Italian heirloom, popular since the early 1800s. Beautiful and sweet flavored.
Beetroot plants are generally hardy in Britain and can be left outdoors in the soil in most winters, though prolonged cold weather or severe winters can damage the roots. If the plants are exposed to prolonged temperatures below -10°c they will quickly run to seed. This also applies to the young plants of most beetroot varieties if they are sown in early spring - a short period where temperatures fall below zero can fool the plant into believing that there has been a winter and it will then try to flower and produce seed.
The beetroot is widely cultivated, especially in temperate zones, for its edible root. There are two basic forms, those with rounded roots and those with elongated roots with many named varieties of each form. The roots can be available all year round from successional sowings. A fast-growing plant, some cultivars can produce a root ready for harvesting within 7 weeks from sowing the seed. Most beetroot seed is actually a cluster of several seeds, though monogerm varieties have been produced that only have one seed - these monogerm varieties are less likely to require thinning once they have germinated.
A good companion for dwarf beans, onions and kohl rabi. Its growth is inhibited by runner beans, charlock and field mustard.
Root - raw or cooked. Well-grown roots are sweet and tender, especially when young, and can be grated and used in salads. Beetroots are traditionally boiled until tender then pickled in vinegar and used in salads. The roots can also be cooked and used as a vegetable, they are sweet and delicious when baked. The root contains up to 8% sugar. The root is tasteless when grown on very wet soils and dry when grown on clay soils. Immature roots can be harvested in the summer and early autumn for immediate use, these are usually much more tender than the older roots. Mature roots can be left in the ground all winter and harvested as required, though they might suffer damage in severe winters. Alternatively, they are harvested in late autumn or early winter and will store for up to 6 months in a cool but not dry frost-free place.
Leaves - raw or cooked like spinach. A reasonable spinach substitute, though harvesting leaves from growing plants can reduce yields of the roots. Some people dislike the raw leaves since they can leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth.