Beets are one of those vegetables that you either love or hate. Personally, I love beets. They’re easy to grow and I can’t think of anything else that tastes like them – chard is close but then again, chard is simply a beet relative that doesn’t form roots for harvest.
Over the years I’ve grown lots of different varieties of beets but recently I found a kind of beet that I really like. While most beets form round roots, there are a few varieties that produce cylindrical roots that are 6-7″ long and 1-2″ wide. These beets are much easier to cut into uniform slices and each plant seems to produce a larger root than the round varieties.
There is an open pollinated variety called “Cylindra” that’s widely available. This spring I found a hybrid beet with a cylindrical root called “Taunus.” (If you’ve been following this blog, you know that when given a choice, I’m always going to choose a hybrid variety over an open pollinated heirloom!) It turned out that this year was a crop failure for “Taunus” seeds so Jung Seeds sent a substitution – “Rodina.” This beet’s also an F1 hybrid so I was fine with the substitution.
Cylindrical beets grow a little differently than globe beets. Only the bottom inch or so of the root is in the ground; 5-6″ of the root grows above the ground. This makes it easy to know when to harvest the beets because the root is in plain view. Since I don’t grow beets for their greens, I like the fact that the Rodina beets have fairly small tops.
There are only a few things that need to be kept in mind when growing beets. While the plants will grow in warm weather, the seeds germinate best in cool soil and the seedlings establish themselves quicker when the weather is cool. I usually grow two crops of beets, one that I plant in the spring and the other that I plant in the summer for fall harvest. The spring-sown seeds germinate easily. However, when I plant in the summer I sow the seed thickly, knowing that a lot of them won’t germinate in the warm soil. But if I keep the soil moist, I can usually get a good stand of beets even in the heat of summer. I can tell you that beets harvested in October and November have the darkest color and best taste – it’s worth sowing a few more seeds to have beets in the late fall.
While I’ve been talking about beet seeds, the truth is that what’s called a “seed” is really a fruit and there are usually a number of seeds in each fruit. This means that no matter how careful you are when you sow the “seeds”, you’ll always need to thin beets! If they aren’t thinned, the plants won’t produce roots; all you’ll get is greens.
Beets are also very shallow rooted so they don’t tolerate a lot of cultivation and they don’t compete well with weeds. It’s best to cultivate lightly and control the weeds throughout the growing season. The shallow roots also mean that beets are sensitive to drought; moist soil produces better beets.
I’ve never seen cylindrical beets for sale in the store or farmers market. Perhaps their different look and shape would put off buyers. But I can say that these are my new “go to” beets. I like the shape; I like being able to easily see when they’re ready to harvest; I like the way they can be sliced uniformly. Whether it’s Cylindra, Taunus or Rodina, these are the only beets I’m going to be growing in the garden.