When I first came (back) to growing, there were some vegetables I took to immediately, with an instinctive passion borne of the superb experience of eating, and harvesting, them. Parsnips were one such leading light. Then there were the slow burners, crops I didn’t get too excited about but which steadily wormed their way into my affections, by dint of being dependable stand-bys with hidden qualities. There are few more loyal side-kicks in the vegetable garden than beetroot.
Beta vulgaris is, in its wild state, a coastal plant, so hard-wired for survival in tough conditions. When OrganicLea first started out nine years ago on reclaimed allotments down the road from Hawkwood Nursery, I remember sowing beet seed, in a similar summer dry spell to that we have now, into the cracks between hard bricks of sun-baked clay, more in hope than expectation that some red root would find sustenance in such “soil”. But thrive they did, proving themselves to be a good choice for any first year of organic production, whilst soil fertility and structure are just beginning to be built up.
So it was that beets were the first seedlings to go out into the newly tilled Entrance Field, and soon these unsung heroes will have their day as the first harvest to be pulled off it. We’ll start though by pulling the ornamental cultivar “Bulls Blood”, which we’ve so far been cropping as a salad leaf but despite this has swelled well at the root. Soon we’ll be out in the field forking out “Storuman”, an early cultivar which are now golf ball size (golf balls are a popular unit of measurement out here in the suburbs). New beetroot isn’t greeted with the same widespread salivation as Jersey Royals, but like them they cook quickly, need no peeling and have a sweet, melt-in-the-mouth quality. The leaves of the bunches can be eaten too, which wouldn’t be advisable in the case of potatoes.
We’ll then carry on working our way down the bed, to “Bulls Blood” when they resemble unseasonal Christmas bawbels in late summer. Then, as the leaves die back on both the trees and the herbaceous roots, the “Golden Detroit” maincrops should be the size of tennis balls when Wimbledon is but a distant memory. All things being equal, then, this week marks the start of a beet rhythm that will carry us through the rest of the growing season and into the dark times.