Beets

I’m working on our seed order, which seems a fine thing to do when it’s minus two degrees outside and we’re covered in snow.

We had our annual detailed end-of-year farm review a few days ago, and decided to continue growing and marketing vegetables as before, albeit in a more concentrated way in fewer gardens. We’re going to add more chickens, to replace those we lost to predators and old age. We’re not going to raise any pigs this year. We’re going to continue as usual with the goats. And we’re going to go on vacation again in September. It’s a good plan.

I enjoy planning the gardens and ordering the seeds. As I say every year, this is the time of year when the gardens are all imaginary, so they’re weed-free, safe from deer and producing abundantly. Because of fantasies like that I usually order too much seed and plant more than we can well tend. I’m trying to be better this year.

I’m thinking about beets this morning. Over the years we’ve tried several varieties–Detroit Dark Red, Zeppo, Red Ace, Bull’s Blood and Lutz Green Leaf, among others. But my favorite continues to be Early Wonder Tall Top. I think it’s the only beet we’re going to plant this year. It always seems to do well for us, producing good roots and good greens. I will happily welcome any opinions on the subject.

Beets have an interesting history. They grew wild along the Mediterranean shores of Europe and North Africa and the greens were widely eaten by prehistoric people in that region. The Romans are credited with being the first to begin eating the roots. Romans carried beets along as they conquered northern Europe, where they became popular among the tamed barbarians, but primarily as animal fodder at first. By the 16th century their popularity as people food began to rise.

In the 1800’s the popularity of beets soared when it was discovered that they were an excellent source of sugar. Napoleon required that they be used as the primary source of sugar in France, due to British control of the sugar cane trade.

These days most of the sugar consumed in the U.S. (and probably the world) comes from sugar beets, not sugar cane. And 95% of the sugar beets grown in the U.S. are GMOs, genetically modified by Monsanto to be resistant to Roundup (glyphosate). So while folks like us are weeding our beets (a necessary and tedious job), the industrial sugar producers are just dowsing theirs with Roundup. If you’d rather avoid GMO food, it’s important to source cane sugar or organic sugar. Otherwise you’re almost certainly eating GMO beet sugar.

For any of you who haven’t tried them, I highly recommend beet greens. I actually prefer them to the root. It’s a shame, in my opinion, that so many people cut the tops off the beets and just throw them away. So when you see them at the farmer’s market, look for bunches of beets with the tops still attached!