When I was a boy, my mom could not get me to eat any of my vegetables, especially anything out of a can, even more especially beets or spinach (insert Popeye comment here). From our mid-western perspective, I do not think we even knew that Swiss chard existed. But these highly nutritious vegetables are not only eat-able, but highly edible, especially fresh from the garden.
To clear the decks, I will admit to never having much success at growing spinach. Much more productive use of our garden’s acreage is provided by the alternative greens of our Southern cuisine. The leafy greens provided by thinning beet and chard seedlings to their proper garden spacing, the tops on a maturing beetroot and the multi-colored chard plants should open our eyes to other cultural options.
And then, there are the blood-red, incredibly delicious, exceedingly nutritious beet roots themselves. The spectrum of vitamins and minerals provided by beets are quite extensive. The history of humankind’s relationship with beta vulgaris reads like an evolutionary tome warranting a Hollywood movie. From my gardening prospective of KISS (keep it simple, sweetie), steaming, peeling and serving with a vinegar dressing or melted butter is all it takes to prepare beets. Grated raw onto a salad as a garnish takes advantage of beetroot’s extreme color content.
Chard lends itself to container gardening quite well. Into a 9-inch landscape pot, add a well draining potting soil mix. Both chard and beet seeds are irregular shaped. They are large enough to be individually placed 1 inch apart, 1/2 inch deep, into the soil. Keep the soil moist and in a few days, even in these cooler months, sprouts will appear. Start your harvest by extricating the seedlings to provide a 3- to 4-inch space between plants. These thinning greens are your most tender harvest (not available at a retail store near you).
Growing beets in the garden takes in the full program of starting transplants or the perils of direct seeding. Imbue the garden soil with plenty of compost and moisture. Mulch the planting site to protect the soil and sprouts from the bright sun, low humidity and desiccating breezes. In Florida, the cooler winter months are our prime time for growing beets. As with chard, harvest the baby sprouts as a luscious first crop. Check the crop frequently for caterpillar damage, and hand pick pests or become familiar with organic pest controls such as Thuricide. And in two months, reap the blood-red booty of this ancient human feedstock.