Western Daily Press

Tasty treat you just can’t beet

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MAY is a month of growth and an excellent time to sow seeds outdoors.

If you’re sowing anything a bit tender, have some horticultu­ral fleece ready to cover up seedlings if there are any late frosts. You can start seeds off earlier indoors but they’ll do well planted directly into the soil now.

Beetroot is one crop that’s easy to grow and will be ready to harvest from 12 weeks after you’ve sown it.

Beta vulgaris has its origins in the wild sea beetroot that grows along the shores of the British Isles and beyond. It’s believed to have been cultivated since the 1st century AD and there are four main groups of cultivars – the sugar beet from which 20 to 25% of the world’s sugar is derived; fodder beet for cattle; leafy beet such as Swiss chard; and the garden beetroot, the delicious veg which we consume roasted, pickled, raw and a boiled in soups, salads s and stews.

It’s a highly nutritious t veg, full of vitamins, antioxidan­ts and minerals. In past times, the leaves have been used as a breath freshener, the red juices as hair dye and in Roman times it was an aphrodisia­c.

Today the red pigment is often used as a natural food colourant in ice cream, jams and jellies, and athletes and runners take shots of nitrate-rich beetroot before events to improve their performanc­es.

Its sandy maritime origins indicate it enjoys a well- drained, light to sandy but fertile soil. When you

There are several types to choose from

sow you will notice the seed is not round and smooth but nutty and knobbly – this is because it is in fact a cluster of seeds.

This means that each “seed” produces a couple of seedlings and these you will need to thin out, leaving just the strongest, which then allows it adequate room to develop. Just snip out the other seedlings.

Sow seeds around one inch deep and three to four inches apart. Cover lightly with soil, firm and water-in gently.

Keep moist and germinatio­n should occur easily enough within seven to 14 days. Sow in batches every fortnight to keep your supply constant from now until late July and you’ll have some to store for winter as well. Add some general fertiliser such as liquid seaweed feed during growth, and in hot, dry spells make sure they don’t dry out. However, too much watering can result in excessive leaf growth and weak roots.

Beetroot are also fine for growing in containers so you can have a go even if you lack space.

Harvest when they reach golf ball size or bigger, but not too big as they tend to lose their flavour.

One problem can be bolting which means they flower and set seed prematurel­y. Beetroots are biennial so shouldn’t flower in the first year. Bolting can be caused by unsettled weather and cold spells but you can choose bolt resistant cultivars – one of the best known and widely available is ‘Boltardy’.

For something a bit fancier, look for ‘Chioggia’, an Italian variety with lovely pink and white striped rings which look fantastic in salads.

Pick once they are the size of a golf ball

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