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Home grown beetroot is a very versatile crop which is easy to grow, store, and overwinter in the ground. Grate the peeled raw roots for use in salads, boil the roots whole, peel and serve with a little vinegar. The leaves are a colourful addition to salads when small, and may be cooked when larger.
+++ How to Grow Beetroot +++
Sow: Directly in the ground between March and July. For a winter and spring crop of beetroot, sow seed outside in July. For a summer and autumn crop sow seed outside from March to June.
Harvest: Pick individual small leaves for salads, leaving the roots in the ground. To harvest the roots, dig them up carefully to avoid damaging the skin. Brush the bulk of the soil off carefully, and twist off the leaves a few centimetres above the root.
Storage: Beetroot may be stored in slightly damp sand when harvested in October. Store in a frost free place, at temperatures between 1°C (34°F) and 4°C (39°F).
Beetroot appreciates a sunny, well manured and well drained site. Water in dry weather to avoid woody roots. Variety Cheltenham Green Top is particularly suited to overwinter growing.
Beetroot or Beta Vulgaris (its latin name), is a root crop which had its origins in ancient times as a dour tasting, bland looking root, commonly found in salty banks of coastal regions of various part of the world. Later this crop, which was at the time mostly used for medicinal purposes (generally obtained from its foilage) was gradually cultivated and turned into the brightly coloured and naturally sweet tasting, rooted cultivars we are familar with today.
Despite its undeniably healthy and nutritious qualities, Beetroot conjures up unpleasant images for a large chunk of Western Europeans. For example. If I was to say the word Beetroot, or mention that i'm going to make something using Beetroot. The first thing that instantly jumps to most peoples minds is, hideously sharp flavours, and jars of soggy pickled beetroot (often pre-sliced) on supermarket shelves.
In contrast, If I was to say the word Beetroot to an Eastern European they might think of Bortsch (A Beetroop soup) or a Russian Vinegaratte (similar to French word for the salad dressing) salad, made from diced beetroot, potato, red kidney beans, and gherkins.
Don't get me wrong there is a place for the pickled beetroot we are all familiar with. Its fine in a sandwhich, as a side, or even sliced up and slapped inside a Burger, as they commonly do in some parts of Australia.
However, it isn't really representative of what Beetroot, or rather I should say fresh Beetroot tastes like. In fact far from it. The taste of the firm, sweet flesh, of freshly cooked beetroot is something particularly special and savoured around the world. My personal favourite is when it is combined in a salad, with other ingredients such as feta and broad beans.
Well as the ubiqiuitous pickled variety, Beetroot are obviously available year round in various guises. Ranging from sliced, crinkle cut and even baby whole ones. My advice however is to avoid them. Other than for a few basic uses they are useless.
Generally the pickling vinegar is to harsh, and it swamps and overpowers the delicate flavours.
A great alternative which is now widely available and a relatively acceptable product, is the ready cooked pre-packed packs. Often sold in packs of four. These have a limited shelf life compared to the true pickled ones, but they taste infinitely better in sandwhichs etc, because they are lightly cooked and then plunged into a sweet vinegar only momentarily.
However, undoubtedly the best way to enjoy Beetroot is by purchasing fresh ones and cooking them yourself. A word of caution though, is that like alot of vegetable crops Beetroot detoriates pretty quick after harvest so try to buy them as fresh as you can.
~Growing your own~
Undoubtedly the best way to enjoy fresh Beetroot is to grow your own. The large corky seeds offer good germination rates and are easy to handle. There are countless varieties to try varying in shape, colour and texture. One of the most attractive are the Italian "Choggia" variety, which has almost a "stick of rock" appearance, with a nice red an white concentric ring effect running through the middle.
You can grow Beetroot from February through to August, and can be grown almost anywhere. If your sowing earlier than March, it is best to start the seeds inside, before transplanting to their final positions.
To make sure of a steady supply, it is advised to make fresh sowings every two or three weeks, to avoid a sudden glut. However should you end up with too many they can be stored in a dark cold place for several weeks quite easily,.
Beetroot can be harvested anytime the roots reach golfball size upwards, but I would say they are at their best, when smaller rather than larger.
~Things to Watch~
Beetroot doesn't have any particular issues or bugs, even the garden menace of slugs and snails don't particularly trouble beetroot. The main thing with Beetroot is to ensure adequate watering, and harvesting before they get excessively large. Not paying attention to either of these, can lead to a very woody almost unpalatable root.
~Culinary Uses and Health~
Lets make it very clear, Beetroot are incredibly good for you. Fresh Beetroot is one of the best sources of Folic Acid, right in there amongst leafy greens. It is also very rich in Potassium, Silica and Manganese.
You may have seen in the news, that Beetroot also contains various micro nutrients which in conjunction with the Potassium levels can help lower blood pressure. Further, Beetroot also can help lower Cholesterol because of its high proportion of soluble fibre, which helps clean out the system. So all in all, a very heart healthy vegetable.
Sadly, most people only consume the nutrient drained pickled variety, but I would urge you to try some of the fresh stuff.
From a Culinary point of view, Beetroot is outstanding. From freshly grated baby Beetroot in salads, to delicious Russian style salads, its so versatile.
Just as an idea here are two quick summer salads.
Firstly cook some Beetroot in their skins, cool, peel and dice. I would recommend boiling them on a gentle simmer for around 25 minutes, after which time they will be cooked through. Alternatively you can wrap them in foil, and bake them. VERY important though, DO NOT attempt to peel or trim off too much straggly root prior to cooking, or your going to leach away all the goodness. If your ultra paranoid about staining your hands, rub some oil onto them prior to handling them, to peel them.
*Russian Style, Vinigarette Salad*,
Mix together in a bowl, some Diced Beetroot, Diced Cooked Potato, Red Kidney Beans, Diced Gherkins, and combine with some vegetable oil, season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper.
*Beetroot, Feta and Broad Bean salad*,
Mix together Diced Beetroot, Feta chunks, Blanched and skinned Broad Beans, and mix with Olive Oil, fresh chopped mint, and some fresh Peas.