How will I know when beetroot is ready to harvest?

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How to grow and harvest beetroot

Beetroots really are one of the easiest things to grow from seed and you will succeed even if you’re a total beginner gardener. They’re like radishes, you can just direct sow them into the ground or you can sow them into a gutter pipe which is what we tend to do. You just want to fine till the soil and then you can just transplant them out or direct sow them quite densely packed and then you can thin them and eat your thinnings.

You don’t want to start harvesting at the end of the row and just carry on willy-nilly because you’ll get lots of different sizes in one row. Instead, go back to your patch again and again removing the bigger ones. Apart from that, beetroots don’t really need much water, they don’t need any TLC; they just get on and grow themselves.

You can sow them in the garden anytime from April and the last sowing I do is probably about mid-July, then I’ll be picking them and harvesting them right the way through almost until Christmas. Beetroots are really good in July. We sowed these in late spring and we actually sewed them into gutter pipes and then transplanted them straight to here.

I love beetroot in three colours and that’s what makes it look more fun on the plate. I also make drinks and things out of beetroot as well so it’s lovely having the three different colours.

This is a variety called ‘Chioggia’ or ‘Candy Stripe’ and when you cut into it you’ll see the flesh is stripy – pink and white – and you can see that from the stem. When you’re harvesting beetroots, go through your patch and have a little rummage and you’ll find the bigger ones are starting to push themselves slightly out of the ground. You should be able to see the ones that are ready to harvest. You don’t want to start at the beginning of the row and just harvest down the row because you will then end up taking really small ones out which is a bit of a waste unless you want baby beetroot. You really want to pick them when they’re the right size, when they’re really tender, but they’re not too small so you’re not wasting them.

This one is the beautiful ‘Burpees Golden’ which is a lovely orange colour. You can just tell when they’re ready because they push themselves a bit higher than the rest and then you know that they’ve got to a good size.

Finally, I’m going to move on to the ‘Boltardy’ which are purple. These were definitely sown at the same time but have been a bit slower to grow.

What I always do is wash them here with a tap in the garden into a bucket and then just chuck the bucket with the soil onto the garden rather than bringing all the soil into the sink, blocking your drains. This way the soil just returns straight to the garden and that’s much easier and you don’t waste it. Actually, these have got almost no soil on them because it’s been so dry. When it gets wetter in the autumn you’ll find that they’re a bit muckier.

I’m going to actually use the green as well as the root in the recipe. I’m going to wilt the green down and use it almost like spinach and I’m going to boil the roots for about 30 minutes until they’re soft. Then I’m going to dress them in a yoghurt and tahini dressing with a bit of hazelnut toasted over the top.

Happy gardening,

Sarah

Related recipes:

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  • Chocolate, beetroot and orange cake recipe

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Garden Fundamentals – become a better gardener

You sow beet seed in the garden, and they come up too thick. So next year you plant less seed, and what happens? They grow too thick and need thinning again. Why is it that beet seed can’t be sown so that it does not need to be thinned?

I decided to have a close look at beet seed and in this post I’ll explain why beet seed is always planted too thick. I’ll also introduce you to a couple of new cultivars that don’t need to be thinned and tell you about my favorite heirloom beet which I have been growing for 30 years.

Why Do Beets Always Need to Be Thinned?

A Close Look at Beet Seed

The picture above shows some beet seed that was germinated using my baggy method, which is explained in the video below. This method allows you to germinate seed and have a close look at the process. I use this method to germinate most of my perennial, tree and shrub seeds, but I normally sow beets directly in the soil.

You can see that each beet seed has two or three roots coming out. Each root will develop into a separate plant.

If the above video does not play, try this link: https://youtu.be/dirz0WIMQi0

Beets Have Multigerm Seeds

The so-called beet “seed” is actually a cluster of seeds inside a dried fruit. When you plant them, you are actually planting the whole fruit and therefore you automatically plant several seeds in the same spot.

Botanically these are called multigerm seeds – the word germ refers to the embryo which can grow into a new plant. Each beet multigerm can contain 2 to 5 embryos.

Monogerm Beet Seeds

Scientists had discovered some sugar beets that produced only one embryo in a fruit and they have been in cultivation for some time. More recently, some table beets have also been developed which have a single embryo. Two of such cultivars are; Alvro Mono and Moneta.

If you grow monogerm beets, you will not have to thin them, provided you don’t seed too thickly.

My Favorite Beet

‘Cylinra’ beet, image from West Coast Seeds

I have been growing Cylindra for about 30 years. It is an old heirloom that forms a long carrot-like root. As it grows, it tends to stick up above the ground. Some people hill it so that the root is always covered with soil, which tends to keep it from getting woody, but I have never bothered with hilling. I find them to be very tender even if they get old.

Add Thinnings to Your Salad

You can thin beets in one of two ways. Either pull the extra seedlings out completely, or just cut off the leaves. The latter is the preferred method because it results in less root disturbance to the seedlings you keep, but I usually just pull the extras out.

In either case, add the thinnings to your next salad – both roots and top greens are edible.

