A few weeks ago, when the sun was shining more reliably, I was able to join the inspiring Mojave Kaplan, Mel Sylvestre and Alex Lyon for a Beet Field Day at the UBC Farm. We walked through the field, harvested, selected, and prepared beets for winter storage.
Many cultivars of red, golden, and chioggia beets were grown at the UBC Farm this season. We would be preparing the best from each to be stored over the winter, to then be planted out again in the spring. We would work with one cultivar at a time, pulling up all the beets in that specific lot, then lining them up to examine a variety of traits. We were examining the shape and hairiness of the beetroot, and the shape of the main tap root. With regards to each trait, the following was preferred:
- Root shape: Preference was given to a globe shape, without too much of a shoulder. For the golden beets, we wanted them to be nicely rounded and not cone-shaped. For the chioggia beets, a slightly more squat shape was preferred.
- Root hairs: Any beets with thick hairs were culled, the least hairy being preferred.
- Tap root: Any with two tap roots were culled. For beets with 1 tap root, preference was given to those that were shaped more like a rat tail.
We took our time laying out the beets and walking along the row. I loved how what initially looked like a relatively uniform lot of beets quickly became a wide spectrum of diversity as my eyes started to adjust and take in the various trait differences. Together we selected those which had the preferred traits, then began the cleaning process.
Cleaning the selected beets required some practice. In hopes that as many as possible would survive winter storage without rotting, we focused on trimming the area where the leaves meet the root. The goal was to cut at a sharp angle to trim the leaves into a point, without cutting the root itself. I learnt that this is called steckling, and is a technique applied to all root vegetables in preparation for storage and replanting (carrots, rutabaga, turnips…). I was working with some very talented and seasoned seed savers who could do this with their eyes closed, but I did my best to keep up.
At this point, the beetroots were just about ready to be tucked away for the winter. Mel shared that they can be stored in a few different mediums, such as sand, sawdust, fine bark mulch, or cedar. The goal is to keep them moist but not wet, which is why sand is a popular storage medium as it doesn’t hold much water.
I had a great morning with these amazing seed savers and hope I’ll have a chance to check on the stored beets in the spring!