Beet, a common root vegetable. It is grown for its sweet, fleshy root; for its sugar; or for its leaves, which are used as greens. There are four principal varieties: (1) the garden beet, eaten as a vegetable; (2) the sugar beet, raised for its sugar; (3) the large, coarse mangel, or mangel-wurzel, used for livestock feed; and (4) the chard, or Swiss chard, used as a vegetable or as a garnish. Garden and sugar beets are the most important varieties in the United States.

BeetsBeets are common root vegetables.
The Garden Beet

The garden beet is a biennial plant. During its first season of growth, it has a thick root and a crown of oblong leaves. The root may be round or pointed, and ranges in color from white to deep red. The flower stalk appears the second season, bearing small fruits, popularly called seeds.

The beet root is not high in food value. The greens are an excellent source of vitamins, iron, and calcium. The roots are most tender when they are three inches (7.5 cm) in diameter or less. They may be served buttered, in salads, in sweet-sour sauce (Harvard beets), or pickled. Beet soup, a Russian dish called borsch or borsht, is often served with sour cream. Beet greens are cooked like spinach. Beet roots with the tops removed can be stored for several weeks in a cool place.

Beets grow well in many types of soil. They do best in a rich, sandy loam. The beet requires a cool growing season and matures in 45 to 50 days. It does not do well in a hot climate. The seed is sowed thickly, the young plants being thinned when they spring up. The plants must be carefully cultivated so that the tender roots are not injured.

Garden beets are attacked by several kinds of insects. The spinach flea beetle and the webworm are controlled by arsenical insecticides. Diseases include leaf spot, treated with a spray of Bordeaux mixture; and damping off, a disease of seedlings, treated by adding a formaldehyde solution to the soil.

Sugar Beets

The sugar beet is a light-colored, pointed beet grown as a source of sugar. The beets are dug up by machine and the leafy tops are removed. At the factory, the root is washed and sliced. Soaking in hot water removes the sugar from the beet slices. Impurities are removed by treating the solution with lime and carbon dioxide. The product is bleached, purified, and evaporated to produce crystalline sugar that is identical in chemical formula to cane sugar. About one pound (.45 kg) of sugar is obtained from eight pounds (3.6 kg) of beets.

The pulp that remains after removal of the sugar is high in food value. It is excellent feed for dairy cattle, steers, and lambs. Other refuse from the sugar beet factory is used for fertilizer.

The fact that beet sugar is identical to cane sugar was discovered in 1747 by Andreas Marggraf, a German chemist. In the early 1800's, when a British blockade of the European continent cut off much of the supply of sugarcane, Germany and France established factories for processing sugar beets for their sugar. Napoleon encouraged the industry and helped popularize the sugar. In the United States, the first successful beet sugar factory was set up in 1870 near Alvarado, California.

Sugar beetsSugar beets are white root vegetables grown to make sugar.

Beets belong to the family Chenopodiaceae. Both table and sugar beets are Beta vulgaris. The chard is B. v. cicla ; the mangel, B. v. macrorhiza.