When it comes to beauty in the garden and flavor on the table, beets are hard to beat! Posting has been light here at VeganReader.com while we’ve been busy with spring planting on our organic family farm. Now, having just set down my fork from eating my first plate of mouthwatering baby beets, I’m ready to share my beet tips with you. This article will teach you how to plant, grow, harvest and cook beets. In addition to beet cultivation tips, you’ll find two absolutely delicious beet recipes: Sweet Baby Beets and Quick Pickled Beets. Beets are so easy to grow and so tasty, I hope you’ll find a spot for them in your garden.
How to Plant Beets
This year, we plan to let some of our beets go to seed so that we can save them, but if you’re just starting out, you’ll need to purchase some safe organic beet seed. Finding safe seed has become especially critical because of the recent illegal approval of genetically modified sugar beets. GMO sugar beets can cross pollinate with your garden beets, contaminating them, so finding safe beet seed from a trusted company is your first step.
We recommend Fedco Seeds as they are, to our knowledge one of the most rigorously tested seeds sources in the United States and they have been part of the lawsuit against Monsanto’s GMO beets. Starting right is so important to your health and the health of everyone who will be enjoying your wonderful beets. This year, we planted Early Wonder Tall Top Beets because they produce both great greens and great sweet beets.
Prepare a garden bed in a sunny spot. We are fans of double digging the bed to get the soil nice and loose and we add in a healthy helping of finished compost from the compost pile. The soil should be fast-draining and as fine-grained as you can make it and as free of rocks as possible so that nothing gets in the way of the beets producing nice round roots for you to eat.
Our farm is located in Northern California, so planting times may differ slightly for your area, but basically we plant our spring crop of beets as soon as the danger of frost has past. Here, beets can be planted any time between April and July.
Plant the small, brown, bumpy seeds about 1/2″ deep. Water in well. Seed packages recommend planting the seeds about 1″ apart in rows about 1′ apart, but we plant more densely than this so that we can thin the sprouts once they are a few inches tall and eat them raw in salads of small early greens. Thin to 2″-4″ apart once the greens are looking leafy so that each plant has dedicated room to produce a fine, round root.
Beets germinate in about 1-2 weeks. When you see a set of two tiny green leaves on a red stem, you’ll know your beets are coming up. Keep soil moist, but not drenched, with regular watering. This spring, it has rained so much here that we’ve only had to water our beets a couple of times between planting and first harvest.
Keep the beet bed weed free – let those weeds grow and they will engulf and swallow up your young beet plants.
Beets grow remarkably quickly – one of the reasons they are such a good bet for beginning farmers. Within a month of planting, you should be able to thin out the leaves for salad greens. Big, flavorful greens can be picked for sauteeing in about 6 – 8 weeks. Now, my seed packet claims that the beets should be ready to harvest in 48 days, but this company is located in another part of country, and it took our coastal-grown beets from March 22 to today – June 10 to be ready for the first real harvest; that’s more like 70+ days. It will likely vary in your area depending upon the weather and temperature.
How To Harvest Beets
Beets (Beta vulgaris) are a member of the amaranth family. Likely originating in the Mediterranean and under cultivation for at least four thousand years, beets and chard are really the same plant; the one is grown for the crisp, colorful leaves and the other for the root vegetable. It is not recommended that you grow both beets and chard in the same area as they can cross-pollinate into a plant that is neither strong on leaves nor roots. As I mentioned, we felt like lucky ducks hitting upon Early Wonder Tall Top as it produces ‘chard’ every bit as good as the ruby-type chards we love and makes incredibly good beets, too. How can you miss with a combo like that?
Many cooks prefer mature beet greens to all others – collards, spinach, chard, kale, etc. Southern and Soul Food cuisines are strong on beet greens when they can be found and my husband is especially fond of gathering up huge handfuls of these ruby-ribbed leaves and preparing them with a combination of stir-frying and braising. He puts vinegar and hot peppers on them. I think this dish is a little too manly for me, but it’s definitely rich and satisfying if you’re craving something deeply green.
When you see the shoulders of the beets edging up above ground level and they look a good size to you, it’s time to harvest. We prefer that beets eaten hot be small – about 1-3″ in diameter. Big grandaddy beets (and they can get really large!) are best for pickling – that’s our considered opinion. Sometimes, when you are harvesting the early greens, you will get a tiny carrot-like beetroot along with the leaves. Prepare these as given in the Sweet Baby Beets recipe below, only cook them for less time. The roots will get as crunchy as caramelized sugar and they are heavenly!
Our beets just pop out of the ground with a brief tug on the leaves. If yours are giving you a little more trouble, use a trowel. For best flavor, pick beets within as short a time as possible from when you plant to eat them. We pick and eat as we go, harvesting a small basketful right before supper. If you’re dealing with a large harvest, beets will keep well in the fridge for several weeks. The greens, however, have a short shelf life and should be eaten as soon as possible after picking.
Bring the beets in and separate the roots from the leaves. If you’re not going to eat the beets or greens right now, don’t wash them until you are ready to cook them. Wash beets well. I’m always amazed by how clean beets look when you pull them from the earth. They are a little dusty, but they look very tidy. However, they need a good wash and when that layer of fine dust comes off, you’ll see that gleaming gem-like red that makes beets so appealing.
