Houston’s winter has allowed me to grow many vegetables, but I do love fresh beets.
I came home Sunday afternoon to two excited little girls and a son who was happy that he was not babysitting anymore. The girls and I went out into the garden to harvest vegetables for lunch. We made a tuna salad that included cilantro, celery, kohlrabi, broccoli, carrot, and onion from the beds. This inspired the girls that our lunch should be a picnic. We made a quick soda bread, and then prepared our vegetables. All the children and I went to have our meal in the front yard. Katya decided upon a summer dress (it is a picnic Papa), although it was a bit cool. With so many flowers in bloom, they began to collect them for an arrangement, and to spill petals over my head. This is when we happened upon the glorious beets.
Do you eat beets? I know people who will not cook with them, but I grew up eating this root. Sometimes I wonder if my children will not want certain vegetables. I think the method of causing real interest in trying a vegetable is allowing them to harvest it from their own garden. We are having fun at our picnic, and I began to consider what we may harvest for dinner. I spotted the beets, and decided upon roasted root vegetables. How do you know they are ready? I was asked this question by a neighbor. Actually, with many root vegetables this can be a confusion. Some of my beets had lush leaves on top, but the roots were thin. If you look carefully, you will see the bulge at the base of the leaves. I was harvesting beets with at least an inch in diameter, or that was my intention- the girls became a little to excited. When you look at the top, you can begin to see how thick the roots are starting to become.
This is where the fun really began. The girls wanted to begin cleaning the beets outside by pulling off the thin taper root. They discovered what can be a bother to some cooks: the red juice which can stain. I joked that they could use this as make-up, particularly lipstick. This became quite the game. The younger daughter realized that this could also look like blood. Quickly the girls had my hands covered with beet juice, and I acted out my overly dramatic death from bleeding too much. By the time dinner was served, they were looking forward to their beets.
Another item to harvest at this time in Houston is a good compliment to the roasted root vegetables: dill seed. The girls were not too excited after tasting the seed directly from the head. However, collecting the seed to spread over the roasting pan worked. I took an onion, potato, and yam for my roasting as well. A drizzle of olive oil and rice vinegar helped things along. I placed these in a hot oven (425F) for a half hour. This was a hit.
I recently heard a gardener say that growing plants from seed is a waste of time. That may be true in general, but not for many vegetables. I broadcaster my beets over a new bed to obtain my plants. I did not have much problems getting them to grow. The leaves could be attacked by snails and other pests, but I did not have a bad year. I do like to harvest the leaves by themselves, before harvesting the plant. The stems have the same red juice, so you can still have staining. I sauteed the leaves like I would spinach. The roots can have a sweetness to them (sugar is produced from a beet variety), but the leaves do have a stronger taste, which does not appeal to all. I would suggest that you try growing your own beets for a little harvesting fun.