Bountiful Beets

A good scrub reveals the delicious beauty of the beet.

By Jessica Walliser

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Red Ace is a hybryd beet known for its sweetness.Harvesting Beets

Beet greens can be picked and used as baby greens in salad mixes when they are just an inch or two high. Older greens are best served steamed or sautÈed. Roots can be harvested when they reach an inch in diameter, but they remain tender until they measure 3 or 4 inches. “I think the roots and leaves taste better, and are more tender, if they are harvested when they are on the smaller side,” says Coulter. “I don’t let even the big varieties grow as large as the seed packet indicates.”

Before storing unwashed, harvested roots in a plastic bag in the fridge, cut off the tops, but leave an inch or two of the stems intact to keep them from bleeding. Beets should last about a week stored this way. “Long-term beet storage should take place in layers of damp sawdust or sand in a cold (around 32∞F), moist (85 to 90 percent humidity) place,” says Coulter. “A root cellar is ideal.” Beet greens, on the other hand, don’t store well and should be used within a few days of picking.

Beets contain more sugar than starch. Roasting, grilling, and other simple cooking techniques bring out their sweet flavors.

Beets Even a President Could Love

When the Obamas moved into the White House in 2009, they decided to install the first vegetable garden there since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden. The sod was stripped, the soil was tested, amended, and tilled, and the plan was set. But something was missing: beets. President Obama declared his dislike of the roots and they were kept out of the plan.

Garden bloggers across the country launched a “beet campaign.” They surmised that the President had tasted only canned beets and wondered why he wasn’t willing to try homegrown. My radio cohost and I sent one of the White House gardeners (at his request) a copy of our first book, Grow Organic: Over 250 Tips and Ideas for Growing Flowers, Veggies, Lawns and More, and a few packets of organic beet seeds (not at his request). We also produced a funny little video for the President imploring him to “Give Beets a Chance” and included it in the package. (Watch “Give Beets a Chance, Mr. President" on YouTube.”

I don’t know whether or not those beet seeds were ever planted. In promoting her recent book about the White House vegetable garden, the First Lady made it clear that she shares her husband’s beetphobia.

Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine October/November 2012

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