Heirloom Beets Best for Growing

If you like roasted beets or pickled beets, growing heirloom beets is the way to go.

| September/October 2015

  • Burpee's Golden beet
    The interior of a Burpee’s Golden beet is bright orange; when the vegetable is cooked it turns golden-yellow.
    Photo by Seed Savers Exchange; www.SeedSavers.org
  • Crosby's Egyptian beet
    Plant Crosby’s Egyptian beet for an early harvest.
    Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; www.RareSeeds.com
  • Detroit Dark Red beet
    Detroit Dark Red beet is the most popular variety.
    Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; www.RareSeeds.com
  • Chioggia beet
    The Chioggia (Bassano) beet is tender and sweet.
    Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; www.RareSeeds.com
  • Early Blood Turnip
    The Early Blood Turnip works well in home gardens.
    Photo by Seed Savers Exchange; www.SeedSavers.org

  • Burpee's Golden beet
  • Crosby's Egyptian beet
  • Detroit Dark Red beet
  • Chioggia beet
  • Early Blood Turnip

Growing up eating my mother’s Borscht from a jar may have ruined my budding love for beets – I must confess, they are not my favorite vegetable. In fact, I found them most palatable when served with liberal amounts of sour cream, which turned the vivid magenta-purple broth into an oddly colored pink pool.

But beets are a wonderful vegetable: They are easy to grow, the greens and roots are edible and delicious, and they keep for months in the refrigerator or root cellar.

Today, I don’t mind roasted beets – especially when they are part of a mixture of roasted parsnips, potatoes and carrots – and I like them shredded raw in a green salad. Every few years I preserve some pickled beets, but most of the crop languishes in the jar. I do love steamed beet greens with a bit of olive oil and garlic, better than chard any day.

Cultivated beets (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris) are members of Chenopodiaceae, the goosefoot family. Botanists have recently started including the Chenopodiaceae in the Amaranthaceae.



Origins

The genus Beta comprises four sections – Beta or Vulgares, Corollinae, Nanae and Procumbentes – totaling 12 species. Beets are part of a group of closely related plants that includes chard, table beets, sugar beets and fodder beets. The wild ancestors of beets originated around the regions of the Mediterranean and Black Sea. These plants were largely perennials, but at some point they became biennials, possibly as they were domesticated and moved into more northern areas.

The wild plants did not produce the swollen root we know as beets, rather they produced only chardlike leaves. Leaf beets were extensively cultivated in ancient times by the Assyrians, Greeks and Romans. Precisely when and how beet roots were developed is unclear. They do not seem to be ancient, and the first evidence for them comes from 16th-century herbal texts. Theories vary as to whether the roots were first developed around the Mediterranean and moved northward, or if northern farmers developed the roots as a mechanism for overwintering the plant and as a storage crop.






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