Grow beetroot This vegetable is a fast grower and is resistant to pests… what are you waiting for?
Fast-growing, virtually pest-free, packed with flavour, versatile and good for you and your garden… You have every reason in the world to start growing your own beetroot this year.
Fresh beetroot sometimes tastes as if you’re biting into clean, sweet earth. This earthiness, the sugar content (higher than that of carrots and mielies) and the concentrated jewel-like colour are both a joy and its undoing.
Or, as Nigel Slater puts it in his cookbook Tender: Volume 1: “It is sod’s law that beetroot should marry so happily with the virginal white of goat’s cheeses, mascarpone and thick puddles of crème fraîche, none of whose looks are improved by a pink stain curdling the outer edge. I make a habit of mixing the scarlet roots with dairy ingredients or mayonnaise only at the very last minute, often passing a bowl of sour cream and chopped dill around for everyone to anoint their own salad at the table.”
Believe it or not, beetroot is the domesticated form of wild sea beet, which grew around the coastline of the Mediterranean. Cultivated by the Greeks and Romans, their leaves were used as pot herbs, and the swollen roots were used medicinally rather than in the kitchen. Beetroot juice, particularly, is said to stimulate and cleanse the kidneys and help relieve headaches and toothaches.
Often underrated in the kitchen
and the veggie patch, Beta vulgaris is a fast-growing, versatile root vegetable perfect for small gardens and even for containers. Most have deep ruby-red flesh, but white, orange, yellow, purple and striped varieties such as Chioggia are becoming more widely available in South Africa. Be aware, though, that beetroot family members are easily cross-pollinated by wind if not isolated or bagged.
Tender young beetroot leaves may be used in salads, stir-fries, stews and soups, or cooked in the same way as spinach. Snip off a few leaves, but leave enough to feed the plant.
The main attraction – the swollen ruby root – is usually boiled in the skin until tender, but is also good roasted or grated and eaten raw.
Beetroot contains significant amounts of magnesium, vitamin C, folic acid and potassium – and in the garden it improves the soil and compost, and accumulates minerals, especially magnesium. >
The right spot and soil In general, beetroot does best in a cooler climate, as it has a tendency to bolt in heat, especially if the soil is not kept moist. That said, beetroot does prefer full sun and free-draining soil enriched with bone meal before planting. Do not sow (or transplant seedlings) in freshly manured soil, as this can cause the roots to fork. Beetroot can be grown in containers at least 30 cm deep. The right time Jane’s Delicious A–Z of
Vegetables lists August to October and January to March as the best times to sow in Gauteng, the Free State highveld and Limpopo. August to October and February and March are best for the western Free State, Northern Cape and North West, whereas KZN Midlands veggie growers can sow from August to April. July to February is a good time for the Eastern Cape and the Little Karoo; and Western Cape gardeners can sow from July to November and again from February to April. In Mpumalanga and the KZN lowveld and coastal areas you should sow from February to July.
Plant like this Sow the seed about
2 cm deep and about 4 cm apart, with 30 cm between the rows. Beetroot can be sown in seed trays – unlike most other root crops, it doesn’t mind being transplanted as long as you do it on a cool day and while the seedlings are still small.
Kept well watered, seed should germinate within five to 15 days. Thin out the seedlings to 10 cm apart when they are about 7 cm tall to ensure the development of healthy roots.
Care and watering Water the plants well, especially in dry weather, to prevent bolting, root splitting, or the flesh becoming stringy and tough. A thick mulch layer will help preserve moisture and keep weeds under control. Weed regularly, particularly in the early growth stages, as beetroot seedlings don’t like competition.
Good and bad companions Beetroot does well planted with lettuce, green beans, onions, spring onions, garlic and all members of the Brassica family. Bad companions are runner beans and mustard.
Pests and problems Beetroot is pretty much a pest-free crop, but cutworm, birds, slugs and snails might try to take a bite, especially while the plants are young.
It’s harvest time!
Harvest the roots when they are 2,5 cm to 5 cm in diameter – about six to 12 weeks after sowing. Immediately twist off the leaves, Jane Griffiths
SOURCES Tender: Volume 1 by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate, 2009), Grow to Live: A Simple Guide to Growing Your Own Good, Clean Food by Pat Featherstone (Jacana, 2009), Kweek Jou Eie Groente en Kruie by Mariénne Uys (Human & Rousseau, 1997), Organic Kitchen Garden by Juliet Roberts (Conran Octopus, 2005) and Jane’s Delicious A–Z of Vegetables by Jane Griffiths (Sunbird Publishers, 2017)