As promised, here are my 2 best farm woman beet recipes. Take these to the county fair and you will win prizes! Better yet – don’t let the judges have them – eat them yourself!
Sweet Baby Beets Recipe
Small organic beets
2 T. Organic Olive Oil
1 T. Organic Maple Syrup
Juice from 1/2 Organic Lemon
Salt to taste
Wash and quarter enough beets to feed everyone you’ll be sitting with at table tonight.
Heat olive oil on high heat in a good skillet.
Add beets and stir fry until the tip of your knife can be inserted into the beet with a little pressure. Beets should be just tender…never mushy. I’d say this takes about 3-5 minutes, stirring almost constantly.
Lower heat to medium.
Toss in your syrup and lemon. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes more to caramelize the beet juice/syrup mixture but don’t let it burn or you’ll have bitter beets – yuck!
Sprinkle with salt. Remove from heat and serve piping hot!
What could be more colorful than this appetizing dish? Its sweet and tangy with a soulful core to it. You won’t taste anything beet-ier in your life than this farm-to-table beet recipe. Try it once, and you’ll feel you finally know what beets are all about.
Quick Pickled Beets
My father is a devotee of pickled Harvard Beets, but good luck finding organic ones locally. I was thinking of my dear Daddy when I created my own homemade refrigerator pickled beet recipe and when I gave him his own privately-labeled jar, I think he could taste the chem-free difference between the product of my kitchen and its sad factory cousin.
Now, this is for refrigerator pickles…meant to be made, kept cold in the fridge and consumed within a month or two. You can find fine recipes for sliced pickled beets that have been prepared in the sterile and acidic manner that makes them fit for keeping unrefrigerated in the pantry all winter long. This is not that kind of recipe. Think of it more as almost-instant pickled beet gratification.
There’s a trick involved. If you want that sweet-and-sour goodness to fully penetrate the beets so that you can eat them within 2 days of pickling and really enjoy the flavor, you’ve got to cut the beets down to size. Big chunks won’t do. I hit upon the idea of grating the beets on the large holes of my grater, and this manner of preparation ensures that the Harvard-beet-style savor goes all the way through every bite. Here’s my recipe:
4-5 large organic beets
Salt & Pepper
1 Cup of Organic, Unseasoned Rice Vinegar
1 T. organic dill weed (fresh or dry)
1 t. organic dried powdered ginger
1/8 t. organic powdered cloves
1 T. prepared organic mustard
1/4 C. Organic Maple Syrup
Beet water (explained below)
Boil 2 16 oz. mason jars. Though these are refrigerator pickles, you still want to make sure the jars are as clean as possible. Boil the lids, too. Dry the jars and lids.
Wash and grate your beets on the large holes of a metal grater.
Boil water in the bottom of a pot and set your folding colander/steamer in it. The level of the water should be just below the base of the colander. When it comes to a boil, set the beets in the colander and put the lid on the pot. Steam for 3 minutes.
While the beets are steaming mix up your herbs and spices, salt and pepper, mustard, and maple syrup and divide it equally between the two jars.
Remove beets from heat and spoon into the jars. Pour in the vinegar and finish filling up the jars with some of the pink beet water you will find in the pot underneath your colander.
Cover with a clean dish cloth and let cool. Put on lids securely and refrigerate.
The beets are ready to eat after two days in the fridge and will keep good for a month or two.
To serve, lift the grated beets from the liquid on a fork or slotted spoon so that the pickling liquid runs off and the heap of jewel-toned beets remains. If you’re looking for an extraordinarily good addition to sandwiches, this is it. If you’ve always been a bit partial to those salad bar beets, you’re in for a treat. This is the real thing! Grown on your family farm, prepared in your kitchen and served up as a relish that will delight any lucky beet fan with whom you kindly share it.
A Last Word On Beets
Beets are a heritage crop. Prized in Italian and Middle Eastern cuisines, the friend of thrifty farmers’ wives for generations in the United States, beets have tremendous and irreplaceable value to all of us. Nutritionists praise beets for the vitamin C, B1, B2 and bioflavonoids they provide, and families working towards self sufficiency come to look kindly on this hearty root vegetable for its simple cultivation needs. I’m sure that, like me, you don’t want to lose beets.
Just last month, a group of protesters in the Netherlands shut down a Monstanto seed plant by forming a blockade, demanding that this corporation stop tampering with seed and patenting it. All over the world, small courageous battles are being waged against this agro-business giant in an effort to keep seed and food safe for human consumption. With more and more American families turning to the land for sustenance in hard times, awareness is growing here about food security and genetic modification of food crops.
I love sharing farming tips and fine recipes. Writing here at VeganReader.com helps me to feel a little bit like I get to be your neighbor, leaning on the fence, swapping stories and down home advice. I really enjoy this. But all the while I’m delighting over corn, beets and other vital crops that I’m growing, a worry is always with me. I don’t want to see the day when you and I are looking across the fence rail at one another, wondering why our contaminated food is no longer supporting our health or the lives of those we love most. I don’t want to see that day. To that end, let me urge you at the close of this article to begin researching the issue of biotechnology and the genetic modification of our food plants. Read more, think more, share more of your thoughts about this with the people nearest to you. Knowledge is power and I believe that our dependence on food for life will be our strength in opposing whatever threatens the future of plants. I hope you’re with me on this.
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