What are Sea Beets?
What are Sea Beets?
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 - 10 Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
The garden beet, more formally known as beetroot, is the taproot portion of several varieties of the plant, beta vulgaris, that are cultivated for their edible roots and greens. Most varieties have roots that are a deep red-purple color, but some are golden-yellow or even white with red stripes.
Beets are a fast-growing crop and successfully grown in almost any region. They like the cold and require at least one month of cold weather to flower. Most varieties are biennial, meaning they typically flower and set seed in their second year of growth.
Beets are cold-hardy and tolerate frost. They grow best when average daytime temperatures are around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but will germinate in temperatures as low as 40 degrees and as high as 85 degrees. In most areas, an early crop is planted one month before the last frost date, and a late crop anytime between June and September. In warmer regions, zones 9 and higher, winter crops are also cultivated.
Beets grow quickly. The popular red table beet produces edible greens within approximately 35 days of planting, followed by deep red, round or cylindrical edible taproots about one month later.
Beets are propagated easily by seed.
Days to taproot maturity depend on the variety of beet. While some mature as early as 35 days, others are harvested between 50 and 70 days. Leaves can be harvested at any time without inhibiting root growth, but many gardeners wait until beets are ready to pull to harvest the leaves.
Do not let greens grow above six inches before harvesting. Beet roots are ready to harvest when they reach approximately two inches in diameter but stay tender up to four inches in diameter. Larger roots are tougher and more fibrous.
Beets are picked manually by pulling the greens after the surrounding soil has been loosened.
Commercial growers use a mechanical harvester.
Fresh beets are the most flavorful and have the highest nutritional content. Many varieties are suitable for long storage periods.
Fresh beets can be stored in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Clipping the tops from beets, leaving about one inch of stem, keeps them fresh longer. Store leaves separately.
To freeze beets, unpeeled beets are cooked by boiling and peeling quickly. Larger beets are cut into ¼ inch cubes. Small beets can be frozen whole. They need to be frozen individually before being bagged and frozen together. Frozen beets can be stored for 10 to 12 months.
Freshly picked beets can also be stored in a cool closet or root cellar packed in sand. Stored in this manner, they will stay fresh up to five months.
The ancestor of cultivated beets is the sea beet, thought to have originated in the Mediterranean and spread east and westward.
Sea beets are the wild ancestor of common vegetables such as beetroot, sugar beet, and Swiss chard. They were first cultivated in the Middle East and Mediterranean, but only for the leaves. Ancient Greek writings by Aristotle and Theophrastus, dating as far back as the 4th century BCE, make mention of red and green varieties of chard, or the leafy section of the beta vulgaris plant.
It is not until the 2nd century CE that Roman writings make reference to culinary uses for beetroot - the plant most commonly cultivated today. Ancient Roman recipes directed that beetroots be cooked with honey and wine, and hailed the root for its aphrodisiac properties. Beetroot was also used in ancient and medieval times to treat ailments including constipation, skin problems, and fevers.
The rounded beetroot with which we are familiar today was first cultivated in central Europe during the 16th century, home of classic Slavic beet dishes like borscht which originated in Ukraine in the 18th century. It’s still popular today in the traditional cuisine of several central and eastern European nations, including Poland, Russia, Lithuania and Belarus.
The sugar beet industry began in Prussia after a chemist discovered the process for extracting sugar from beets in 1747. The first plant was developed in modern day Poland. Today, sugar beets account for approximately 20% of the world’s sugar production, 50% in the United States.
Colonists brought beets to North America, and by the early 1800s they were an established garden crop, with both chard and beetroot referenced in recipes. The first successful sugar beet factory was established in California in 1870. During World War II, the sugar beet industry ramped up significantly in the United States to meet the sugar needs of products like explosives and alcoholic beverages.
Russia, France, United States, Germany, Ukraine (FAOSTAT [sugar beets], 2011).
Popular red beet varieties are: Detroit Dark Red, Gladiator, Rodina, and Ruby Queen.
Popular yellow beet varieties include: Golden, Detroit Yellow and Touchstone Gold.
Popular specialty beet varieties are: Chioggia and Cylindra, also known as Formanova.
Sugar beets are an entirely different variety of beet that is grown for the purpose of making sugar.
Reference article on Sugar Beets for more information.
Beetroot is consumed raw, cooked, juiced, canned, pickled. Beet leaves (a member of the chard family) are also edible and are consumed fresh or cooked. Beets are also used medicinally - particularly beet juice - in the treatment of many ailments.
Sugar beets are widely cultivated to make sugar, as an alternative to sugarcane.
Beets are widely regarded for their health benefits. This powerful, red root is beneficial in preventing cancer, heart disease, birth defects - and is a scientifically-supported aphrodisiac!
Beets have the most nutritional benefits when eaten raw.
Beets get their rich red color from a phytonutrient pigment called betalain, of which there are two types: betacyanins and betaxanthins. The betalains found in beets provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support.
Beets are also high in vitamin C and the antioxidant mineral, manganese, which research suggests combines with the unique betalains found in beets to provide special benefits for nerve tissue and eye health.
Beet greens are an excellent source of carotenoid phytonutrients, lutein and zeaxanthin, which also support eye health. The beetroot, however, contains less of these particular phytonutrients than its leaves.
Betalain and other phytonutrients in beets have anti-inflammatory properties that preliminary research suggests may be beneficial in fighting heart disease and type II diabetes. Betaine, a B-vitamin complex found in beets, specifically provides anti-inflammatory benefits in the cardiovascular system, preventing problems such as atherosclerosis.
Betaine also releases tryptophan, which relaxes the mind and provides mood-boosting benefits.
Betalain pigments aid the body in the elimination of toxins by triggering processes that neutralize toxins and makes them water-soluble for excretion in the urine.
The combination of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants found in beets make them powerful cancer risk-reducers--particularly colon cancer. Some lab studies have shown that beets may be effective in reducing the size of tumor cells, also reducing the risk of stomach, breast, lung, prostate, testicular, and nerve cancers.
Beets are rich in pectin, a soluble fiber that helps keep the digestive system running smoothly and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
Beets are an aphrodisiac because they contain high levels of boron, which stimulates the production of sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone.
1. Prior to planting, prepare soil by working in a one inch layer of cured compost and a standard application of organic fertilizer. Note: Too much nitrogen stimulates top growth at the expense of root development. Sprinkling wood ashes, which provide potassium promote healthier growth.
2. One month before the last frost, plant beet seeds ¾ inch deep and two inches apart, spaced in rows 12 to 18 inches apart.
3. Seeds germinate in temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but sprout best when temperatures are above 50 degrees.
4. For a successive harvest, plant new seeds every three weeks until mid-summer (or when average temperatures are above 85 degrees).
5. Seeds germinate in 5 to 8 days. Cool conditions with an average soil temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit and bright sun produce beets with the best flavor and color.
6. Beet “seed balls” generally contain 2 to 4 viable seeds, so thinning is essential to grow plump roots without overcrowding. Begin thinning seedlings when they reach approximately 4 ro 5 inches in height. If you plan to harvest young, smaller beet roots, thin seedlings to three or four inches apart. For larger roots, thin seedlings to six inches apart.
7. Keep well-weeded and thoroughly watered. Weed competition and uneven watering causes beets to be stringy and tough.
8. Beets are biennial. Most varieties will produce a large root during their first season. Beets will not flower and seed until their second season, after being exposed to at least one month of cold temperatures.