It is that time of year again, when the alder catkins have unfurled their brilliant yellow beauty and the soft willow buds are popping out with the late winter sun. We are experiencing a cold snap here in Southern Oregon but many seeds have been planted and we are eager for the days when we’re harvesting vegetables again.
There are lots of seeds that can be planted in February in Oregon especially if you have row cover or a greenhouse. I am really excited for when the ground thaws and I can start direct seeding in the garden. I will start with arugula, carrots and of course the glorious beet!
When I was a child beets were not really on the menu at our house. I remember seeing them on salad bars. Weird fuschia discs that reminded me of cranberry sauce sliced from the can. I did not start eating beets until I was in college. The book Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins had a profound effect on my desire to eat beets. The beet is central to the plot of that story, a humble vegetable with incredible power held within. If anything it definitely persuaded me to give them a try.
Now I love beets! A nice bowl of borscht in the winter, pickled beets in salads and root roasts with beets, parsnips and winter squash are now common in my home. Beets have an earthy and sweet flavor. They can be eaten raw and cooked. Beets and Chard are both members of the Chenopodiaceae family. Both vegetables were developed to accentuate one part of the species Beta vulgaris. Chard was bred for its big juicy leaves whereas Beets were bred for their big juicy roots! You may have noticed a big root that looks just like a beet at the bottom of your Chard plant. So when we grow beets we get the best of both worlds. The root is excellent but you can also eat the beet greens the same as you would chard. Baby beet greens are a popular addition to salad mixes.
Beets are super easy to grow. They have a tap root so it is recommended to direct seed them into prepared garden beds. Beets can germinate at temperatures between 50-80 degrees. So once your soil is 50 degrees you are ready to go. You raise the soil temperature by about 5 degrees with row cover. Sow the beet seeds in rows about 8-12” apart. When the seedlings reach about 3 inches tall, thin them to about 2.5-3” spacing. This will allow the beets to form nice roots. You can save the thinnings and eat them in a salad or saute them like spinach. You can harvest beets young for small baby roots or you can let them mature.
Beets come in all shapes and colors. There are cylindrical beets that are easy to slice. Round beets and also beets like Touchstone Gold which are bright golden in color and have tapered roots. The first beets I will plant this year will be the Early Wonder Tall Top variety because it grows quickly and has really excellent greens. Happy Planting!