Beetroot is one of those humble veg that drifts in and out of fashion. One day it’s the hero of every course on a Michelin-starred menu (yes, including dessert), the next it’s nowhere to be seen except the supermarket pickle aisle, while cauliflower or celeriac take the spotlight.
But on our veg plot, beetroot is always one of the star turns: an easy to grow and reliable root that always serves up a treat, whether cooked, pickled or turned into wine. Here’s our guide to a root veg that’s very hard to beet…
Beetroot has a long sowing season and is one of the first packets we open each year, popping the seeds in rows under fleece in late February.
From late March you can start sowing them in uncovered ground right up to the end of July. They can also be started off in seed trays and planted out when established with a few true leaves, but we've found this slows down their growth quite considerably. Beetroot is also a great plant for containers, with their purple and green leaves giving more visual appeal that most veg
No matter how sparsely you sow your seeds, beetroots will always need thinning out. That’s because those rough, nobbly seeds are actually seed clusters and several plants will emerge from each one. If you wait until the seedlings have got a bit of growth behind them, with a few young leaves on top, then you can use them in salads—the leaves are edible and have a good beetroot flavour.
Beetroot doesn’t need much attention once established and is rarely troubled by pests. You’ll need to water them during long dry spells and you may find that some plants bolt (shoot up tall before the root has become bulbous), but nowadays there are many bolt resistant varieties to prevent this problem.
Beetroot are at their tastiest when they reach a golf ball size but they can also be harvested at twice that girth. We suggest plucking a few when small, then letting a few gain in size, while continuing to sow throughout the season – that way you’ll never miss a beet. And don’t forget about those edible leaves, although don’t pinch more than a few from a plant while it’s still growing.
There’s more choice in beet than just being round and purple. Here five of our favourite varieties…
Chioggia: A redder-hued beetroot on the outside but slice it in half and it will reveal cylindrical stripes in purple and white. A two-tone beet that tastes as good as it looks.
Boltardy: This smooth beet has a classic purple appearance and is bolt resistant.
Burpees Golden: The exterior finish of this beet veers towards orange; the interior is bright gold.
Cylindra: This purple beetroot has an elongated shape, making it great for cutting into beetroot chips.
Bull’s Blood: This beet has smaller roots with rings in two shades of purple, but its crowning glory is the leafy top: a bloody burgundy colour and super tasty too.
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