The paths are slimy and wet as I walk to the vegetables at the top of the garden. The soil is wet, and the leaves of leeks, chard and beets are overgrown due to rainy days.
But with a fork, you pull out some beets and the beetroot shows itself, and its tops are dried due to exposure to light and air, but when you wash them under the tap, their underground parts are shiny and smooth as burgundy satin.
I have three types of beetroot this year. There is Bulls Blood, an old favorite that has, as the name suggests, a rich red color and dark leaves that are very good to eat raw in a salad.
Chioggia has white flesh with concentric pink rings. It is very sweet, with an earthy taste and is named after the port at the southern end of the Venetian Lagoon. I always associate Veneto – the surroundings of Venice – with red vegetables such as beets and various types of chicory.
UK-based horticultural expert Monty Don says beetroot is easy to grow, likes rich, well-drained soil and is best in the sun. Pictured: Monty with some of his red beets
Finally, there is a variety of gold color that is appropriately called Gold. It is almost apricot in color and has a pink hue that is very neat.
I was raised about beetroot as something that was only eaten cold after it was cooked, chilled and served (watered with vinegar) with a salad (which always included lettuce and hard-boiled eggs and was served with mayonnaise and not with what was then called the French topping).
Q I had a raised bed for the first time last year, but small, very pale snails destroyed everything I raised in it. To prevent recurrence, I am considering using a pesticide. Which would be the least harmful to the environment?
Joan Brook, Bucks
A Offenders sound like gray field snails. The eggs were probably in the soil that was used to fill the bed. But pesticides do more harm than good. Instead, encourage predators such as mash, hedgehogs, beetles and toads to visit your garden. Snails also like young seedlings, so lift them under the cover before planting.
Q My 30-year-old camellia blooms well, but has developed yellow leaves. How can I stop this?
Tom Munt, Berks
A It sounds like your soil may be too alkaline for camellias to thrive in acidic soils. It will help to use a mulch made of composted wraps or pine needles, along with weekly feeding with organic iron fertilizer between March and October.
Q I plant winter aconites among the snowdrops to add some yellow to the mixture, but something keeps eating the petals. Do you have any idea what this could be?
D Cockburn, Herts
A I suspect the birds are to blame. They certainly sing – or at least vandalize – crocus petals, thinking they are something juicy.
Write to Monty Don on the weekends, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email [email protected] Please provide your full name and title. We’re sorry Monty can’t answer to letters in person.
It’s perfectly enjoyable and all – but there are so many other ways to cook and enjoy beets! I love it roasted with generous sprigs of thyme and served with roasted meat or spicy cream sauce. Beetroot soup is delicious no matter how you prepare it, be it real borscht or a much simpler kitchen soup.
Of course, beetroot juice is on trend now (how excited my parents and their generation would be!). But in addition to its taste, beetroot is incredibly good for you as it improves blood pressure, digestion and inflammation.
And beets are so easy to grow. It is part of the same family as sugar beet, spinach, chard and, even more surprisingly, quinoa. They all like rich, well-drained soil and are very hardy, but like most vegetables they thrive best in the sun.
The seeds are in small clusters so that each seed can produce more seedlings. Usually a fair in modular trays, no worries if a few seeds go into each module.
These will grow like a small cluster of beets and prevent them from becoming too large while pushing each other apart to have room to grow to a suitable size (somewhere between a golf ball and a cricket ball).
The advantage of cover cultivation is that you can sow in February, so they are ready for planting as soon as the soil warms up in the spring.
Seedlings grow slowly, but should have roots that can be harvested by mid-summer. They will happily sit in the ground all winter, although they become woody as they age.
But this woody, oversized beet will sprout delicious new leaves in early spring that are ideal for salads.
The main thing to watch out for is that the plants are flowing into the seed or twisting – the flowers are growing – which will prevent the roots from growing. It is a response to too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry.
The answer is that we try to ensure an even and consistent supply of nutrients and hope that the weather will not be too volatile.
MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: CYCLAME COUM
Monty said cyclamen (pictured) is hardy and thrives well in dry shade, the soil needs to be enriched and is an ideal annual mulch for leaf mold
Cyclamen bloom in my garden – cyclamen coum and not cyclamen hederifolium. They are hardy and thrive well in dry shade, the soil needs to be enriched and the annual mulch of leaf mold is ideal.
Plant in late summer, stems should be shallow with tops just below the surface. Squirrels can be a problem, so cover the newly planted stems with a layer of chicken wire and a few inches of soil over it to ward them off.
Never mix cyclamen coum with cyclamen hederifolium, as the latter will always displace the former.
WORK THIS WEEK: CALLING APPLES AND PEARS
Pruning now that the tree is dormant promotes strong regrowth and allows light and air to circulate. Always cut something, be it a bud, another branch or a trunk. Remove any deformed, weak, cruciate or crowded growth.