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Onen Markeson/Master Gardener: Cold weather growing? Try beets and carrots

Beets and carrots are two cool weather loving, quick-growing plants that can be put into the ground shortly after the ground thaws. These two tasty and versatile vegetables can easily be grown and appreciated in our short growing season.

These two crops can be planted in your garden about three weeks before the last frost of the year, or when the ground can be easily worked. This can happen as early as late April (if we are very lucky) or early May.

For good growth and plant vitality, be ready to thin your plantings fairly soon after they sprout. All seeds typically do not germinate, so after following packet directions, they will typically have to be thinned. Beet seeds are a little unusual, in that each seed in a packet is essentially a “nutlet” of several seeds, so each “seed” can occasionally send up several sprouts.

For a steady supply of carrots and beets on your table, plant rows or partial rows about two weeks apart, but stop doing this when the hotter part of the summer hits us. Throughout the year, weeding as well as thinning can help garden crops to thrive and grow to their fullest, as weeds and a cramped crop can deprive your garden products of water, nutrients and sunlight.

You can have a late season crop of both carrots and beets by planting in late June or early July. This late crop can be harvested for storage and usage into the winter months. Beets can be harvested at most any stage of development, but are probably best when harvested at about two inches in diameter.

There are many ways to prepare beets, but one simple way is to just cut the stems off at the top of the beet and cut the extended root off close to the base of the beet. Boil the whole beets or cut them up into quarters for quicker boiling. You can take the “skin” off of each beet, but some like the “skin” left on. After boiling them, you can split the peelings off and serve warm with butter.

There are quite a few different varieties of beets; some mature in 50 days; some take close to 70 days to mature. Red beets are the most common but there are yellow and white ones also. At least one beet variety is elongated and has some resemblance to a carrot.

Carrots come in a very wide variety of styles (short and long) and colors (orange, purple, red, yellow and white). Carrots have a wide range of maturation although about 60 days is fairly common. Some varieties are fairly short carrots, such as the “Danvers” varieties. Short carrots grow especially well in relatively firm or lightly tilled gardens. Some carrots are fairly long, such as the “Scarlet Nantes” or “St. Valery.” Some carrot varieties offer resistance to diseases (“Bolero” is apparently relatively resistant to aster yellows and alternaria blights). Others are somewhat heat resistant.

One disease that is somewhat common with carrots is aster yellows, spread by leafhoppers. If your carrot leaves start looking very peculiar and do not develop well, you very possibly have aster yellows. There is no easy way of treating aster yellows, except to pull the affected plants and put them in the trash. Aster yellows tends to make the carrots develop very poorly, if at all, and make the carrots less tasty.

Good luck with your gardening. Experiment with a new variety this year!

Check with the University of Minnesota Extension website, for more complete information on the above diseases as well as a wealth of information on growing food for your table. In addition, local Master Gardeners will again be answering your questions on home horticulture. Call 444-7916, leave your name and number and your question, and you will get a call back.