(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 9 of the Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
GARDENING IN SITKA
By Lori Adams
EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING BEETS
I have had bad luck with beets, but they grow really well here for most people. I am not sure what the problem is, but I suspect that it is because I don’t really care for the way they taste. Therefore, I procrastinate about planting them, don’t spend much time preparing the soil for them and then just toss the seeds out in some random spot that’s squeezed between other vegetables that I DO enjoy.
Beets are a root crop that bear edible leaves (greens). They will do best in a bed that is prepped with bonemeal (starfish, pulverized deer bones or fish skeletons), sandy organic material that is not too rich with nitrogen (beach mulch gathered in the fall), and plenty of lime (seashell sand). The seeds can be started indoors mid-March and then transplanted outdoors mid-April, but most people just plant them directly outdoors mid-April.
Each beet “seed” is actually a capsule that contains roughly 2-4 seeds. The seedlings will sprout together in a really tight clump but it is not necessary to thin them because each beet plant will grow “out” from the clump center. If the surrounding spacing is adequate there will be enough room for all of them. You can plant the seeds directly into your bed with about three-inch spacing if you are growing them for the greens, but if you are trying to grow large roots you should space the seeds at least six inches apart.
Another option is to plant them close together at first and then when the greens are large enough to eat you can thin the bed by pulling enough plants to achieve six-inch spacing which will produce large roots for later harvest. If beet seeds are planted too closely together the plants will just sprout up tall and spindly with tiny roots, so plant your seeds carefully.
Most of us are familiar with the typical round, red beet with dark green leaves, but beets come in many varieties with different colors, shapes and sizes. I think they all do well here.
Be sure to cover the entire bed with floating row cover and leave it on as long as possible. Beets like it warm and can take a long time to mature in Sitka, so row cover can really speed up maturity.
Beets are edible at any stage. You can harvest baby greens or entire baby plants to eat raw or cooked, or you can wait and harvest plants that have roots 2 inches across for cooking. Roots that are larger than 2 inches across can become more fibrous. Leaves that are harvested from mature plants tend to be tough and will need to be cooked. When harvesting roots, leave at least one inch of foliage on the root to avoid excess bleeding during the cooking process. I have heard that roasting beets in the oven is quite delicious too, but I wouldn’t know. I don’t really like beets.
Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden
2103 Sawmill Creek Road
Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
747-6108 or 738-2241