Nearly all beetroots sold in shops are deep purple, but that does not represent the colourful range of beetroot varieties available. Growing your own beetroot gives the opportunity to enjoy a much wider range of varieties, including white, orange, and pink flesh varieties. Lighter coloured beetroots have the added advantage of a reduced risk of staining your clothes with beetroot juice.
Aside from colour, beetroots have different growing and eating characteristics. If you have sandy soil, look for varieties that are ‘bolt hardy’. This means they are more tolerant of dry conditions and less likely to run to flower before harvest. Some varieties are hardy, and can be left on the plot for longer in autumn and picked when required. This saves the effort, and space, of storing them. When eating beetroot, you may like to grow varieties that have sweeter stems and leaves, ideal for adding interest to salads (young beetroot leaves will be less chewy). Some varieties have flesh that can be eaten raw by grating into salads, whilst others are best cooked or pickled. One of my favourite ways of eating beetroot is roasted in the oven.
Beetroot is very easy to grow, making it an ideal crop for a novice gardener or for children. The plants suffer from very few pests and diseases, and are often left alone by birds thereby avoiding the need of a net. Beetroots will grow and taste at their best if the soil is kept moist, and should be eaten before they grow too large (which can give them a woody flavour). I prefer to pick my beetroot when they are somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball in size.
All varieties are sown at the same time of year, starting in the spring when the weather begins to warm up. Sowing a few seeds every fortnight will provide a successional harvest through the summer and autumn.