Newly fashionable beetroot is one of the most rewarding vegetables to grow at home. It’s so willing that even novice gardeners can achieve an encouraging success rate. Beetroot pulled out of the ground in your garden has a depth of flavour that shop bought roots can’t touch.
For early results start your seed under a cloche or in a cold frame in early March. This sowing could be ready by the end of May. The main outdoor sowing period comes in mid April while it’s worth making another sowing in late May or June for winter storage. Make sure you thin out the seedlings when they reach about one inch high and again, if necessary, when they are about golf ball size.
Beetroot will grow well in most soils but deep, sandy soil will give the best results. Water little and regularly to avoid woody roots or splitting and hoe regularly to keep weeds down. Beets are popular with birds and slugs so it’s probably worth investing in some netting and pellets.
Roots are ready to pull when they are about the size of an apple – don’t leave them to grow larger than cricket ball size. When the root is cut in half there should be no white rings inside. Prise the beetroots out of the soil carefully with a fork and twist off any foliage above two inches. Avoid any damage to the plant as beetroot bruises and bleeds easily.
Pickling jars and salad leaves: beetroot in the kitchen
Beetroot is traditionally used to add flavour and colour to salads after boiling or pickling, however the leaves are great in salads. In Eastern Europe or the US they are often eaten hot as a side dish vegetable or soup. However there are other uses for your beetroot, jars of chutney or vegetable wine, for example.
To fill your own pickled beetroot jars:
Wash your freshly pulled beets carefully and add them to a pan of boiling water. Simmer gently for about 1½ hours, when they should be about three quarters cooked, then remove them from the pan and allow to cool.
Add a sufficient quantity of pickling vinegar to a pan with about a tablespoon each of whole peppercorns and allspice per gallon of vinegar. Boil for ten minutes and allow to cool. Meanwhile cut the beetroot into slices about 1cm thick.
After sterilising your pickling jars:
Fill with the cool, sliced beetroot and pour over the vinegar so the slices are completely covered and seal tightly. Leave the pickling jars for a week before use and refrigerate once open.