Planting Seedlings

You can also germinate beet seeds inside, separate the seedlings and plant the seedlings individually. This eliminates the thinning process, but seems like more work to me. This can produce early beets.

If you like this post, please share …….

Growing Beets in the Home Garden

Beets are a nutritious, easy to grow vegetable. While they are grown mainly for their roots, beet foliage may also be harvested for greens. Beet roots are most often globe-shaped and dark red in color. However, the roots of some varieties can be flat or long and tubular. Golden yellow and white root varieties are also available.

Beets perform best in loose, well-drained soils. Clay soils can be improved by applying and incorporating compost or well-rotted manure into the soil. Raised beds are a solution for poorly drained sites.

Sow beet seeds at a depth of 1/2 to 1 inch any time after March in central Iowa. Additional plantings can be made every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous harvest. The last practical planting date for a fall crop is August 1. Rows should be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. When the seedlings reach a height of 3 to 4 inches, thin the planting. After thinning, plants should be spaced 3 to 4 inches apart.

The most common problem growing beets is not thinning the planting. Proper spacing is essential for a quality crop. Thinning is especially important for beets since every beet “seed” is actually a fruit which contains several seeds. When thinning the planting, remove the smaller, weaker seedlings and leave the stronger, more vigorous plants. The thinned plants can be used as greens.

Poor germination may be another problem. Poor germination may result from crusting of the soil surface or dry soil conditions. Crusting can be prevented by mulching the seeded row with sawdust, peat moss, or dry grass clippings. Water the row during dry weather to promote germination.

Beets may be harvested when the roots are 1 inch in diameter. However, the main crop usually isn’t harvested until the roots are 1 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. (Beets larger than 3 inches in diameter are often tough and fibrous.) Beets require approximately 50 to 70 days from planting until harvest.

After harvest, trim the foliage back to within 1/2 to 1 inch of the roots. Beets can be used fresh or frozen, canned or pickled. They are also suitable for long-term storage. Beets can be stored at a temperature of 32 F and relative humidity of 98 to 100 percent for 3 to 4 months.

This article originally appeared in the 3/12/2004 issue.

What are the Vegetables That Grow Underground?

vegetables image by sasha from Fotolia.com

When you think of fresh garden vegetables, you probably think of green, leafy salads topped with slices of juicy red tomatoes, diced peppers and crisp young cucumbers. Although these above-ground vegetables supply fruit brimming with flavor and bursting with color, many less showy vegetables grow beneath the ground and add variety and texture to your meals.

Carrots

carrots 2 image by Lee O’Dell from Fotolia.com

Tender young carrots grown in the home garden are favored by children who enjoy them right from the garden. Planted by seed in early spring, young roots form and enlarge, producing crisp sweet roots suitable for eating fresh or cooking as a side dish. Filled with vitamin A, these crisp roots add variety to the diet while supplying a good source of vitamins.

Potatoes

fresh potatoes image by Sergey Danilov from Fotolia.com

Potatoes grow quickly, producing tender young tubers beneath the soil. When hilled with soil, young roots produce an abundance of round or oblong tubers. Harvested early, new potatoes are firm and sweet and make a mouth-watering meal served with fresh young peas. When left to mature, large tubers make fluffy mashed potatoes, crispy fries and savory baked potatoes.

Turnip/Rutabaga

turnips organically grown image by DSL from Fotolia.com

Turnip or rutabaga forms a swollen root that provides a sweet flavor to soups and stews. Eaten raw, this underground vegetable has a strong spicy flavor, but mellows when cooked. Served mashed with a little butter, salt and pepper, it makes a flavorful side dish to liven meats and breads.

Beets

early red beets and young beet leaves image by Maria Brzostowska from Fotolia.com

Beets, often grown for their delicate young leaves and eaten as beet greens, produce swollen roots under the soil. When harvested in fall, plump red beets make an appealing side dish to brighten fall meals. Cooked and pickled, these tender morsels last all winter and bring back memories of country gardens brimming with produce.

Radishes

radish image by DSL from Fotolia.com

Radishes grow quickly, sprouting in as little a three days, and are ready for harvest within a month. When picked early, firm round roots supply a tasty garnish for potato or pasta salads. Eaten straight from the garden, radishes produce a burst of spicy flavor unmatched by other vegetables.

Onions

onions image by Maria Brzostowska from Fotolia.com

Onions planted in the spring form swollen roots ready for harvest in late summer or early fall. Harvested and dried, onions store well for the winter adding flavor to soups, stews and stir-fries.

Sweet Potatoes

Onions and Sweet Potatoes image by bawinner from Fotolia.com

Sweet potatoes require a long growing season to produce large tubers. Although difficult to grow to maturity in northern climates, southern gardeners grow sweet potatoes for a side dish or a filling for delectable sweet potato pies.

Underground plants – also known as root vegetables – are vegetables whose main edible portion is the root. While the leaves of many root vegetables are edible, they’re secondary to the edible part, which grows underground.

