Perhaps you're only familiar with beets as canned red balls or corrugated slices from a can. Even a dirt covered beet pulled directly out of the soil may not look so appetizing at first. Beets seem to have developed an undeserved reputation as earthy and dull. But when you find out what lies underneath it's rough exterior, you'll see what you've been missing out on!
Not only are beets delicious, but they also offer many health benefits. The roots themselves contain potassium, folic acid, manganese, and lots of fiber; and edible beet greens offer vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron.
Growing your own beets will give you delicious, colourful roots and nutritious greens. And red table beets are just the tip of the iceberg. Beets come in many different shapes and sizes, and can also be golden, white or even striped.
Here are a few varieties for you to try in your garden at home:
Baby Ball - These seeds are imported directly from Holland where baby beets are a kitchen staple.
Lucky for you, these beets are fast growers. Their perfectly round shapes size up very quickly to produce sweet, tender, petite sized beets to harvest early.
Measuring just 2.5 to 3.5 cm in diameter, the little globes cook up fast and are perfect for whole pickled beets or sliced into a salad.
Cylindra - As its name suggests, Cylindra is a cylindrical beet. This Danish heirloom is smooth-skinned with dark purple-red flesh, and grows a dark red, elongated root 7 to 10cm long.
While primarily a processing beet, Cylindra is a favourite with chefs due to it's uniform slices and ease of peeling, and is popular at markets for its unusual shape.
Nearly two thirds of the length of the root will grow above ground, so some gardeners like to hill up soil around each plant as the root emerges. This will keep the skins of the root very tender and protect them from insects.
Chioggia - pronounced "key-oh-jah", is an Italian heirloom from the town of Chioggia, near Venice.
Chioggia is a striking globe variety with orange-pink skins and an appealing "bullseye" formation of red and white rings on the inside, that fade to a soft pink when cooked.
Chioggia is grown today mainly for its unusual colouring, but it has a mild and sweet flavour, making them a delicious addition to many dishes.
They can be sown from very early in the season until late and can be grown in raised beds or containers all year round.
Bull's Blood - This heirloom beet is primarily grown today for its beautiful deep-red leaves that make excellent additions to salads. The leaves are sweeter than radicchio, can be cut repeatedly, and make a great substitute for spinach.
Regardless of culinary value, Bull's Blood is also often grown today in beds, borders and containers solely for the ornamental effects of its excellent foliage.
If the leaves are not cut, the roots can be harvested just like other beet varieties.