Colorful Beets, from Top to Bottom

    • Pansies and violas will fill your spring flower beds with their bright faces in many shades of blue, yellow, red, pink and purple.
    • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and other cool season crops should be planted this month for delicious spring harvests.
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Prune Hydrangeas now by removing old flower heads down to the first new leaves. Don’t prune stems which have no old flowers, and they will bloom first this summer.
    • Apple trees are still available as bare-root trees, but only for a short while longer. Start your orchard now!

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 ‘Albina Vereduna’. This close relative of the sugar beet contains 11 percent sugar, about twice that of red beets.

But some sweet, flavorful red varieties also stand out. ‘Detroit Dark Red’ is an old variety with rich, dark-red, 3-inch roots. ‘Bull’s Blood’ is very sweet and delicious and has deep reddish-purple leaves that are colorful in salads. The beets are tasty and have pretty pink rings inside. ‘Shiraz Tall Top’ has smooth, uniform red roots with strong, green, fast-growing tops.

For a color variation, try ‘Golden’, with bright yellow flesh and a sweet potato-like flavor, or the heirloom ‘Chioggia’, featuring red-and-white-striped flesh with a rosy pink skin and sweet flavor.

Not all beet roots are large and round. ‘Cylindra’ has cylindrical, purple-red roots. Tender and sweet, it produces lots of uniform slices. Large, oblong, golden-yellow ‘Mangel’ beets are sweet and tasty if picked small, or let them mature for high-quality stock feed. They can grow to 10-20 pounds by fall.

If beet greens are your true passion, plant ‘Tall Top Early Wonder’, with maroon-tinged leaves and purplish red, round roots. Greens can be eaten like spinach or Swiss chard. 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 1½ 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 floating row cover (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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