History of Root Crops
by National Gardening Association Editors
For many people, root crops don't have much appeal, perhaps because they think of them as an unglamorous part of the plant that grows underground. In fact, root crops are crisp, colorful vegetables that have been eaten by royalty, warriors and merchants at least since the beginning of recorded history. Both the roots and the leafy tops are flavorful, as well as being excellent sources of vitamins.
Even before our ancestors learned how to grow their own food, they foraged for wild carrots and beets. As they began to garden, they cultivated these same crops. Gardening histories mention root crops being grown by the early civilizations of Mediterranean Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
Just knowing that beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips have been popular for more than 5,000 years tells us something about them -- root crops have survived because they're easy to grow and delicious to eat.
Dedicated beet lovers swear that juicy, deep red beets fresh from the garden make the finest eating available. If you plant plenty of beets, you can enjoy an early feast of beet greens, beet salads all summer and an ample winter supply for the root cellar.
Here we deal with table beets for backyard gardeners. In addition to the table types, sugar beets are grown commercially for making white sugar. Table beets taste sweet because they, too, are loaded with natural sugar.
Beet seeds are somewhat bigger than the seeds of other root crops, and they look like bits of cork. Each one is actually a cluster (or corm) with three or four seeds.
Beets come in many shapes and sizes, and in colors ranging from red to white to golden or striped. Some varieties are grown for their greens rather than their roots. Here are descriptions of several popular varieties to get you started.
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