The Garden Patch: How about beets and Swiss chard?

110113-beetsWell, I spent a weekend at K-State taking classes and getting smarter (I needed both of those) and met some great instructors. After 12 years of going to Master Gardener school I thought I knew most of the teachers – wrong, wrong, wrong! They bring in new ones every year! Anyhow – that’s not why you’re reading this – we want to talk more about vegetables – so here goes!

Last week we talked about asparagus and beans. Now let’s think about beets and Swiss chard …

Beets are a popular vegetable and can be grown as a spring or fall crop in Kansas. Tops can be used as a cooked green rich in vitamin A, and the roots are a good source of vitamin C. Roots may be canned or pickled and are served diced, sliced, whole and in strips. Beet juice is the basic ingredient in borscht. Swiss chard is a close relative of the beet and produces foliage rather that an enlarged root. Nutritional value and uses are similar to those of beets.

Varieties. Red round varieties include Detroit Dark Red, Early Wonder, Crosby, Ruby Ball, Little Ball and Ruby Queen. Elongated varieties include Cylindria and Long Red Blood. Varieties of Swiss chard include red-stalked varieties such as Burgandy and Ruby or white stalked varieties such as Fordhook, Lucullus and Perpetual.

When to plant. Beets and chard are fairly frost hardy and can be planted early to mid-April in many areas of Kansas. Irrigate carefully to avoid soil crusting, which prevents good germination. Plant fall beets or chard in early August.

Spacing. The beet “seed” is actually a cluster of seeds in a dried fruit (one variety – Monogamy – has a single seed per cluster). Plant the seeds about an inch apart and about ½ inch deep. Hand thinning is usually necessary to provide a uniform stand of beets properly spaced 2 to 3 inches apart. Poorly thinned stands will have an abundance of tops with few or small roots.

Care. Beets and chard compete poorly with weeds so frequent, shallow cultivation is necessary. Beet plants require a fertile, well watered location. Hand thin the plants when they are 1 to 2 inches tall to avoid damage to surrounding plants.

Harvest. Select beets of the diameter you prefer. Roots larger than 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter are often tough and woody. Beets for baby beets or whole canning should be harvested smaller. Trim the tops of the beets or chard to ½ to 1 inch above the roots and store in plastic bags in a refrigerator before use. Mulch fall planted beets to prolong the fresh harvest season, but use them before they freeze.

Cut the outer leaves of chard when they are young and tender or about 8 to 10 inches long. The inner leaves will continue to grow for additional harvests until hot weather (for spring crop) or a severe freeze (for fall crop) stops the plant growth.

Common concern. Cercospora leaf spot.

How about broccoli?

Broccoli has increased in popularity considerably in recent years. This vegetable, sometimes known as Italian sprouting broccoli, is a cluster of undeveloped flower buds. Two crops – spring and fall – can be grown in Kansas. Small secondary heads can be harvested for several weeks following the cutting of the large central head.

Varieties. Green Comet, Premium Crop (late), Baccus, Green Duke, Southern Comet, Prominence and Packman are popular green headed varieties.

When to plant. Set plants in the garden in late March to early April, before the danger of frost has passed. Early planting is essential so that plant heads can develop before the onset of hot weather. Plant your fall plants in early August or direct seed in early July.

Care. Select broccoli plants that are small and stocky. Avoid tall, spindly plants. Weak, tall plants often “bolt” or produce a premature head which will never enlarge. Broccoli requires a lot of fertilizer to produce a large plant and a large head. Fertilize at planting. Sprinkle additional fertilizer – side dress – along the row every two to three weeks as the crop develops. Provide adequate water as the head starts to develop.

Harvesting. Harvest the head before the flowers start to open or below the flowers if they start to show. Usually 4 to 5 inches of the stem is also tender and can be used with the head. Continue to cut small side heads until hot weather causes them to be strongly flavored.

Common concerns. Cabbage worms and aphids.

Next week – Brussels sprouts, cabbage and carrots. Stay tuned and we’ll have next spring’s garden ready before you know it! Thanks for reading and don’t forget to fire us a question if you have one. We’re coming into the non-gardening season for most plants and this is a great time to get any questions you might have answered. Till next time!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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