This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
This much-esteemed esculent is supposed to be a native of the warmer countries of Europe, and to have been introduced into this country by the Romans. According to chemical analyses, Beet contains much more nutritive matter than any other root excepting the Potato. Nearly twelve per cent of it consists of saccharine or sugar matter, and the Red Beets are more nutritious than the White - the former containing three times more gluten than the latter.
The main crop of Beet should not be sown till the end of April; for when sown earlier, and especially in dry seasons, it is apt to run to seed, and the result is. small worthless roots. In most families it is required early in autumn for salads, and to meet that demand a small sowing is generally put in the first week in April. The ground that suits it is an open sandy loam, moderately enriched with rotten manure. Should the weather and ground be dry, vegetation is hastened and more certain by steeping the seed in water for twenty-four hours. Sow in drills 16 inches apart, and when sufficiently large to thin, they should be left about 8 inches between plant and plant.
Where the soil is naturally heavy, slugs are sometimes great pests to Beet just as it comes through the ground; and it is a good plan, under such circumstances, to cover up the seed with some light sandy soil, and to dust with dry soot and lime as the plants appear above ground.
Beet is rather tender, and subject to injury from frosts, and requires to be lifted and stored in time to be secure from such. In lifting and storing it great care is necessary, so as not to break the skin, or cut the tops off too close, which causes bleeding and leaves the tuber much deteriorated by loss of juice and colour. They are best stored in sand in a cool dry place, or they may be pitted, but protected thoroughly from wet. They are best and most conveniently kept in a root-room.
The varieties of Beet are now numerous, and many of them are very much alike. The varieties we prefer are - Barret's Crimson, Henderson's Pine Apple, Notting's Dwarf Red, Dell's Dark Lopped. Barret's we consider preferable taken as a whole, where one variety only is selected.