In the Garden Beet, Beta vulgaris, we have a highly developed vegetable, the making of which has given our seedsmen no small amount of trouble. It and the Mangold Wurzel of the fields, Beta vulgaris macrorhiza, are closely related; in fact, the latter may be described as simply a large-rooted form, and herein lies the danger.
Get a poor strain of Beetroot seed from your seedsman, sow it a little too early, have the soil too rank, and behold! in your garden plot is a patch of roots that every more fortunate gardener in the neighbourhood sniggers at - roots which certainly ought to be out among the Mangolds in the fields.
In their laudable anxiety to give us good strains the seedsmen have chosen small-rooted types. These they have selected and reselected with great care. If one hits the right time to sow, and has the ground in proper order, these selections give roots of 9 inches to 1 foot long, about 3 inches through at the shoulder, and tapering evenly down. Such roots are quite large enough for anybody. There is, however, one little difficulty with these small Beets. The grower sows at a period which experience teaches him is about right in the average of years, yet a very dry season may upset his calculations, and leave the roots only half developed.
As showing the force of this point, and the difference in "strain," I may say that with so well known a Beet as Cheltenham Green-top I have had extraordinary variations in quality in different seasons and with different seedsmen, but with the same soil. Thus, one year the roots have been models of shape and refinement, and the next as coarse as any Mangold.
It is not by any means so easy a matter as some armchair-and-inkpot gardeners would have us believe to get a perfect crop of Beet year after year. It is wise to allow for variability of season by sowing long Beet twice, the first at the end of April, the second at the middle of May. Further, it is judicious to sow two varieties, instead of relying upon one only.
As regards seedsmen, the prominent firms are to be relied upon as a rule, and sometimes one gets the best of results from the local man - but not always. If a grower finds a variety and a seedsman reliable he should stick to both.
In my early gardening days the popular Beets were Nutting's Dwarf Bed, Pine Apple, and Whyte's Black. At the end of the seventies the first-named had a great vogue, and it is by no means played out now. Dell's Crimson appeared on the scene, however, and effected a little revolution. It is still probably the most popular Beetroot grown. Pragnell's Exhibition followed Dell's, and it is a handsome Beet, of good shape and colour. Some of the most esteemed Beets at the present time are strains associated with the names of various well-known seedsmen. I have grown many of these, and can speak highly of the following: - Cannells' Best of All, Carters' Perfection, Dobbies' Exhibition, Suttons' Blood Red, and Webb's Masterpiece. Any of these might be chosen if one only was wanted. I have never had a better variety in my garden than Best of All.
It is pleasant to see the Turnip or globe-shaped Beets gaining favour. They are early, reliable, and of excellent quality. The Egyptian and Suttons' Globe are of proved worth.
Beetroot seed is somewhat peculiar. What we call a seed is really something more. It is a case containing more than one growing germ, which explains the surprise of a gentleman who heard of 100 "seeds" being sown, and 120 plants resulting!
For soil, management, manuring, sowing tables, enemies, and storing, see previous articles.