When you think of underground plants, you probably think carrots, potatoes, garlic, onions, and beets. Those are all some of the most common options, but you might not realize that there is an almost endless variety of root veggies out there. Jerusalem artichokes, rutabagas, celeriac, jicama, and lotus root are delicious – if less well known – options.

Root veggies are some of my favorite garden plants. They’re incredibly fun to harvest, and if you’re a massive fan of the fall season like I am, they’re perfect for making cozy, delicious fall dishes like a stew. They’re particularly nice if you are looking for something that can be stored for a good long while.

Challenges of Growing Underground Plants

One of the biggest challenges of growing underground plants is that you don’t quite know whether you’re going to be successful until you’re close to harvest time. Even then, some root vegetables – like potatoes – are hidden from view until the digging begins.

It’s tough to wait patiently without knowing whether the work and effort you’ve put in are going to reward you in some way. I’ve certainly lost patience in the past and rooted around the earth to spy on my underground plants. Often, the digging interrupts the growth. While it’s best to leave the plants alone, it’s not always easy to have faith in what’s going on out of sight.

Another challenge is that successfully growing root vegetables requires quality soil and a correct nutrient balance. Rocky soil, for instance, will leave you with deformed carrots. Dense, clay soil may cause trouble, too. If your soil has excess nitrogen, your plants may grow big and leafy, but end up with limited growth underground.

One crucial limitation with root veggies is that they don’t like to be transplanted. The process disturbs the root system, which can cause growth problems. Direct sowing is preferable when planting root vegetables, but direct seeding has its own drawbacks in certain instances. It may be too cold to sow root vegetables early enough for a specific harvest date. You may have pests that devour young plants or seeds. To eliminate the risk of losing your young seedlings, and encourage higher rates of germination, use netting to protect your root vegetables from harm.

When conditions are perfect, however, many root vegetables are easy to grow and can be eaten from top to bottom.

Why Grow Root Vegetables?

There are a few good reasons to consider sowing root vegetables for a spring or fall harvest:

They’re super nutritious: Because of the way that they grow, root vegetables soak up a ton of essential nutrients from the earth. Most root vegetables are chock full of the vitamins and minerals important for the human body. They’re also low in calories, so they’re perfect for filling up without going overboard.

You can use the whole plant: Eat the root, but also the leaves (note: not all root vegetable leaves are edible – don’t eat potato leaves!). The leaves are often just as nutritious and are an excellent substitute for other types of greens.

They require little space: While it’s important to thin sowings of root vegetables to encourage healthy root growth, most root veggies can be sown close together and need little room in the garden. Carrots, for instance, can be grown 16 per square foot.

General Care Tips

Regular watering is crucial to prevent roots from splitting. Thin out seedlings early to encourage roots to grow big. Choose disease-resistant varieties to avoid dealing with pest and disease. Mulch to conserve moisture, especially in sweltering conditions. Remove weeds promptly to eliminate competition for your root vegetables.

Types of Root Veggies and How to Grow Them

Aside from potatoes, carrots are probably one of the most popular underground plants. The versatile veggie can be prepared in multiple ways: roast, boil, mash, grate, juice, or eat them raw.

You don’t need much space to grow carrots, just make sure your planting spot is deep enough and your soil is not too heavy and rocky. Use the leafy tops to make pesto or add the greens to dishes as a garnish.

Needs: Even watering and moist soil are required to prevent root deformation. Carrots don’t have many pest and disease problems except for carrot fly. Swallowtail butterflies also lay their eggs on plants in the carrot family (parsley included) and the caterpillars love to eat the foliage. The butterflies will pollinate other plants in your garden, so you can choose to leave them alone, but a large infestation will eventually completely decimate a carrot crop.

Unique challenges: Slow germination is one of the toughest aspects of growing carrots. The tiny seeds are slow to sprout. Because the seeds are so small, people tend to waste carrot seeds, too. Early thinning is important, but it can be tough when seed sprout slowly. Not sure if your seeds are just slow to sprout or are too old to germinate? Try pre-sprouting your carrot seeds to maximize your chances of success.

The first time I grew potatoes, I was amazed that a few sprouted pantry spuds managed to grow once planted in the dirt. I was space-starved at the time, but I really wanted to see what would happen if I planted a potato in the ground, so I grabbed some recycling bins that were lying around the garage and filled them with dirt.

The bins quickly overflowed with foliage. The trouble? I was annoyed that I couldn’t see what was going on beneath the surface!

Needs: Potatoes like slightly acidic fertile soil and should be planted in a location or container that allows for hilling. As you hill up around the tuber plants, the plant roots spread and produce potatoes. Without hilling, you won’t get many potatoes. I also like to add straw to my potato bags. It acts as mulch and keeps the soil nice and fluffy. Your potatoes need full sun to flourish and should be watered regularly.

Unique challenges: It can be hard to know when it’s time to harvest your potatoes. Then there’s the mystery of what’s happening beneath the soil. Noticing a bunch of beautiful leaves and flowers, but once the time comes to harvest, there are no potatoes in sight? Your soil is likely high in nitrogen, which encourages healthy leaf growth, but too much can stunt root growth. Potatoes also require a bit more space than other plants. If you’re not willing to sacrifice an entire bed to a potato crop, consider growing potatoes in bags or large containers.

