1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Beet

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BEET, a cultivated form of the plant Beta vulgaris (natural order Chenopodiaceae), which grows wild on the coasts of Europe, North Africa and Asia as far as India. It is a biennial, producing, like the carrot, a thick, fleshy tap-root during the first year and a branched, leafy, flowering stem in the following season. The small, green flowers are borne in clusters. A considerable number of varieties are cultivated for use on account of their large fleshy roots, under the names of mangel-wurzel or mangold, field-beet and garden-beet. The cultivation of beet in relation to the production of sugar, for which purpose certain varieties of beet stand next in importance to the sugar cane, is dealt with under Sugar. The garden-beet has been cultivated from very remote times as a salad plant, and for general use as a table vegetable. The variety most generally grown has long, tapering, carrot-shaped roots, the “flesh” of which is of a uniform deep red colour throughout, and the leaves brownish red. It is boiled and cut into slices for being eaten cold; and it is also prepared as a pickle, as well as in various other forms. Beet is in much more common use on the continent of Europe as a culinary vegetable than in Great Britain, where it has, however, been cultivated for upwards of two centuries. The white beet, Beta cicla, is cultivated for the leaves, which are used as spinach. The midribs and stalks of the leaves are also stewed and eaten as sea-kale, under the name of Swiss chard. B. cicla is also largely used as a decorative plant for its large, handsome leaves, blood red or variegated in colour.

The beet prospers in a rich deep soil, well pulverized by the spade. If manure is required, it should be deposited at the bottom of the trench in preparing the ground. The seeds should be sown in drills 15 ins. asunder, in April or early in May, and the plants are afterwards to be thinned to about 8 in. apart in the lines, but not more, as moderate-sized roots are preferable. The plants should grow on till the end of October or later, when a portion should be taken up for use, and the rest laid in in a sheltered corner, and covered up from frost. The roots must not be bruised and the leaves must be twisted off—not closely cut, as they are then liable to bleed. In the north the crop may be wholly taken up in autumn, and stored in a pit or cellar, beyond reach of frost. If it is desired to have fresh roots early, the seeds should be sown at the end of February or beginning of March; and if a succession is required, a few more may be sown by the end of March.