Ode to Beets

Most vegetables have their share of pests and problems.

If it’s too wet, mildew will attack peas or tomatoes. An early fall frost can kill many of the garden vegetables commonly grown up here, such as lettuce and potatoes.

Radishes, cabbages and others of that family have a beetle (I don’t know the name of it) that just loves to devour them, leaves, roots and all. Other plants just struggle to grow in our cool, dry climate, such as corn and beans.

But one vegetable that does survive the Yukon season well is the lowly beet.

It seems that there aren’t any pests that specifically target beets, and they seem to be able to weather just about anything nature throws at them. They are even able to withstand the early fall frosts. In fact these frosts seem to make the beet root sweeter to eat.

Along with being one of the more hardy vegetables grown in my garden, they are also completely edible and very tasty, too.

In the early spring, beet leaves are a treat. Eaten either fresh in a salad, cooked like spinach or wrapped around bread dough and cooked layered in dill, onions and cream … a dish my husband lovingly calls “gophers”.

As the season progresses, the roots start to thicken. And that is when I start to “thin” the beet rows for my lunch. I cook up the roots first and when they are almost ready I add the greens to be steamed.

While growing up, the only way we ate beets was pickled, or sometimes cooked up in a Harvard sauce. My mother didn’t particularly like beets and I didn’t get a true taste of them until I was an adult growing my own for pickles.

That was when I discovered how delicious they are without anything added to them, and I expanded my use of them. Not only are they very tasty and entirely edible, they can also be kept through the winter in cold storage like potatoes or cabbages.

There is a wide variety of beets in the seed catalogue.

There is Cylindra, a cylinder-shaped root, great for making pickles; Bull’s Blood, a beet grown for its deep purple leaves that will also produce a sizable root; Detroit Dark Red, a heritage beet that has been grown in many different climates for years; and Touchstone Gold, which has no purple color at all and therefore will not stain when the root is cut.

Beets are related to Swiss chard. But where Swiss chard may bolt to seed later in the season, beets are a biennial and need two seasons to produce seeds.

When planting beets, unless you intend to thin the rows later on, the seed should be well spaced, as each seed will actually grow several plants and the roots will need room to expand.

But other than weeding and watering them, the only attention, beets seem to need is when it comes to harvesting them.

So, as the summer rolls on, enjoy watching your beets grow, knowing that nothing can beat a beet.

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