I love beets because they have a wonderfully complex flavor that tastes like nothing else in the garden. I’m a particular fan of pickled beets and always have a jar on hand to enjoy with winter meals.

There’s something comforting about a sweet pickled beet. Probably because it was a food I often ate during my childhood. Did you know that you can also eat beet leaves? The beet is a close relative of swiss chard – it’s why the seeds look so similar – and the leaves closely resemble the taste of chard leaves. Use them in place of chard in any dish.

Needs: Beets are a cool-season vegetable, so they are best sown in the early spring and in the late summer for a fall harvest. Thin seeds early to encourage sizeable bulb growth. Water plants regularly and plant in full sun. Beets also do fine in partial shade. They will grow slower, however, with less sun.

Unique challenges: Like many other root vegetables, beets don’t bulb properly in high nitrogen soils. Too much nitrogen causes the plant to focus its energy on foliage production. Beets should be harvested sooner rather than later. The longer they sit in the ground, the more likely they are to become tough and bitter. A period of frost, however, will sweeten them right up.

Rutabaga

The most mysterious of root vegetables is actually a hybrid. The cross between a cabbage and turnip is often mistaken as a simple turnip, but it’s oh so much more than that. I highly recommend reading Helen Rosner’s New Yorker article about this odd veggie combo.

It’s one of my favorite stew vegetables. To be honest, though, for most of my young life, I was convinced that rutabagas were just big turnips. It made sense when I found out later that this was utterly wrong. The taste is totally different and, in my opinion, much more pleasant than that of a turnip.

Needs: Rutabagas are hardy root vegetables that grow best in full sun and fertile soil. They need lots of water at the peak of the summer season when things tend to get a bit dryer than usual.

Unique challenges: Because rutabagas are a brassica family vegetable, they’re the target of the dreaded cabbage moth. Without insect netting, the larvae of this moth quickly devour young plants and leave them skeletonized. Use row covers to prevent an infestation, but be careful to cover plants early.

Turnip

I’m indifferent about turnips, but I know that some people love them. I’m partial to the mini turnips I receive in my CSA basket every year. The large version just doesn’t do it for me. I’ll eat turnips, but they’re far from being my favorite vegetable. The flavor is a bit too pungent for my taste.

Needs: While turnips tolerate shade, they should be grown in full sun. In zones 7 and above, turnips can be overwintered. Plant in fertile soil and thin turnips once seedlings are large and strong enough.

Unique challenges: Like other brassicas, turnips need protection from hungry insects. They’re easy to grow, but pests can easily destroy a crop in less than a week if left to their own devices. Another challenge? Turnips left too long in the ground or grown in scorching conditions have a pungent flavor – one that’s an acquired taste. For more delicately flavored turnips, grow them when the weather is cool and always be sure to water frequently.

Parsnip

Parsnips are a quintessential fall vegetable, but they’re not for the beginner gardener – at least, in my opinion. But with patience, they’re a tasty crop worth the effort. They’re best enjoyed after they’ve experienced a frost.

Needs: Their needs are similar to carrots. Remove weeds around your parsnips and remember to keep well-watered.

Unique challenges: The seeds are tough to germinate and slow to sprout. It may take up to a month for parsnip seeds to germinate.

Additional Options

You can also grow Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, kohlrabi, yuca, ginger, radishes, celeriac, jicama, and lotus root. Whatever underground plants you choose, you’re in for a treat.

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Beetroot

Betta vulgaris

Beetroot is so simple to grow in your Yummy Yard, and homegrown beets tastes ten times better than the stuff from the can that they put on your “hamburger with the lot”. Read on to find out why “they can’t be beeten”.

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: All Year (not when too wet)
Temperate Areas: July to March

Cool to Cold Areas: September to February

Position, Position, Position

Position-wise, beetroots aren’t overly fussy. They’ll tolerate full sun to part shade and even do fairly well in dappled light under a deep rooted tree. Oh, and don’t forget that beets do beetifully in containers, especially the polystyrene fruit boxes you get from your green grocers… now that’s sustainable!

Talking Dirty

Like most root vegies (yup, I’m talking about carrots and parsnip) beetroots need a rich, well-drained soil, chock full of organic matter like compost and manures. Drainage is the key so, if you’re faced with a heavy, clay soil, improve its structure with lashings of delicious compost! And maybe consider putting in some raised beds!

Feeling Seedy

Just like carrots, beetroots tend to do best if planted from seed rather than seedlings. The seed itself is a weird looking “cluster” of a few true seeds in a corky coating. Unlike carrots though, these seeds will benefit from a soak in water overnight… you’ll get better results, trust me!

