Raising a personal supply of salad greens is the surest way to be confident your greens are safe to consume. With the recent warning of the presence of the bacteria E. coli found in certain salad crops, growing your own crop is the most certain way to know that plants are contaminant-free.

Young beet greens are the main ingredient of spring mixes and make a terrific salad when used by themselves. Beet greens are among the easiest greens to raise. When grown as root crops, beets are considered to be cool season plants but when grown for their greens, seed can be planted throughout the year with tops ready for harvest all season.

Optimum conditions for plant establishment are full sun in soil amended with organic matter. The highest germination rate of beet seeds occurs when soil temperatures are between 50 and 86 degrees. Soil temperature this week is 69 degrees.

Beet seeds generally emerge within 5 to 14 days after sowing; for the most rapid germination and emergence of seedlings, soak seed prior to sowing. The seed coat of beets is thick and takes time to imbibe water; consequently, soaking speeds germination by several days. Soak seeds in clean water, allowing several hours to overnight. When sowing take care that the softened seed is not crushed when placed in the ground. Cover gently with ½ inch soil and maintain constant moisture until emergence.

Sow seed thickly when beets are grown for their greens. Beet greens grow quickly with tops ready for harvest in as little as 30 days for baby-sized leaves; if larger leaves are desired wait until 45 days old for full-sized leaves. Seeds can be sown thickly, several per inch, since tops are harvested immature. Planting every several weeks will ensure a constant supply of baby greens all summer with a final crop planted as late as mid-September.

Purchasing seeds in bulk is most economical. Bulk quantities of seed vary widely in price and prices will vary by cultivar. Cultivars priced lowest are those with dark green leaf blades and red veins such as the dependable standards "Detroit Dark Red," 'Red Ace" and"‘Early Top Wonder." For variety consider mixing plantings with some red-leaved "Bull’s Blood."

Not all seed companies market in bulk. Three seed companies that do offer bulk seed are Johnny’s Selected Seeds (877) 564-6697, Territorial Seed Company (800) 657-3131, and Seed Savers Exchange (563) 382-5990. A local source of bulk seed is Holland Gardens, 3739 50th St., (806) 792-6336.

Beet greens are a nutritional power food. In a one cup serving is 17 percent of the day’s dietary fiber requirement; 871 percent vitamin K, 220 perecent vitamin A, 60 percent vitamin C, and 13 percent Vitamin E; high amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, Vitamin B6; and high amounts of the minerals manganese, potassium, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and sodium. Beet greens are rated 5 out of 5 for weight loss and 5 of 5 for optimum health. Definitely a power-packed salad crop

Nutrition data from USDA.

 

ELLEN PEFFLEY taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of those at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two onion varieties. She is now the sole proprietor of From the Garden, a market garden farmette. You can email her at gardens@suddenlink.net.