Spring Vegetable Garden

    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Pansies and violas will fill your spring flower beds with their bright faces in many shades of blue, yellow, red, pink and purple.
    • Last chance for bare root fruit trees. This is the most economical way to plant an orchard. Apples, pears, Asian pears, peaches, plums and pluots are still available in bare root, so choose your trees now.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Plant sweet peas and larkspur for bouquets of delightful blooms.

Colorful Beets, from Top to Bottom

Beets are among the most healthful vegetables you can grow; both the roots and the greens are good sources of vitamins. Beets come in a bright array of colors, from garnet red to red-and-white striped to deep gold to creamy white. But the real hidden treasure is that the entire beet, from its robust and flavorful root to its buttery green top, is sweet and delicious.

You can choose from a variety of root flavors, colors, and shapes. If flavor were judged solely on sweetness, the hands-down winner would be the all-white beets. This close relative of the sugar beet contains 11 percent sugar, about twice that of red beets.

But sweet, flavorful red varieties are the favorites. ‘Detroit Dark Red’, ‘Bull’s Blood’, and ‘Pronto’ are good all-purpose, sweet-tasting beets.

For a color variation, try ‘Golden’, with bright yellow flesh and a sweet potato-like flavor, or ‘Yellow Intermediate’. The latter is technically a mangel, which is a very sweet, nutritious and long-keeping type of beet.

The heirloom ‘Chioggia’ features red-and-white, candy-striped flesh with a rosy pink skin and sweet flavor. Its leaves are prized for raw or cooked greens.

Not all beet roots are large and round. ‘Cylindra’ and ‘Forono’ have cylindrical, purple-red roots that are ideal for gardens where space is limited. They are a great shape for making fast, uniform slices. ‘Forono’, previously known as ‘Cook’s Delight’, is an excellent variety for slicing, freezing, canning or pickling. It has superior flavor when it is young. Beet leaves make an excellent substitute for spinach, Swiss Chard, or other leafy green vegetables. They can be tossed in salads or used in quick stir fries.

To grow sweet, tender beets plant them in cool, moist weather in the fall or early spring. Work aged manure or compost into the top 8 inches of the soil. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Thin seedlings to stand 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart 10 to 14 days after emergence. A month later thin plants to about 4 inches apart. For beet greens only, sow seeds 1/2 inch apart in all directions. No thinning is necessary.

Beet roots are ready to harvest in 40 to 55 days, when they are the size of golf balls. Greens can be harvested as soon as they are large enough to eat, when the leaves are 4 to 6 inches long. To harvest, pull-up the entire plant.

For best quality beets, keep the soil moist at all times. Mulch the plants if the weather is hot or dry. If you have trouble with flea beetles, cover your plants with a floating row cover like “Remay”.

Young roots taste great lightly steamed, shredded and sautéed in butter, or pickled. Baking is ideal for any larger roots you missed, and beets small and large can be roasted to bring out their delicate, yet earthy flavor. Enjoy these delicious, nutritious vegetables fresh from your own garden this season.

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