To plant the seeds, make a 2cm deep trench, and pop them in about 2cm apart. Cover the seeds lightly with seed raising mix or a fluffy compost. Keep the area damp (not soaking wet) and in about two weeks your baby beets will appear. You will probably find you need to “Jenny Craig” them ie thin them out. Do this by spreading and removing beets so that there are around 6 – 8cm between each beet plant. This will give them the personal space they need to grow!

Feed Me

The faster beetroot grows the tastier and more tender it will be. The key to this is feeding. At planting time, I’d be whacking in some organic chook-poo based pellets to give your beets a kick along. I’d follow this up periodically with a drink of seaweed-based fertilisers as these contain everything needed for good healthy roots.

As with all root vegies, fertilisers high in nitrogen are unnecessary and totally counter-productive. Nitrogen puts on top leaf growth but does nothing for the roots beneath.

What about the Water?

Water deeply and keep the soil around emerging seedlings damp. Regular watering will help keep the beets from going woody but don’t flood them.

Are We There Yet?

Beetroot, as root vegies go, is one of the most obliging in terms of letting you know when it’s ready to harvest. This is because you can see beetroot crown above the soil surface. This makes it dead easy to assess the size of your beets and harvest when appropriate. How good is that? As a rough guide beets grown from seed are ready to roll from about ten weeks onward, depending on the size of the beets required. Make sure you harvest them before they get too big – I generally remove mine before they are 6-7cm across, otherwise they can be really tough and taste rubbish!

Pests and the Rest

Beetroots are amazingly pest free especially in a diverse, well-monitored patch. The only thing that will really knock them for six is too much water at an early age. Really wet soil leads to what’s known as “damping off”, a highly technical term that explains why seedlings fail. Essentially it’s a fungal disease that thrives in cold, wet soil, and picks on the weak and vulnerable eg seeds and seedlings. As they say, timing is everything, so plant beets when soil is warming and the wet season has well and truly passed.

Hot Tip

I have a couple of dead simple hot tips for your bounty of beets. Firstly, when harvesting, leave a bit of stalk (about 3cm) attached to the beetroot. This makes them much easier to handle, especially when storing and cooking and means you won’t hurt their delicate skin and make them bleed. Second tip is that the leaves can be eaten! They make an awesome, colourful addition to really boring leafy salads! Go on, make your mates green with envy!

Eat Me

Fresh, homegrown beetroot just begs to be baked!

Wrap beetroot in foil and place in the oven. After about and hour, remove the beetroots and allow to sit for a while to cool. Use the foil to scrape off the skin so that your fingers don’t get stained!

Slice and place on sandwiches or in a salad with beans, potatoes, beetroot leaves, olives and your favourite vinigarette.

Here’s a good way to preserve those beetroots if you have harvested too many.

Pickled Beetroots

To make two 500 ml jars:
2 Cups vinegar ( mix and match using whatever you have in your pantry)
½ Cup water
¼ Cup brown sugar
6 cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns

Place all ingredients in a saucepan.
Bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Strain the liquid and pour over the baked beetroot which you have placed in your sterilised jars.

Hint: When your beetroot has been removed from oven, place your washed and rinsed sterilising jars in there to dry out while you prepare the pickling liquid.

Beets are one of winter’s sweetest treats. This root vegetable, which is harvested all summer through late fall, stores well and keeps for months. While mature both golden and red beets have an earthy, bitter flavor raw, they turn candy-like when roasted, grilled, or steamed. (Younger, early-season beets are tender and tasty raw.) Beets are also great for baking—their vibrant color acts as a natural dye, making chocolate cakes richer and darker.

How to Buy

If buying beets early in the fall or winter, there’s a good chance they’ll still have their tops. But the greens wilt long before the root (the actual beet portion of the veggie) goes badly, so farmers typically remove the greens before storing them. If you’re lucky enough to store a bunch with the greens, be sure that they aren’t wilted or mushy. If they’re pert and perky, they can be steamed, braised, or sautéed.

How to Store

Store beets without their tops loose in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge. Kept from moisture, they will last for weeks up to a couple of months. If the greens were attached, wrap them loosely in damp paper towel and keep in the crisper; the greens will last for about half a week. You can also pickle beets as you would cucumber—they’ll last indefinitely when canned properly, but if you don’t own a canner, you can store them in a sealed jar in the fridge for a few weeks.

Cook it: Our best beet recipes

Beetroot has been eaten since Roman times and by the mid-nineteenth Century it had become a very popular vegetable. Beetroot is usually boiled, baked, braised or pickled in vinegar. Red beetroot originated from Beta vulgaris, which is a native of Southern Europe. A red-fleshed round or cylindrical root, it can be used as a freshly cooked hot vegetable or eaten cold with salads. Beetroot is a good source of Vitamin C and folic acid.

Nutritional Value

Nutrient Raw Cooked Pickled
Energy kJ 154 195 117
Kcal 36 46 28
Protein g 1.7 2.3 1.2
Carbohydrate g 7.6 9.5 5.6
Fat g 0.1 0.1 0.2

Preparing and Using

When buying beetroot choose small ones if possible. To cook whole, first rinse under cold running water. Cut the stalks to about 2.5cm above the beetroot and don’t cut away the root or peel it.

