A Gardener’s Diary: Beets are naturally sweet

Jocelyne Sewell puts her garden to bed for the winter and finishes up the last of her summer produce

With the fantastic mild weather we have experienced in November, I have managed to rake the leaves and move most of the perennial potted plants to the greenhouse for winter. I got all the carrots, parsnips and beets out of the ground so I could get that space ready for next spring.

I had to do something with the beets. The tops I just cooked like spinach, some I put in soups and the left-overs I just froze.

When it came time to cook the beets, I searched on the Internet for an easy way to do it. I found a site where it called for washing the beets and baking them in a covered pot with a bit of olive oil at 350 F for about 45 minutes to one hour depending on the size. The small ones were done in 30 minutes. If you never liked beets before you have to try them this way. It brings the sweetness out. They are easy to peel and the skins come off very thin so there is not much waste.

As I was searching I also found some interesting facts. Beets are the second largest source of sugar, after sugar cane. And amazingly, beets have twice as much natural sugar as corn, carrots or tomatoes. Beets help your mental health. They contain betaine and also trytophan, which relaxes the mind and creates a sense of well-being, similar to chocolate. Beets can also lower your blood pressure. Beets are highly nutritious and “cardiovascular health” friendly root vegetables. Certain unique pigment antioxidants in the root as well as in its top greens have been found to offer protection against coronary artery disease and stroke, lower cholesterol levels  and have anti-aging effects.

Beets are very low in calories and contain zero cholesterol. The nutrition benefits come particularly from fiber, vitamins and minerals.  Fresh tubers contain small amounts of vitamin C and its top greens are rather excellent sources of it.

Additionally, the greens are an excellent source of carotenoids, flavonoid anti-oxidants, and vitamin A; the greens contain these compounds several times more than  the roots. Consumption of natural vegetables rich in flavonoids helps to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers. The root is also a rich source of B-complex vitamins such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6) and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Further, the root indeed has very good levels of potassium. Beets also contain levels of phosphorus, beta-carotene, beta-cyanine and folic acid. They are a wonderful tonic for the liver, work as a purifier for the blood, and can prevent various forms of cancer.

Sow beets as soon as spring weather becomes “settled” in your area. Plant your beets in an airy, exposed section of your garden with lots of well-aged compost worked into the soil. At harvest, pull beets on a dry day and cut off the tops near the crown. Don’t wash or rinse off the roots. Put them into a plastic bag with a number of small holes, and put these in a cold root cellar or in the crisper of the refrigerator. You’ll be amazed at how long they’ll last!

If you think you don’t like the taste of red beets, you might want to try Golden beets. They make an attractive addition to the table and their flavour can be quite mild and sweet. But, their seed often germinates poorly and seedlings grow slowly, so if you grow Golden beets, you should plant them more thickly and give them a little more attention throughout the season.

For more information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell is a gardening enthusiast and member of Okanagan Gardens and Roses Club in Vernon. Her column appears every other Wednesday.