Beetroot is a very adaptable vegetable.
Beetroot is a very adaptable vegetable. Photo: iStock

Bright red, crimson, red and white circles, golden yellow and white. These are the many colours of beetroot varieties which you can grow in your home garden. It is a very adaptable vegetable 

You can easily grow this leafy vegetable that can be traced back to the Assyrian empire some 2800 years ago, then grown widely by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The well developed rooting subspecies was developed in Europe during the Middle Ages. By the eighteenth century, plant breeders were looking for a substitute for the very expensive imported sugar cane and German scientists set about developing the sugar beet. Napoleon was instrumental in pushing ahead France's experimental sugar beet industry to reduce its reliance on cane sugar that was a monopoly product of Britain at the time. 

The botanical family Betoideae has just two members, beetroot and silver beet, the subspecies vulgaris has been developed for its swollen roots and the subspecies circla for its thick, tender stems. So you can companion plant your beetroot with your silver beet (which in many countries is called Swiss chard). The young leaves of the beetroot plants are an excellent addition to any salad mix.

Summer delight is a beetroot-based salad.
Summer delight is a beetroot-based salad. Photo: Brent Hofacker

Plant some rows of beetroot now to have a good supply of mid summer beets, then keep planting out one or two rows each month until the autumn weather sets in. Sow the seed just 12mm deep at a spacing of 5cm to provide for some early thinning. Allow 12-15 cm between the rows. Keep the garden bed damp and the seeds will germinate in 8-10 days. When thinning out, you should leave at least 10cm for each beetroot to fully develop without crowing.

Make sure to dig in plenty of old compost before sowing your seeds, as beetroot grows best in humus rich soil. Ensure good drainage and make sure the garden bed has some depth to allow the roots to penetrate. Keep them well watered. Beetroot is a heavy feeder vegetable so also provide the plants with a fortnightly foliar watering of seaweed or fish emulsion supplement to push the plants along. Beetroot will take eight to 10 weeks to produce a mature crop but you can begin harvesting 

There is now a wide range of beetroot seeds available for the home garden, mostly round, globe shaped but there are also some interesting long, cylindrical varieties. The names give us clues to how widely the breeding programs have spread across the world.

Detroit is the very well known large, round, smooth skinned beetroot with dark red roots. It can be kept in the ground for quite some time without becoming woody. 

Derwent globe is a wonderful deep red, round beet with good flavour and texture. It is a fast growing variety that can produce some good sized beets within seven to eight weeks. 

Chioggia is the wonderful, fast growing Italian heirloom that was first grown on the island of the same name, just south of Venice, in the year 1840. It has beautiful concentric rings of pink and white, resembling a bullseye. It is mild and sweet and a very productive variety. The tops are tender for using in salads. 

Bulls Blood is another American heirloom variety should also get a mention as it has amazing maroon coloured foliage that can be added to salads. Its roots when cut look like light pink and white candy stripes. This beet should be grown quickly and eaten as soon as they have reached a good size, to avoid any coarseness developing.  

Burpees golden was developed in the United States in the 1940s as a very distinct beet with brilliant golden flesh. Touchstone gold is another lovely golden yellow, round beet. The yellow beets tend to have a milder flavour than the red varieties and you do not get 'bleeding' when you cut the roots. The young, tender leaves of these varieties are great to use in salad mixes.   

Spicy beetroot salad

400g  red beetroot
400g yellow beetroot
juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tbs olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and black pepper
1 open leaf lettuce
30g rocket leaves
30g young beet leaves
2 tsp parsley, finely chopped

Pick and wash your beetroots. Trim off the stems and tapering roots, then cook in boiling water for around 25 minutes until tender. Remove from the water and allow to cool. Peel and cut into bit sized chunks and place in a medium sized mixing bowl. Sprinkle the juice of the lemon over the beetroot and add the spices, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

Prepare a serving plate with the mix of small open leaf lettuces, rocket and beetroot leaves. Place the spicy beet salad on top and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

This week in the garden

* Select some open leaf lettuces from cos, red romaine, mignonette and oakleaf to plant out for the summer months. Plant some rocket, mizuna and pak choi to provide for variety in the salad bowls.

* Plant out capsicums, tomato and eggplant seedlings. Stake and tie up your tomatoes and remove laterals to help with good production. Look for the first flowers on the plants, as a sign for Christmas supplies. 

* Try planting some of the baby watermelons and rockmelons into prepared shallow round beds filled with lots of compost. With a hot summer predicted, you may well have a good harvest.

* Plant out celery and leeks to establish an early autumn harvest. 

* Weed around your potatoes and hill up to increase production.

Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.