We are now out of British summertime, the clocks have gone back and there are only a few things still on the plot; carrots, leaks, brassica, parsnips and beetroot. In the autumn you can lift beetroot to store in sand to see you over the winter but as our winters are getting milder and milder I generally take the risk and let them stand, only taking what I can eat in a week at a time.
One of the longest standing and best varieties to do that with is boltardy. As it’s name suggests it rarely goes to seed and I normally only make two sowings which will last through the year although you will need to make them more often if you want baby beets. Boltardy at the time of writing has a RHS award of garden merit which is given to the top varieties in their class.
Boltardy in flavour can be a little earthy like many beets and for those put off should perhaps consider Detroit which is similar but a bit less bolt resistant.
In the Kitchen
Beetroot can be roasted, lightly steamed, boiled, crisped, put in to smoothies, pickled. Heston Blumenthal even turned them in to a Jelly!
Yield and Plant Health
Boltardy as the name suggests are bolt resistant and infact in all the years I’ve grown it I have only known one to flower. At the time of writing it has an RHS award of garden merit. It is as high yielding as most varieties and I’ve very rarely had issues with slugs, insects or disease. They can sometimes be a little sluggish to get going, especially earlier in the year on clay when they might benefit from a bit of cover. They are an attractive variety and I managed to win best in show with them this year in the local village show.
Boltardy is widely available from all major suppliers.
How to grow
Beetroot are one of the easiest crops to grow if you get the basics right.
Before sowing add a general organic fertiliser like blood fish and bone to a sunny spot in your garden and rake in lightly. Sow in drills 2.5cm deep from Mid April to July. Sow a couple of seeds, 10 cm apart with 30 cm between each row. Only sow as much as you think you could eat or preserve in a month.
Cover lightly with soil and water gently. Water gently every couple of days if the weather is dry until the seeds emerge. You will likely get several seeds germinating so thin to one plant per 10 cm as soon as they are about 3cm high. You can use thinings in salads. If you are feeling a bit lazy you don’t have to thin but it will take the beets longer to get to a harvestable size if you do.
After that they will look after themselves. If it is very dry water well, once every week – two weeks. Hoe lightly between rows to keep weeds down. If you are growing show beets then you can feed with an organic high nitrogen fertiliser but for the kitchen this isn’t really needed.
Repeat every four weeks for succession sowing.
Start to harvest the beets when they are the size of a golf ball to the size of a small apple.
If you want to sow earlier then you can do so under fleece protection from Mid February or in modules in a green house to plant out in March. Late sowings either need to be pulled in October and preserved or stored with foliage in sand or compost in a cool frost free location. In warmer parts of the UK you could cover with fleece and leave in the ground.