BEETROOT: More than meets the eye?

Author: The Lost Seed   Date Posted:14 March 2024 

Grow.  Harvest. Peel.  Cook.  Eat.  Simple right? Many would consider them boring - some like them some don't.  They're great made into chips!  Right? Did you know that there's more to this vegetable root than meets the eye?  


Grow.  Harvest. Peel.  Cook.  Eat.  Simple right?

Many would consider them boring - some like them some don't.  They're great made into chips!  Right?

Did you know that there's more to this vegetable root than meets the eye?  

There's actually hundreds of varieties of different types of beetroot and they actually fall into a few different categories and each for a different purpose.

Table Beetroot

These are the large, classic round beetroots used for eating.  Many gardeners choose to harvest these roots young to be used as 'baby' beets raw in salads, pickled, pureed, roasted or steamed.  The leaves of table beets may still be used in salads when harvested young however lack the tenderness of the bunching types.

Varieties include:  Bulls Blood, Burpee's Golden Globe, Detroit Dark Red, Early Blood Turnip, Golden Detroit, Chioggia, Cylindra, White Detroit and Crosby's Egyptian Flat etc.


Bunching Beetroot 

These varieties are dual purpose with not only the classic edible roots, but also delicious, tender green leafy tops.  Their leaves and stems are much more palatable than the leaves of table varieties.  It should be noted that the roots will tend to be slightly smaller in size compared to their table beet companions - usually around tennis ball size.

Varieties include:  Early Wonder, Lutz Green Leaf, Green Top Bunching etc.


Sugar Beets 

These are also known as 'Processing Beets' and used to produce sugar substitutes.  The sugarbeet contains up to 20% sugar and can easily be extracted by using the steps below:

1. Grate the root using a vegetable shredder, or cut into very thin slices or tiny cubes.
2. Transfer the cut beets to a large pot and add just barely enough water to completely cover.
3. Cook the beets over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are soft and tender (approx. 1 hour)
4. Using a sieve, strain the water off the beets and save the beet sugar water. 
4. Simmer the beet sugar water over low to medium heat, stirring frequently, until it becomes a sweet thick dark beet sugar syrup similar to honey or molasses. Then turn off the heat.

To make sugar crystals:
1. Wait until the syrup cools and then transfer to a storage container. Crystals will slowly form in the same way that honey crystallizes.  Note: This could take a few months!  :0l
2. Periodically remove the formed crystals fom the container and then crush them into smaller crystals and store in an air-tight, moisture proof jar.

Varieties include:  Sugarbeet


Fodder Beets 

Used as a high energy, nutrient dense fodder for grazing animals - and they love it too!

Varieties include:  Fodder Beet, Mangel Wurzel etc.



When to Grow?
Beetroots can be grown year round in Australia, but the best time to plant them is late summer or autumn when the wet season has passed.   Beetroots thrive in temperatures ranging from 10-30'C.
In cooler areas, seed should be sown in the warmer months.

How Long Does it Take to Grow?
As a general rule, beetroot takes from 50 to 70 days to grow from seed.  Harvesting baby beets can be accomplished in as little as 30 to 40 days.  For mature roots wait until they are the size of a tennis ball, but don't wait longer than 70 days as the roots may become woody and lose flavour if left in the ground too long.

How to Sow?
To grow successfully, beetroot plants require a well-drained soil and at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Start by loosening the soil to a 20–25cm depth using a garden fork or tiller.  Any stones or debris should be removed as they may obstruct the growth of the roots.  Plenty of organic matter in the form of broken down compost, aged manure, broken down leaf mulch, worm castings etc should be dug in to enrich the soil.  Careful not to add too much however as soil too high in nitrogen will favour the production of leaves rather than root!

Sow the beetroot seeds directly into a friable soil about 2cm deep with 10cm spacing and 30cm between each row.  Soil should be kept moist but not waterlogged.  All going well, seedlings will emerge in 10 to 14 days.

Each beetroot seed is actually a cluster of seeds, so they may need to be thinned to 1 or 2 plants when they begin to grow and reach about 5cm in height. 

Companion Plants?
LIKES: Bush Bean, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Onions, Peas, Silverbeet  
DISLIKES: Beans, Tomato, Dill

How to Harvest?
The roots are ready to harvest when they reach the size of a tennis ball.

Gently dig around the root to check its size.

If it looks ready, carefully pull the beetroot from the soil by loosening the soil around the plant and grasping the base of the stems to lift it gently.

Best Way to Store?
Trim the leaves to about 5cm above the root leaving the stems intact - this will prevent the beetroot from bleeding and losing moisture.

Store in a cool, dry place or place in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator wrapped in a paper towel.

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