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Catching Up With the Beet : There's more to this vegetable than something red and pickled that comes in a can. Shapes, hues and taste are surprising.

November 04, 1995|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When many people think of beets, they picture a red, pickled vegetable that comes out of a can. Eating a fresh beet plucked from the garden is a far different experience.

"Many people are surprised to find that beets come in a variety of sizes and colors," says Wendy Krupnick, horticultural adviser for Shepherd's Garden Seeds in Felton, Calif. The mail-order company ships seeds all over the United States.

Besides round red beets, there are elongated and cylindrical types of this cool-weather, root vegetable. Beets also come in a variety of hues, including white, golden and multicolored.

Golden beets are sweet and mild, as is the Italian chioggia. This beet has a bright red exterior and an interior of alternating rings of cherry red and creamy white.

There are also tender baby beets, which grow to the size of a silver dollar.

Beets fresh from the garden can be used in a number of ways, including shredded and added to salads just before serving. They can also be marinated, steamed, boiled or cooked in soups. To intensify their natural sweetness, you can also bake or roast them in their skins.

Many people also consider new beet greens a delicacy. Not only are they tender and tasty when steamed, they are also high in iron.

November is the perfect time to plant beet seeds. The vegetable thrives when the days are bright and the nights crisp.

To grow beets, keep the following tips in mind:

* Beets only thrive in loose, well-draining, easy-to-penetrate soil. Generously amend clay soil with compost or planter mix. Cylindrical shaped beets are recommended for clay soil because their elongated shape enables them to push through hard soil.

* If your soil is poor and you're not up to amending, use containers. Beets grow well in pots or planter boxes. Use a high-quality potting soil and make sure to fertilize and water regularly.

* Keep your beets evenly moist, but don't over-water. Too much watering will cause them to rot, and under-watering will make them become tough and split.

* Plant beet seeds a half-inch to an inch deep in firm soil.

* Beet "seeds" are actually clusters that will produce four or five individual buds each. Thin them when the clusters emerge and again when the plants are about four inches tall so they don't crowd each other. The plants should end up three to four inches apart, which will allow the remaining beets to grow to a healthy size.

* Sow beets with fast-sprouting radishes so you will know where the plants are. Beets take an average of 10 to 14 days to germinate.

* Extend your beet harvest by planting crops every two or three weeks.

* Regularly fertilize your beets with a liquid fertilizer, or use a time-release fertilizer when planting.

* Beets will bolt if the weather suddenly warms. When the drying Santa Ana winds start blowing, water the plants and move them out of the wind, if possible.

* Harvest regular-size beets 45 to 65 days after sowing when they reach one inch wide. Continue harvesting until they are about three inches. Keep in mind that the larger beets get, the less tender they become.

You'll find beet seeds at the following mail-order companies. All offer free catalogues:

Burpee, 300 Park Ave., Warminster, Pa., 18974, (800) 888-1447.

Park Seed, P.O. Box 31, Greenwood, S.C., 29647, (800) 845-3369.

Shepherd's Garden Seeds, Order Department, 30 Irene St., Torrington, Conn., 06790, (408) 335-6910.

Stokes Seeds, P.O. Box 548, Buffalo, N.Y., 14240, (716) 695-6980.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

November Planting Guide

This is the last busy month in the garden before early spring. It's a good time to clean up the garden and add collected debris to the compost pile. Although some days are chilly and overcast, many days are warm, sunny and perfect for gardening. A variety of cool-season vegetables and flowers thrive in November weather, including the following:

Flowers from Seeds or Starter Plants:

Alyssum

Baby's breath

Calendula

California poppy

Carnation

Columbine

Delphinium

English daisy

English primrose

Forget-me-not

Foxglove

Hollyhock

Iceland poppy

Larkspur

Lobelia

Nasturtium

Pansy

Phlox

Snapdragon

Stock

Sweet pea

Viola

Wildflowers

Vegetables from Seeds or Starter Plants:

Artichoke (bare-root)

Asparagus

Beet

Broccoli

Brussels sprout

Cabbage

Carrot

Cauliflower

Celery

Endive

Garlic

Horseradish

Kale

Kohlrabi

Leeks

Lettuce

Mustard green

Onion

Parsley

Parsnip

Peas

Potato

Radish

Rhubarb

Rutabaga

Salsify

Scallion

Spinach

Strawberry (bare-root)

Swiss chard

Turnip

Researched by Julie Bawden Davis / For The Times

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