Plant beets in winter! Yes, beets—so delicious and nutritious and very easy to grow. The mild winter we enjoy in St. George is perfect for growing beets. This cool-season crop is edible two times: can eat the greens and the root. With the right care, you can start harvesting the greens in a short time and then harvest the root in a couple of months—two birds with one stone … or should I say two veggies with one plant?
Now I know that many of you are not beet lovers. I didn’t like them myself for most of my life. However, when I discovered you could eat the greens pretty much like spinach or chard, I changed my tune a bit. When I discovered pickled beets and a variety of beet salads, my tune changed completely. Now I always plant beets in my winter garden and enjoy the bountiful fruits of my relatively low labor.
Plant beets in winter for early spring harvest! You can also plant more beets in early spring for a late spring harvest, again in late spring for a early summer harvest, and late summer for a fall harvest. There are many cultivars of beets to choose from, like Bull’s Blood, Chioggia, Cylindra, Detroit Dark Red, Early Wonder, Golden Detroit, and Ruby Queen. These beets range in color from dark red to swirled red and from white to sunny golden yellow. Their shapes differ, too, and they are all delicious. Some beets are especially great for growing greens, like Early Wonder. I always plant some Early Wonder for greens, but soon I plan on trying a Chioggia and Golden Detroit just because they look so amazing! Plant a mixture, and discover your own favorite.
Plant beets in a sunny spot for winter and early spring. If you can, plant your beet seeds in partial shade when planting late spring or late summer. Sow seeds one inch deep and two to three inches apart in rows in well-draining soil rich in organic matter. To encourage quick germination, soak the seeds in water for eight hours before planting. It’s okay if you don’t—they will still grow just fine. It just may take up to three weeks for the seeds to germinate without soaking. After sowing the seeds, water them well and keep the soil moist. Once the seedlings are about three inches tall, water when the soil surface is dry. Well-watered beet plants equal sweet beets. Be sure to use a frost cloth during December and January to keep your leaves growing and you harvesting.
When you harvest the greens take only the outer leaves, leaving about two thirds intact in the center of each plant. Steam or saute these greens for a tasty side dish. I will often chop the leaves and add them to other greens, like lettuce or spinach, for an interesting green salad. Beet greens make a great green for green smoothies, too!
You can start harvesting the bulbous root of the beet plant when the bulbs are one inch in diameter. You can certainly harvest when the beets are bigger, but why wait? The smaller the beet, the sweeter it is. A diameter of three inches is the biggest you want your beets to be. The bigger the beets are the earthier they taste. For me, this ‘earthy’ taste was a big reason why I didn’t like beets in the first place.
My favorite way to prepare beets is to place the beets in an ovenproof dish, add an inch or so of water, cover, and roast for 45 to 75 minutes, based on beet size, until easily pierced with a knife. Then I let them cool, slip off the skins, dice them up, and drown them in balsamic vinegar. I put them in the fridge for awhile, even a day or two, then add some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I toss them and put them on a bed of greens with toasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese. Yum! On a side note, this is the only way my two-year-old daughter will eat them. Not complaining! My two-year-old eating beets is A-okay with me, however she wants to eat them.
Now go get some beet seeds! All the garden centers have them for sale right now. There are some great seed sources online as well, like Botanical Interests in Colorado and Mountain Valley Seeds in Salt Lake City. Order some today, and get those babies in your winter garden. Then get ready for some yummy beet dishes in the future.