To bake in the oven place in a dish with a tightfitting lid. Add 4–5 tbsp of water. Lay a double layer of foil over the dish before putting the lid on and bake in a low oven for 2–3 hours. It’s ready when it begins to wrinkle and the skin can be easily rubbed away.

Beetroot can be pickled, puréed or made into a relish or jam. Flavours and ingredients that go well with beetroot include soured cream, crème fraiche, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, apple, onion, dill and vinegar.

In Season: Versatile beetroot more than something that comes out of a tin

ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ Witt chef tutor Craig Ludlow adds the final touch to his beetroot seed slaw.

What’s growing in your garden or flooding the markets? In Season follows Witt’s many chefs and journalist Virginia Winder in their quest to source the freshest fruit and vegetables, and serve them up with simple sense and inspiration.

Beetroot doesn’t just come in a tin, says Witt chef tutor Craig Ludlow.

To prove that, he’s used the crimson root vegetable to make a slaw with carrots and seeds, a decadent moist chocolate cake and an aromatic chutney.
“The reason why I chose beetroot is it’s pretty versatile,” says the tutor of the Level 3 New Zealand Certificate in Cookery.

ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ Craig says beetroot is ‘full of all the good stuff’.

* ​In Season: Feijoas, the perfect fruit
* In Season: Seeing summer out with ratatouille
* In season – blueberries are the big blue super food

“You can do a lot with it, it’s abundant at this time of year and most people don’t know what to do with it. Most people’s experience with it is just beetroot in a tin.”
While this is a great time for the tasty veggie, it is available all year round. The golden beetroot, however, is in season during May and June.
Craig has some of the red beetroot growing in his garden, thanks to his wife. “Basically, nothing goes in our garden that’s not edible.”
While his wife is the gardener, naturally Craig is most at home in the kitchen, where he prepares the slaw two to three times a week at this time of year. Made with raw ingredients, including the grated beetroot and carrots, this dish is cheap to make.
“The carrot takes the beetroot colour and takes over the flavour of the beetroot.”

Not only does this slaw brighten up a winter’s day, it’s also incredibly healthy. “The bright red of the beetroot is a massive antioxidant,” he says. “It’s full of all the good stuff.”

ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ Craig adds the final touch to his beetroot seed slaw. Using gloves helps avoid red beet stains.

The pumpkin and sunflower seeds are also healthy and add crunch to this dish, the spinach is all goodness and the mint gives it a fresh garden taste. He’s topped the In Season offering with chervil.

His tip for making this slaw is to use a sharp grater, taking care not to injure yourself.

For the dressing, it’s important to use good ingredients, especially virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed orange. The citrus juice, oil, honey and balsamic vinegar combine with salt to complement the colourful combo.
Craig says the slaw would go with any meat dish, but he particularly likes it with grilled chicken. In the writer’s home kitchen this past weekend, it went brilliantly with sesame and ginger salmon.
It’s also best served fresh, because the beetroot does tend to bleed.
The beetroot chocolate cake makes a decadent dessert. It can either be made as a whole cake or as individual servings, which is what Craig has done.

ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ These decadent beetroot chocolate cakes are moist and have an earthy flavor.

For the cake and the chutney, the beetroot is steamed first and then grated.

“You get this beautiful earthy flavour in the back,” he says, of the cake. “It’s not overwhelmed with sweetness.”

He’s topped the cakes with a cream cheese butter icing and decorated them with shaved chocolate.
The chutney is straightforward. Chop everything up small, but don’t worry too much if you don’t have brilliant knife skills, because it will all cook down.
“Follow the recipe and you can’t go wrong.”
Craig says the chutney would go well in a classic cheeseburger, with a cheese platter after dinner or with an Indian meal, because the condiment contains aromatic spices.

ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ Try this beetroot chutney in your classic cheese burger or with a cheese platter.

“This is the sort of stuff I’m into and I try to impress on my students,” says Craig, who studied at Witt himself in 1999 under chef tutor Denis Duthie.

He then headed to the South Island and “came home when everything fell down in Christchurch”.

Talking about his job at Witt, Craig becomes highly animated. “I love my job. I don’t want to do anything else. I get up every morning and I smile and I go home every night and I’m smiling.”
The 35-year-old says he always wanted to be a history teacher, but then cooking became his life.
Now he’s combining his two loves – teaching and food. “This is the best destiny for me.”
Members of the public keen to try the students’ wares of WITT can book for dinner in Impressions Restaurant at New Plymouth’s Bell St Campus on the next four Wednesdays – June 1, 8, 15 and 22. Call 06 7573100 ext 8940 to make a reservation with Robyn. Numbers strictly limited.
Food Fact: The bright red pigment in beetroot is highly nutritious. This root vegetable contains “a unique group of red pigments called betalains, which may help boost the body’s detoxification processes and have anti-inflammatory activity,” says vegetables.co.nz.
Beetroot also contains a significant amount of potassium and is a good source of folate.

ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ This slaw is made with freshly grated beetroot and a whole lot more.

