Beetroot are a really easy vegetable to grow and a staple part of the Kiwi salad. You can sow directly from seed or buy punnets ready to plant.
There are a few varieties to choose from: Cylindra (which I have grown) Detroit Dark Red, Bullsblood, Derwent Globe being some of the main ones.
In warmer parts sow between August and May and in cooler, frost-prone gardens sow between September and March.
Soaking your seeds for an hour or so before sowing can improve the chances of good germination
Beetroot like a sunny spot but it can also handle partial shade. It can be grown between taller crops such as broad beans or alongside feathery carrots. Beetroot can also be grown in containers with plenty of drainage holes in the bottom.
Being a root vegetable, beetroot likes a fine, well-dug soil that is generally lump-free – at least to a hand’s-depth (So ideal for those with sandy soils). This allows their roots to grow evenly as they penetrate the soil and swell. Try and provide your beetroot with a soil that you can pretty much run your hand through – with a bit of effort. Soil should have a few goodies dug into it – such as sheep pellets, well-rotted manure or compost – about a spade full per square metre. Beetroot often grow well on soil that was composted for a previous crop – such as last season’s cabbages or broccoli. Any large lumps in the soil will result in the betroot ‘forking’ and becoming mishappen.
SOW & PLANT
You can sow beetroot straight into your garden beds as long as the soil is not too cold. Sow seeds about a finger tip deep and try and space them about a thumb knuckle apart. Thin seedlings as they develop so you end up with about a thumb’s length between them.
However, slugs can be a problem – wiping out tiny seedlings overnight in the garden. To get around this and to have seedlings ready for warmer times you can sow your seed into trays or punnets in early spring and protect them under glass or clear polythene as they develop. Pop two or three seeds into each punnet and select the strongest grower once they have sprouted and formed a pair of leaves. Seedlings are ready for planting out when they get to about a thumb’s length in height.
Plant seedlings into the garden about as far apart as they are tall. As they grow you can then harvest every other beetroot and eat them young and small then simply let the remainder grow a little larger before pulling them.
For a well-rounded root your plants will need regular watering – especially in dry spells. Best is to check soil moisture on dry days – should be cool and damp when you push your finger tip beneath the surface. Adjust watering accordingly until it rains again. Mulch surrounding soil as seedlings start to swell at their base and use a hoe to keep weeds down.
HARVEST OR PICK
Leaves can be picked during the growing period, just pinch one or two from each plant to add to salads. Careful you don’t pull on the roots when you do this – best use a knife.
Picking the Beetroot you should look at harvesting when they are about halfway between a golf ball and a tennis ball – unless they are cylindrical in which case the size of a medium to large carrot should do. Don’t let roots get too big or they will be tough and fibrous.
Sow or plant a batch of beetroot every three weeks and you’ll have a steady supply for the kitchen.
Cooking & Preserving Beetroot
For this some of this crop I am preserving into slices and cubes. Anyone can preserve there own beetroot it is really simple to do. All your require are some good sized glassed bottles (Pasta Sauce bottles are really good), a large pot to cook your beetroot in, a few staple ingredients you should have in the cupboard and a free afternoon.
The first step is probably the most important step in the whole process of preserving your beets – Sterilising your bottles. It is important that the bottles are free from all bacteria and any lingering smells that may taint your beets. What i do is place all the bottles in my dishwasher and run them through a normal cycle. This will sterilise them and remove any smells that may remain in the bottles. You can also wash in warm soapy water then boil in a pot of water for approx 5 minutes each.
Wash your beetroot if you have removed them from the garden, removing any dirt, roots and cutting the leaves off, but not too close to the beetroot. Be careful not to damage the surface as this will result in the colour leaching out while cooking. Beets must be cooked whole to maintain their vibrant colour. Fill a large saucepan with water and ad the largest beets first, then ad the smaller ones so they are all cooked evenly. Cook until you can place a knife through the beetroot.
Drain the cooked beets and set aside for 5 -10 min until cool enough to handle. Now the messy bit begins, if you have clean gloves, now would be a good time to put them on, unless you like purple hands! Peel the skin from beetroot – it should be quite easy to remove with your fingers but if it is difficult us the back of a butter knife to scrape the skin off with.
Rinse quickly under water and either slice or dice and place into a clean bowl. Continue until all beetroot is peeled and sliced. Keep and approximate note of how many cups worth of cooked beets you have as you will need this information later.
To make the pickling liquid you will need a medium sized sauce pan and the following ingredients:
1/3 Cup White Vinegar
1/4 Cup Castor Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Teaspoon Table Salt
This is for 1 Cup of Sliced/Diced Beets.
(You will need to multiply this to the amount of cooked beets you have)
Place all the above ingredients for the pickling liquid into a saucepan (Not the cooked beets) and bring to the boil.
While the liquid is coming to the boil fill up your sterlised jars with your sliced/dice beetroot leaving about a 2 cm gap from the top. Pour the slightly cooled (no more than 2 minutes cooling) pickling liquid on top of the beets, tightly screw the lid on and turn upside down onto the lid. Repeat until complete.
*By turning the bottles upside helps the jars to seal. Turn over once cooled and the “button” on top should be pressed in. If it doesn’t seal after cooling place in the microwave for 1 minute until hot and place on lid again and cool.
Leave at least one week before using to let the beets develop some flavour and pickle.
Label and date your preserved beets.
Keep opened jars of beetroot in the fridge, unopened jars can be stored in a dark cupboard