at a Brooklyn bistro last winter, it was time to plant some. Everyone knows beets are good for you. Well, recent studies have shown them to be superfoods full of phytochemicals that act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and cleansers.
All parts of the beet are edible: roots, leaves, and stems. You can prepare them numerous ways. The boiled roots are sweet. The stems and leaves are good additions to stir fries and salads. Cook beets quickly and sparingly as excess heat breaks down the phytochemicals and reduces their health benefits. Because it is easier and less messy, some people cook the beet then peel (or wipe away) the skin. I'm always messy, so I peel before cooking (which is when they look the most attractive). Harvest when small to medium sized, because old large beets can be tough and fibrous.
You can sow beets all season. They grow well during the cool, sunny days of autumn. You can plant successive crops up until about 6 weeks before frost. In mild climates continue to sow seeds throughout winter.
Prepare the soil before sowing. Make sure it is loose and free of rocks or large clods. Heavy soil and rocks can produce misshapen or stunted beets. Loose soil also helps keep the skin smooth. Work soil to a depth of at least six inches. You can also just grow them in raised bed and bring in a loose rich soil to help germination. Beets seeds come in a clump. Soak before planting for best results and keep seedbed moist.
Beets have a long germination time (two weeks or so). It is important to keep the bed watered and weeded. Thin sprouts to 4 inches apart with rows 12 inches apart. Use thinnings for salads and stir-fries. You can harvest beets and/or leaves at any time. Just remember, if you cut the leaves during growth, the roots will be stunted. Better to harvest everything at once for optimum growth.
Beets are a hardy, nutritious, pest-free fall crop. They provide many health benefits to the eyes, nerve tissues, and cardiovascular system. They have also been shown to fight cancer and diabetes. We can all use their help. Fortunately, for most of us there is still time to plant some beautiful beets.
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