This week I had my first major garden harvest for some time. We filled a colander with broad beans (and ate half of them sitting on the garden steps) and pulled up four beautiful beetroot. Usually I would have more produce to harvest leading up to summer, however, we moved one of our main garden beds in early spring so it has taken until now to refuel, so to speak.
It was difficult to decide which of my two garden harvests to talk about this time. I chose the beetroot as this is one of our family favourites. In fact, marinated beetroot is my daughters favourite food. Since she was 9 months when I first gave her a piece to munch on, she just can’t get enough of the red juicy stuff (luckily it washes out of clothes easily enough). And my 10 month son is showing signs of following closely on her heels devouring half the harvest in one sitting. Luckily I saved some to make the hummus!
Beetroot is a regular item we grow in the garden. It is relatively easy to grow and can be grown almost year round in New Zealand (July/August – March/April depending on where you live). Beetroot doesn’t need a lot of space so can be grown in a small garden area. It is an ideal food as you can use the whole plant – the root for roasting, pickling and grating into salads – and the leaves as you would spinach or silver beet, and thinly shredded into a salad. Beetroot is nutrient packed, with oodles of soluble (smooth-moving) fibre to keep us regular and an excellent blood builder (the colour gives that away).
First I select seed from Kings Seeds organic range. The variety pictured here is Kestrel F1. I have also grown Detroit Dark Red with similar results.
Direct sow beetroot seeds into well-composted soil. Make indentations with your finger about 1cm deep and 5cm apart. I put 2 seeds into each hole and cover with seed raising mix and pat down firmly and evenly. Water generously with a fine spray watering-can so to not disturb the seeds.
Note – Some people like to soak the seeds overnight before sowing, I have never done this because I will no doubt get distracted and forget to plant them the next day but supposedly you will get more success with the seeds sprouting. This is why I plant two seeds per hole in case only one sprouts, if two sprout I pluck out the extra one and it plant in another row (however, beetroot doesn’t like being disturbed too much so the replanted ones may not take so well).
Now leave nature to do what it does best. Fertilise fortnightly with a good organic fertiliser – more on how to make some tasty garden fertilisers in upcoming posts. And water 2 – 3 times a week if there has been no rain to hydrate the soil. Mulching with pea straw or similar will help retain the moisture in the soil over the hot summer months.
Beetroot can be harvested once the roots reach the desired size – our preference is a tennis ball size or larger. You can check the size by gently feeling around the base of the leaves. Mound up the soil if the roots start to push their way through the soil before they are ready to harvest. I usually harvest every second beetroot in a row and leave the others to grow some more.
Once harvested wash to remove soil and cut off the leaves. Ideally use the leaves straight away or store in a plastic bag in the fridge to keep fresh until ready to use. The leaves will last 3-4 days while the root can be stored for several weeks. However, you are best to leave them in the ground until you are ready to eat for the best flavour and nutrition. Check out these beauties, I am rather proud of them!
Somewhere along the way I started planting rows of carrots, beetroot and leeks/ onions together. I must have read this is good companion planting to keep pests at bay. So far (touch wood), I have had a good run with these crops so I must be doing something right. If you want a succession of beetroot to harvest it is worth sowing seed every 3-4 weeks so you have a continual supply of beetroot. In all honesty I haven’t quite got my timing down with this yet as I tend to garden when I have a spare minute and attend to what it most urgent. That’s the nature of having 2 little critter to run after all day.
This is my hummus recipe from Feeding Little Tummies with some cooked beetroot added in for colour and sweetness.
2 home-grown beetroot (or from the farmers' market)
2 cups cooked chickpeas or 400g can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
juice of a lemon to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 clove chopped garlic
salt and cayenne pepper (optional) to taste
- First cook the beetroot in a large pot. Cover with boiling water, add a good pinch of salt (remember salt locks in the nutrients and flavours) and simmer till just tender. That is, when a small knife can glide through the flesh. Drain off the water and cool. (Don't throw away the cooking water, you can use a little for the hummus and put the rest on the asparagus patch - asparagus likes salty water).
- Once the beetroot is cool enough to handle rub off the skins and chop roughly. Put into a food processor with the chickpeas, half the lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, cumin, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper. Blitz until smooth adding a little of the beetroot cooking water to make a nice creamy consistency. Adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice if needed. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and use within 3–4 days.