Beetroot Chocolate Cake

1. Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Brush a 21cm round spring form cake pan with the melted butter to lightly grease. Dust lightly with the Tbsp of flour, shake off excess. Line the base with non-stick baking paper.

2. Peel the beetroot, then use a grater to finely shred. Set aside.

3. Place the cocoa and hot water in a medium bowl and stir until smooth. Add the sugar, honey and eggs, and use a wooden spoon to beat until smooth. Mix in the beetroot.

4. Combine the milk, oil and vanilla essence in a jug. Use a large metal spoon to fold half the flour and then half the milk mixture into the beetroot mixture until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and then the remaining milk mixture.

5. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

6. Set aside for 5 minutes and then turn on to a wire rack to cool. Ice with a cream cheese butter icing and top with shaved chocolate.

Cream Cheese Butter Icing

50g cream cheese
50g butter
50g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1. Mix together the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and vanilla essence until smooth. If you want a sweeter mixture, add more icing.

Beetroot Chutney

2 tsp garlic (chopped)
2 tsp ginger (grated)
500ml white wine vinegar
500ml caster sugar
1 tsp cumin (ground)
1 tsp cinnamon (ground)
2 tsp cardamom (ground)
1 tsp cloves (ground)
1kg beetroot
4 green apples
2 red onions
1 lemon (juice)

1. Cook beetroot until tender, cool, peel then dice. Precooked beetroot is available but steaming will be the best option for nutrient and colour retention.

2. Dice apples and onions and place in a saucepan with vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger, spices and lemon juice. Bring to an easy boil, not rapid.

3. Add beetroot, return to the boil, then simmer, for about half an hour or until the mixture starts to gel and thicken.

4. Bottle into sterilised jars.

5. Serve with bread and cheeses or as a great accompaniment with roast meats, in sandwiches or a nice burger.

Beetroot and Spinach Seed Slaw

Serves 6

2 medium beetroots
4 carrots
100gm spinach leaves
10 mint leaves
1⁄2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1. Grate the raw beetroot and carrots by hand or in your food processor using the grater attachment.

2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, pour in the balsamic and orange dressing. Mix gently and serve as soon as possible, otherwise slaw will bleed.

Balsamic and Orange Dressing

Juice of 1 orange (or 1⁄2 cup orange juice)
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1. In a cup mix the orange dressing ingredients.

Stuff

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One of the rules of good food shopping is that any vegetable sold with a coating of mud usually deserves a closer look. There is not only the chance that your root vegetables are more likely to be fresh from the field, but in better condition. Vegetables tend to be happier in soil than in plastic. The sacks of sand in which our family kept its home-grown parsnips and turnips saw them in fine fettle through till early spring. My own carrot crop is currently doing well simply by being left in the garden. Yes, muddy veg leaves a mess in the sink, but I enjoy washing their faces under a running cold tap to reveal their jewel-like colours. It is one of the many little pleasures of cooking.

Jerusalem artichokes, often the muddiest of them all, have been getting easier to find in the shops and most greengrocers seem to have a box of the knobbly, beige tubers now. They make a cheap, velvety soup that warms like few others. I brighten the resulting greyness up with a bunch of parsley, pretty much the only herb in good nick right now.

Parsley and artichokes are made for one another in more ways than one. Both have an instant earthiness, a grounding effect on a dish and both are virtually the only things worth picking in my little vegetable patch this week. The thick, hairy stems that signal their position by the hedge are black and crisp, swaying in the winter wind, but the tubers are toasty under the ground, hanging from their roots like so many ivory baubles. I have dug three of the 12 bunches up already. Those in the shops are more knobbly but the flavour is the same. At least it is to me. An artichoke anorak, and there must be one or two out there, could probably tell the difference but I am not sure I want to be downwind of them.

Parsley and artichokes work in a salad, too. Last night I brought the swollen roots to tenderness in boiling, lightly acidulated water, then drained and sliced them. While their cut surfaces were still moist with steam, I turned them briefly in a somewhat chucked-together dressing of walnut oil, lemon zest and juice, and enough parsley to make the dressing sluggish to stir. We ate it with fat Herefordshire bacon, grilled so crisp it snapped like sheets of ice.

Several other underground vegetables have turned up on the table this week. Not as part of any great plan to eat cheaply, but just because they caught my eye while shopping. Parsnips appeared on Tuesday as a crust for a cottage pie. I have done this before, and I recommend it – especially if you are the sort who is generous with the butter when you mash root vegetables. With the exception of beetroot, they all like a pat of the yellow stuff. Beetroot seems happier dressed with the nuttier oils such as groundnut and walnut, and mashed coarsely and without embellishment. Stunning with a pork chop and a spoon or two of apple sauce.

I rarely introduce meat stock into the process of making any sort of vegetable soup, but a beefy broth does wonders for a beetroot soup. Not only does it knock the edge off the sweetness, but takes the soup to another level, making it more suitable as the main dish for a light lunch. Last time, I spooned in small mounds of a herb-speckled goats’ curd – a fresh cream cheese – loosely linking the recipe to its borscht and sour-cream origins.

