Heirloom Gardener: Mystery Beets

Doug doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to his knowledge of the mysterious beets.

beet board

Photo courtesy fotolia/olllinka2

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Many years ago one of my Pennsylvania aunts sent me some beet seeds in an envelope. She said they were the best beets in the world. I’m not even sure now if I planted them or if I did plant if they came up and grew. At the time, I wasn’t much of a gardener, or beet eater. My Pennsylvania relatives lived outside of Philadelphia. They were gardeners, farmers, truck farmers, and florists. Now they are all gone and I live in Texas. I would like to try to grow their “best beets in the world” if you can help me narrow down the variety. I feel sure it would have been an old variety that grew in Pa. and I remember it was one syllable and started with “L.” Can you help me with variety and source?—Susan from Texas

 I called Susan after receiving her message, guessing the name of the beet was ‘Lutz,’ and I was right. She was so excited to hear the name again and realized immediately, that was the name of the heirloom beet she longed for.

I didn’t have far to go to find a source, as Baker Creek carries seeds of the variety.

‘Lutz’ is traditionally grown as a storage beet. Even though it gets huge (up to 3-4 pounds), the roots stay sweet and tender. Like most beets, the leaves are a treat when used in the kitchen like Swiss chard. Gardeners typically harvest and store the roots in a cool spot over the winter to enjoy through the season, but it can be enjoyed fresh too.

In my zone 5/6 garden I mulch beets thickly with straw and pick them during a thaw. It’s a risk though; tough winters can turn them to mush.

Beets are also a good indication of soil pH. If they don’t head up, get a soil test to see where the pH levels are. With that information, the soil can be amended to correct the problem.

It’s always fun to talk to beet converts like Susan as I’m one myself. Raised on canned beets (and hating them), I never realized how great garden beets were. I grew them for my wife and after she roasted them, reluctantly gave them a try. Now I spread the word about beets to anyone who will listen and that includes the President of the United States.

While waiting on hold as a guest for a Martha Stewart radio program, the hosts announced a new, organic garden would be planted at the White House. At the end of the announcement, they said, “beets would not be grown in the garden, the president doesn’t like them.”

As I came on air, I said in my best staccato, faux Kennedy accent. “There must be beets in the White House garden!”

After mounting a video campaign with my local radio partner Jessica Walliser, we were able to get some beets planted in the garden, but never found out if we made a convert out of the president. You can still see the video at YouTube, just search “Give Beets a Chance.”