Beetroot is enjoying something of a renaissance these days. It has gone beyond the large tinned slices which made sandwiches and hamburgers soggy, as it has progressed past being grated and set in vinegar flavoured jelly. These days you are more likely to find baby beet, golf ball sized, served with fresh curd cheese and toasted fresh walnuts in upmarket lunch dishes or flavoured with balsamic vinegar and roasted. The good news is that it is a root crop which is dead easy to grow at home and fresh young beet will always taste sweeter and more delicious than woody old things you may have tried in the past.
Being a root crop, it likes well drained, friable soils which are not too rich in nitrogen. Usual practice is to sow it in a spot where you previously grew a green, leafy crop. The seed is usually sown directly into the ground. Cover them with about 2cm of soil. As they germinates, go through and thin the crop – these thinnings are delicious and often found in salad mixes. Essentially you want to reduce the crop to allow about 10cm spacings between each plant to give them room to develop the tubers. Do not expect good crops if you miss the thinning process. They take about two to three months to mature. This is not a time specific crop. You can sow any time between early spring to mid autumn (about September to April), though you may find the summer crops bolt to seed too readily, especially if the soils are dry. Chief Veg Grower here advises that he prefers to keep to spring and autumn sowing because there are plenty of other more time sensitive crops to fill the garden in summer. Root crops appreciate plenty of moisture to develop juicy roots. Left too long in the ground, they will become large, old and woody. It is better to harvest them, remove the leaves and store in cool conditions – this will probably have to be the fridge in summer. With the rise in popularity, there is now a whole range of different varieties available with variation in both shape and colour, even a cerise and white candy ringed version.