Last winter was so long and bitterly cold that by the time March arrived I felt as though the seed packets at my local garden center were practically begging me to take them off the shelves. Spring fever is brutal in its own way. Of course, I obliged and purchased packets of radishes, sunflowers, greens and beets. Never mind that I had no experience growing beets. I like them in smoothies, so I figured why not grow my own and can them?
My father had promised a large garden plot to me and one of my brothers, so I knew that I had plenty of space to plant whatever I wanted. At the first opportunity, I planted the tiny beet seeds in one long row. And the seeds are miniscule, by the way. It’s nearly impossible to sow them without getting them too close together.
I was happy to find that the beets grew like crazy! They seemed to shoot up overnight. When they were a few inches tall, I thinned them and basically ignored them for a few more weeks. This past weekend, it was time to harvest. My brother and I had our arms loaded down with beets. Preparing them for canning is not difficult, but it does take time.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Clean raw beets
Canning jars, lids & rings
Here’s what I learned:
First of all, beets are very easy to grow. They require little care, other than thinning and keeping the weeds out. They like cooler weather, so you can sow the seeds directly into the soil one month before the last spring frost date. Thin the seedlings to 3-4 inches apart. Pull the beets when they’re approximately 1 ½ ” in diameter.
On the day you harvest them, heat a large stockpot or pan of water on the stove. You’ll need this when you’re ready to drop your cleaned beets into it. Prepare your canning jars. I used pint jars and my mom and I placed the clean jars into a toaster oven set to “warm” to hold them until we were ready to fill them. Place your lids and rings in a hot water bath in a small saucepan on the stove.
Cut off the beet greens, leaving approximately two inches of the stem attached. Leave the tap root attached as well. This will keep the beets from losing their brilliant crimson color when they’re dropped into the boiling water. We took small vegetable brushes and scrubbed the beats clean, changing the water as necessary.
Once the beets are clean, drop them into the stockpot of boiling water and let them boil for approximately 20 minutes. Test them periodically to see if you can easily peel off the skin.
Transfer the beets to a pan of cold water to stop the cooking process and peel the skins. Cut off the remaining stems and the tap root. Smaller beets can be left whole, but large ones should be cut into several chunks. Next, fill the warm jars with the beets, leaving approximately 1/2 inch of headspace. Top each jar with ½ TSP canning salt if you’re using pint jars and 1 TSP if you’re using quart jars. Ladle clean hot water into each jar. Dry off the rims and top with the lids and rings.
Place the jars into a pressure canner and bring the canner to 10 pounds pressure. Maintain that pressure for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the jars to a heat-proof board or countertop and let them sit undisturbed for 12 hours to allow them to seal and cool.
Why bother with beets?
As I mentioned earlier, growing and canning beets is an easy process, but it does take time. Still, I enjoy the taste of beets and I love to use them in smoothies. They’re also quite nutritious and sweet. And believe me, fresh beets taste nothing like the canned versions that you buy in grocery stores. I also like to know that my food doesn’t contain strange addititives and is grown organically. There’s no better way to assure this than to grow your own.
In addition to the beet root, you can use beet greens much as you would use Swiss chard or spinach. In fact, beets are in the same family as chard and spinach. They have an impressive list of health benefits. Beets are said to help purify your blood and liver and assist with the detoxification process. They’re high in vitamin C, fiber and minerals and they contain phytonutrients that may help ward off cancer. They can also help reduce resting blood pressure. If you’re watching your weight, beets are a good choice because they’re low in calories, even though they’re quite sweet. Heck, the Romans even used them medicinally as an aphrodisiac!
Here’s what I plan to try this weekend: Beet, Banana & Raspberry Smoothie, from Lovebeets.com.