Ahh Beetroot! I love beetroot, but why? Perhaps its the patriot in me – for some reason I regard beetroot as being quintessentially Australian (this despite the most famous beetroot dish in the world being Russian…). I think I associate beetroot with Australianess because of the key part it plays in that Australian institution – the salad sandwich. I honestly can’t think of anywhere else in the world where salad sandwiches are held in such regard as in Australia – in fact if you asked for one anywhere outside this continent I reckon you would get the kind of blank slightly pitying expressions I got when asking for them on the couple of occasions I happened across a sandwich bar in the UK. Not that sandwich bars really exist much in the UK anymore – well not that you can order what you want in – instead its all premade and prepackaged sandwiches of differing quality – invariably sans beetroot. A travisty really – what would the Earl (of Sandwich) make of it all?
But salad sandwiches aren’t the only reasons I love beetroot – there’s the colour/s, the shape, the leaves and the fact that they grow pretty much all year round in Melbourne and are lovely to eat and easy to grow.
There are many different varieties of beetroot – different colours, shapes, patterns and flavours. From a taste perspective I have to admit being a purist – I love the traditional red varieties best and it is these that I tend to grow most. My favourite varieties are: Cylindrica for its flavour and shape (its long and, well, cylindrical making it really easy to cut into lots of slices), Detroit Dark Red for its colour and flavour and Early Wonder for its maturing speed. I have also heard great things about Bulls Blood but have yet to try it personally. I have sown the beetroot mixes (ie lots of colours) previously but I found the varieties a bit hit and miss from a flavour perspective – asthetically though they were fabulous. The picture below is of a Chioggia beetroot which looks fabulous (and yet slightly hideous at the same time…) and has an earthy sweet flavour.
How I grow it:
Depending on the variety beetroot seed can be sown from late July to Autumn in temperate climates, but it is easy to have beetroot all year by sowing lots of seed in early – mid Autumn – the plants last well in the ground throughout winter and don’t tend to get woody – this should take you through to your Spring sown crop. Beetroot is best grown from seed as it is a root vegetable and so doesn’t particularly like its roots disturbed by transplanting. Having said that my father regularly grows on his beetroot in herb pots and has no problems at all. I tend to sow my seed direct though. Beetroot seed is pelletted which means that each seed is actually a group of much smaller seeds. When you sow it you often get a couple of seedlings from each seed which you will need to carefully thin out. Beetroot leaves taste good – so use the thinnings in a salad.
Being a root vegetable and fairly happy in partial shade, beetroot works well in between rows of other vegetables, particularly cabbage and cauliflower – the beetroot is usually ready well before the cabbage or cauliflower and harvesting it will provide more room for the brassicas to grow. The edible root of beetroot grows both above and below the ground and it is not neccessary to keep the root covered, it seems quite happy to protrude above the soil level.