My Best Crop of Beets

I’ve grown a lot of batches of beets or beetroot
over the years, in a variety of different contexts. Some of them have been really bad, I think
I know how bad beets can get, how horrible they can taste. I’ve grown some mediocre crops, and I’ve also
grown some really big and productive crops of beets. Some of them have been really delicious, but
perhaps the best of all has been one batch of beets that I grew in one of the family
scale gardens this season. But first of all, how do I define what is
best? Is it the most productive crop, or the one
that’s easiest to grow, or the fastest to mature, or the one that I can harvest over
the longest period of time? Or is it all about value, where what is produced
best matches the size and appearance of what most people are looking for? Or, is it all about the flavour, and the best
taste, or the highest nutritional value? But it’s not just about the roots, which
is normally what this crop is grown for, but also about the leaves, which can be really
nutritious and tasty, but generally an unused part of this crop. i usually include the leaves and stems as
part of the harvest, if they’re in good condition, but I cut them off and compost
them if they’re not in great shape. An ideal crop of beets would rank highly in
all these characteristics, but I’m not sure if that’s possible. The crop of beets that I grew in the Polytunnel
Garden earlier this year was really good, and perhaps came fairly close to matching
this ideal. It was a fast growing crop from direct sown
seeds, producing an early harvest of really good looking plants. This crop produced a really high yield, as
it has over the last few years, especially if you include the leaves, but I’m not so
sure about the flavour of this crop. The roots tasted fine, although perhaps a
bit watered down, or not so full of flavour, almost as if they grew too quickly. The crop in the No-Dig Garden did reasonably
well. The small seedlings were transplanted into
a thick layer of compost and there was a fair amount of space between the multi-sown clusters. The yield was decent, as was the quality,
but it could have been better. The crop in the Intensive Garden struggled
more than usual this year. It’s likely that the density of plants was
too high for the available soil moisture, and possibly the amount of fertility as well. But I’m not really satisfied with the crops
from either the Intensive or No-Dig Gardens, and I think a big part of this is the fact
that the plants are transplanted in, rather than direct sown. The young plants often seem to be set back,
or to struggle for a while after transplanting, and I suspect I’d get better yields and
quality if I was better at looking after these young seedlings. The drought conditions that we had this season
definitely didn’t help, especially as the young plants likely didn’t have enough time
to develop a deep and extensive root system, before the soil started to dry out. The beets in the Polyculture Garden did really
poorly this season, partially because the beet seedlings were less able to compete with
their more aggressive companions of lettuce, spinach and chard, that were broadcast sown
at the same time. It was up to me to make sure that this bed
was adequately thinned, to give enough space for the beet seedlings, but I didn’t do
that very well this season, and this was compounded by the drought conditions we experienced. A few individual plants did quite well, but
most of the beet plants did really poorly and remained quite stunted. On the other hand, the beet crop from the
Extensive Garden this year was really good, possibly the best I’ve ever grown, even
though it wasn’t the highest yield, or the fastest crop, and the appearance and size
definitely wasn’t what most people would prefer. These plants had been direct sown into the
ground at about the same time as the seedlings had been transplanted into the No-Dig and
the Intensive Gardens. But most of the roots were harvested more
than six weeks after the crops in these other two gardens had been finished. The young plants probably had much stronger
root systems, as a result of this direct sowing, which seemed to have helped a lot during the
dry period we had at the beginning of the summer. And once I did the final thinning of this
crop, there was lots of space for each plant, which allowed them to grow with less competition
or stress. I had harvested a few plants during the summer,
but because the leaves remained in good shape, with a deep vibrant colour, I decided to leave
most of this crop for longer, to see how it developed. And when I finished harvesting the row of
lettuce beside the beets, I decided not to replace it with another crop, leaving even
more space for the remaining beet plants. And when I finally harvested all the plants,
there was a reasonably good yield, which is to be expected for the amount of time that
they were growing, and there was a better proportion of root compared to leaf and stem,
which is what I prefer. And the roots were surprisingly tender, despite
their large size, and there was very little of that tough woodiness that is often given
as a reason for harvesting beets when they are a lot smaller. It seems that this woodiness can be avoided
in part by giving the plants a lot more space. But more importantly, they were very tasty,
possibly the best beetroot I’ve ever tasted raw, which i think is the best way to evaluate
the quality of this crop. They were beautifully sweet, with a full flavour,
and none of that harsh or unpleasant aftertaste that I often get after eating raw beetroot. Over the years, beets have become one of my
key indicator crops, which I use to help to determine the quality of the soil health and
fertility, and the success of the gardening method that I use. The visual quality of the leaves is important,
and I like to see a deep vibrant green with a particular shine and no discolouration. But the taste of the raw root is a more important
indicator to me, If the flavour is good and sweet, then I figure that the soil and growing
conditions must also have been good. But if there is a raspy back flavour, a bad
taste that can linger in the mouth for quite a while, then I figure that the soil or growing
conditions weren’t as good as they could have been. So, with such great tasting beets, this indicates
that the Extensive Garden has good soil conditions, with a reasonable balance in fertility, and
i’ve done a good job as a grower giving these plants what they needed. Thee appears to be a real benefit in direct
sowing beets, and giving each plant a lot more space, as it seems to create a much more
resilient crop, that can be harvested over a longer period of time, which can be really
useful, but it’s not necessarily what other gardeners are looking for. Each time I’m able to grow a really good
crop in one of the gardens, it starts me thinking of how I can change things in the other gardens,
to produce a crop that’s just as good, if not better. It sets a higher bar to aim for, for all the
gardens. Looking at the soil tests from the Extensive
Garden, there are still some deficiencies in the top soil, and if these imbalances are
corrected over time, I wonder how much better this crop can get. Its interesting to realise that I don’t
know how good beets can taste, and I’m looking forward to trying to find out. While taste is important, there are other
ways to evaluate the quality of vegetables. I’ve begun to experiment with using a refractometer
to determine the BRIX reading of vegetables, or the percentage of dissolved solids in the
sap or juice of the plants. But I haven’t yet found a consistent correlation
between the BRIX reading and the flavour or other factors, and I need to do some more
work to figure out how to best incorporate this potentially useful tool into my work
in the gardens. Sending samples of vegetables off to a lab
for detailed nutritional analysis, would also be a great thing to be able to do, but it’s
way beyond my financial resources at the moment. But I’m hoping at some point in the near
future I will get enough contributions through my Patreon Page to make this possible. If you’d like to help me reach this goal,
and to support my ongoing work in the RED Gardens Project, please visit my Patreon Page,
linked here or in the description below. And, as always, thanks for watching.

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