Every parsnip soup in my kitchen seems to show its lineage to Jane Grigson’s seminal curried parsnip, but this week I took the vegetable at its most simple, sautéing it with butter and thyme, then pouring in vegetable stock and leaving it to simmer. Good though it was after blitzing in the blender, and no doubt thanks to the initial frying of the roots, I just couldn’t help bring in echoes of Jane’s soup with torn-up Indian breads on the side.

And I know there is a knee-jerk reaction to stirring cream into root-vegetable soups, but I am not sure we need to. Dull-looking they may be, but they have a quiet and honest luxury all of their own.

Artichoke and parsley soup

There is some suggestion that peeling your artichokes reduces the resulting wind factor. I have honestly never noticed the slightest bit of difference. Serves 4.

2 medium onions
a thick slice of butter
600g Jerusalem artichokes
1 litre of stock or water
half a lemon
a good bunch of parsley

Peel the onions. Cut them in half from root to stalk, then into slices about the width of your little finger. Put the butter into a deep, heavy pan, let it melt over a moderate heat then add the sliced onions. Keep them cooking at a steady pace, with the occasional stir, until they are still pale but soft enough to crush between thumb and finger.

Meanwhile, scrub and roughly chop 450g of the artichokes. It is worth paying special attention to the muddy crevices of the more knobbly tubers. You can peel them if you want, but there is little point unless the skins are thick. Add the juice of the lemon, the stock or water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat so that the soup continues at an excited simmer.

Test the artichokes for tenderness after 25 minutes or so; they should be near the point of collapse. Pull the leaves from the parsley stems and add them to the pot, keeping a few back for later. Keep the stalks for stock. Briefly blitz the soup in a blender. It should be thick but not completely smooth.

Slice the reserved artichokes in half lengthways, warm a little butter in a non-stick frying pan, then put the artichokes in cut side down. Let them colour, then turn down the heat and leave the tubers to cook till soft and tender to the point of a knife. Turn them during cooking. Season with salt and a little roughly chopped parsley.

Warm the soup, then pour it into warm soup bowls and add the fried artichokes.

Beetroot soup with goat’s curd and gherkins

Serves 4-6

500g raw beetroot
2 medium-sized onions
a thick slice of butter
800ml chicken or beef stock

For the goat’s curd (per person):
2 tbsp goat’s curd or soft goat’s cheese
3 small gherkins (cornichon)
a little fresh thyme

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Trim and scrub the beetroot and put it in a roasting tin. Pour in a finger’s depth of water, then cover with tin foil, scrunching it round the rim of the tin. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your beetroot, until they are knifepoint tender and the skins will push off cleanly.

Peel the onions and roughly chop them. Soften them in the butter in a deep, heavy-based pan over a moderate heat. Remove the beets from the tin, push the skins off with your thumb and chop the flesh into bite-sized pieces. Stir the beetroot into the onions, then pour in the stock and bring the mixture to the boil.

Season with salt. Turn the heat down and leave at a gentle simmer for 25 minutes or so, till the beetroot is completely soft and crushable between finger and thumb. Remove from the heat and blitz to a coarse purée in a blender or food processor. You can take it to a totally smooth texture if that appeals, but I prefer a little texture to my beetroot soup. Check the seasoning.

Make the goat’s cream by mashing the goat’s curd or cheese with the finely chopped gherkins, thyme leaves, a dash of the brine from the gherkin jar to taste, and a generous grinding of black pepper.

Directions
  1. Rinse and cut off the tops of the beets. Put them together in a foil packet and place this on a cookie sheet. Roast the beets, wrapped tightly in the foil, at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, or until they are tender when pierced with a small knife. The timing will really depend on the size of your beets. If your beets are giant, you may want to cut them in half before wrapping them in the foil to speed the process along. Allow the beets to cool to room temperature and then rub off their skins. Save any juices that have collected in the foil.
  2. In a small pan, heat the olive oil until shimmering over medium heat and then add the sliced onions or shallot. Cook until translucent, but not yet browning, then remove from the heat.
  3. If the beets are not already at a size that your blender can handle easily, chop them up into smaller pieces. Add all of your beets to the blender with your chicken/vegetable stock and the cooked onion/shallot. Puree until silky smooth and uniform. The amount of time this will take and the setting to use will depend on your blender model.
  4. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the pureed soup until cold.
  5. Just before serving, prepare your garnishes. For the chevre cream, blend together the goat cheese and yogurt with a fork until a thick cream results. Put this into a separate container, cover and refrigerate. For the diced cucumbers, them into a bowl and toss with a splash or two of either white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for at least ten minutes to let the flavors meld.
  6. To serve, put a large dollop of the chevre cream in the center of each bowl of chilled beet soup, then sprinkle with fresh chopped chives. At the table, offer the cucumbers, additional vinegar or lemon juice, any leftover chevre cream and the fresh chopped dill as garnishes to add independently.
  7. Enjoy!

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