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Gardener's Notebook: To like beets, or to not like beets

Mom’s favourite beets were always ‘Detroit Dark Red'.
Beets are often an acquired taste.

YORKTON — It’s a veggie we either like or we don’t. Not much middle ground when talking about beets! But they are a delicious vegetable, edible from the root to the tip of the leaves, and high in folate, potassium and vitamin A. And they’re low in calories!

Let’s talk beets. Beets, beta vulgaris, come to us from the Middle East, and were even grown by the Egyptians. Raised not only as food, beets were also valued for medicinal properties in the Middle Ages.

Beloved by many cultures, beets are eaten cooked or boiled, made into soups, pickles, cooked and mixed with horseradish, and the beet leaves can be used as a colourful addition to salads, or steamed and eaten as a green.

I remember how delicious the beets were that Mom made for us: she picked them when they were still quite small, boiled them, then served then with a generous helping of butter and lemon juice. They were so delicious that they almost tasted like candy, and even the self-made sauce of butter and beet juice in the plate looked very appetizing to sop up with homemade bread. And her pickled beets were so delicious I remember them still.

Beets are easy to grow. Their favourite spot would be a spot in our gardens that receives full sun. Work the soil and don’t sow the seeds too thick. Our beets will be ready to harvest after about eight weeks. We can stagger the planting of beets so that we can extend our harvest. I read that we can plant beets till mid-summer; beets can take the cold a little better than other garden vegetables, so they will be fine into fall. When fall comes, beets are good keepers if we store them in a cool and dry place.

Did you know that each beet seed is actually several seeds together? That is why people who sow their beets thinly and then thin them out again after they come up always have a nice crop of beets.

Bigger isn’t always better with beets. We can start to harvest our beets when they are egg-size or even slightly smaller. Some beets do grow to mammoth proportions in our gardens whether we want them to or not, but beets of this size are difficult to manage for cooking, even thought they look extremely impressive when pulled from the garden! (Just as a sidenote, the same goes for zucchini: for best flavour and texture they should be picked when they are the size of a large cucumber, about six to eight inches long. Growing them to the size of Fred Flintstone’s club does not mean they are better! By that time, they get seedy and pithy, and are not nearly as tasty as smaller zucchini.)

My Mom’s favourite beets were always ‘Detroit Dark Red”. We also enjoy the “Chioggia” beets which are so pretty with their red and white circles. We have grown golden beets, and while they are pretty on the plate, they are more of a novelty, and I think most gardeners will agree that the favourite beets are the traditional burgundy beets.

Here’s a beet factoid: beets produce a red colouring called betanin, and it is used in various interesting and surprising ways, like to improve colour and even flavor in bought jams and sauces.

Perhaps you will be able to find some beets at the Yorkton Gardener’s Market which begins on July 16 at the corner of Melrose and Simpson in Yorkton. For info call Glen, 306-783-7040.

Thank you to our friends at YTW for their great work. Find out what’s new with the hort society at and have a good week in your garden!

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