Last beet harvest

Larry G. Field
Thursday, October 24, 2019
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Notice that this title includes the word “last” while the previous “Harvest” articles did not. Beets can be harvested for 4-5 months. If summers, gardening season, are three months long, beets can be harvested for the equivalent of 1.5 seasons. I plant mine (Detroit) near April 1st, weather dependent (wd), begin harvesting in late May

and finalize my (wd)

harvest, near mid Oct., ~4.5 months later.

I plant a 1 ft wide X 3 ft long row. I plant thick. After germination (~ 2” tall plants) I thin to one inch spacing if thicker and accept up to 2 inch spacing if thinner. Any thinner than 2” after germination I add more seeds into the thin areas of the existing row and mix into the soil. At 2” spacing I harvest no beet greens, a coming topic. The row, 1 X 3 ft, is ~432 sq inches. 432 plants, an excess, with 1 inch spacing (1/1sq”) or 108 plants with 2 inch spacing (1/4sq”), a bare minimum of plants.

I have mentioned the gardener’s efforts to lengthen the productive duration of various veggies. No other veggie, annual or perennial, can rival beets for length of production at 46N. Unfortunately, those who have eaten only grocery store canned beets don’t understand how delicious fresh garden beets can be and how many ways/recipes can be prepared.

To sustain production, I plant beets in a scattered 1 ft wide row. I overplant to force the need for thinning. The more space

per beet, the larger and faster they will grow. My first harvest

occurs when the plants are large enough to mess with, ~5-6” tall with no enlarged tap root, to thin the crop by “consumption”. I do not select the largest but rather the thickest to thin and use as beet greens. Next, again, with thinning the top priority, is “baby beets” when the upper portion of the tap root ranges from marble to golf ball size. Steam with tops and roots un-separated. As the beets continue to grow, harvest golf ball to pool ball sizes. Use these as baby beets by laying the washed/prepared beets on their sides and splitting vertically through the enlarged root and tops to root connection to make the ready to cook plants uniform in size, half the smaller and quarter the larger. Prepare as baby beets. All of these steps have been taken to both enjoy fresh beets and to thin the remaining crop. At each step additional thinning should occur if necessary with the excess crop given away or discarded. The next harvest will be for the enlarged root alone, which should be 3 inch diameter by early summer.

Continue to harvest the beets for the enlarged roots with thinning in mind. By the end of Aug the spacing should be about 8” offset. Beets can survive considerable cold (note sugar beets) so with 8” spacing from Sept.1-Oct 15 they can grow considerably. I have grown beets over 6 pounds, 20% larger than a 5 lb bag of sugar. From start of harvest beet greens until end harvest of huge

beets the flavor (and recipes) changes minutely so one shouldn’t

become bored with them. Any time that the root exceeds ~2.5” diameter, it will be mature enough to last 1-2 months in a refrig crisper drawer with tops removed regardless of the season. With my last harvest, (~mid-Oct), we process one batch for dinner with leftovers to the freezer and the uncooked are buried in sand in our root cellar (basement). We normally boil the 4 largest beets that

will fit into a canner, just shy of 4 lbs each. This normally provides

1 fresh & 1 leftovers meal plus 14 pints for freezing, slightly more than 1 pt per month for a year. I would expect (“fresh”) beets harvested in mid-Oct to last until Christmas if properly stored in a refrig. If storing in a basement or cellar, bury in sand to retard dehydration.

Beets are easy to process. Remove tops and lower thin portion of the tap root. Boil until done. Cool to a minimum of handling temp. Slip the skins and dice or slice. A Sept.–Oct. harvest can be boiled, set outdoors overnight (cool fall temp), slip skins and process the following day while cool to handle.

You should try a garden grown beet to discover what a beet should taste like!

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