Sow beetroot after the last frost; all year round in frost-free gardens. Or sow seed indoors in a mini greenhouse with heat pad, and transplant once the weather warms.
This versatile and nutritious vegetable can be grated, shredded, boiled or roasted. It can be a pickle, a soup, a dip, a side dish, a main event or a salad.
It is a great match for fetta cheese, goat’s cheese, walnuts, hazelnuts, horseradish, yoghurt, cumin, pine nuts, oranges, dill, mint and rocket. Not quite convinced the beet deserves a place in your patch? Consider this: the leaves can also be eaten, cooked when harvested, or picked young leaf by leaf to add colour and flavour to a mixed salad. Seize the day and plant now for a harvest before the weather cools and growth slows.
Beetroot grow anywhere, even in heavy clay. Before sowing add compost and a handful of organic fertiliser to the soil. Beetroot seeds can be sown in autumn, spring and summer. Soak seeds overnight in warm water before sowing. Create rows 30cm apart and space the seed out 10 cm under 1.5cm soil. Each seed is actually a woody capsule made up of two or three seeds which result in roots growing on top of themselves. So once the baby beets are growing, thin out every second one. (Beetroot seed tape evenly spaces individual seeds and removes the need for thinning.)
In warm weather beetroot take 15 weeks to grow to a tasty size somewhere between golf ball and tennis ball. Put the date in your diary so you don’t leave them in to become woody and tasteless softballs.
Rusty orange and brown holes and spots on foliage indicate a trace element or nutrient deficiency in the soil. Boron and magnesium are the usual suspects. This can be corrected by checking the pH of the soil and adjusting to neutral, and by adding soluble trace elements (try product by Manutec).
Burpees Golden is a pretty, peach-coloured globe that tastes just like red beetroot but doesn’t stain.
Chioggia is an old Italian red and white striped variety.
White Blankoma is exotic-looking, but a little woody to my way of thinking.
Bull’s Blood is a rich dark colour and the almost-black leaves look terrific in the garden and in a salad.
Text: Linda Ross