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You Can’t Beat Container-Grown Beets

beet plantBeets make a perfect vegetable to grow in containers.  First of all, they are best eaten young, when they’re about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. So, the time to maturity is quick, but they can be left in the soil until they become 3- to 4-inch globes.  The tops are edible and may be trimmed when very young for use as salad greens, or left to reach a mature height and cooked like any other leafy greens, or even cooked right along with the beet roots.  Beets don’t require as deep a container as many vegetables with deeper roots.

Choose a container that has good drainage.  The diameter of the container is determined by how many beets you intend to grow, since you need to allow room for the globes to expand beneath the soil line.  And as for the growing medium, the richer the better.  Well-draining soil with compost or organic matter added will produce the best and sweetest roots.

Beets need a lot of moisture.  Allowed to dry out, they become tough and woody.  So, make sure to provide a minimum of 1 inch per week of water.

Follow the spacing requirements for planting beet seeds or baby plants, which for most varieties is at least 3 inches apart.  Thin any too-close plants as soon as the tops are a couple of inches tall, and then use those tops as a tender and colorful addition to raw or cooked salads.

Beets prefer cool weather, so either plant immediately after the last frost of spring, or count backward from the first frost of fall and plant far enough in advance to allow the beets to grow to your preferred size, based on the particular variety's recommended days to maturity.  A couple of heirloom varieties that should do wonderfully grown in containers are Bulls Blood, with its deep purple-red leaves, and Detroit Dark Red, a longstanding favorite among beet aficionados because it stores especially well in root cellars.

Container gardening allows growers to choose a sunny spot on a balcony or patio, where a garden plot might not be available.  The container can be placed near an outdoor spigot, to make watering convenient. And containers can be located where pests are kept at bay.  It’s also popular to use various sizes of containers for rooftop gardening in cities.

Beets show the very tops of their globes above the soil line, and you can pick them whenever you determine the size is right, but keep in mind the smaller the globe, the more tender and sweet.  Also, the skin is smoother on small roots.  Beet skin on any age root is edible and it actually contains many of the nutrients beets are known for.  Some people find the rough texture unappealing, so a compromise might be to peel just the pits and rough spots and leave the rest. 

Beets should lift out of the soil easily if you loosen the soil gently around the globe before grabbing just above the soil line and pulling straight up on the tops.

Fresh-picked beets can be juiced, or cut into wedges or cubes and steamed, made into hot or cold borscht, or cooked and chilled to be topped with sour cream and fresh dill.  Pickled beets store for months and make a colorful, crisp, tart side dish to perk up a cold winter night’s meal.

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