You can enjoy your beets before they are even big enough to pull from the ground. Their leaves are really high in vitamin A nutrients, along with vitamin C, iron and calcium with a taste similar to swiss chard. Although you can eat them raw, I prefer to saute them in a little olive oil. I also tend to drop them into most dishes I am cooking up: egg scrambles, burritos, pasta dishes, etc. They add a huge dose of nutrients and nice, nutty flavor.

My beets are still pretty small, but I have been cooking up the greens for a few weeks now. I use some kitchen scissors to gently snip a couple outer leaves from each plant, so plenty remain on each beet. The plant then grows more to replace the lost leaves.

For years I have been wondering if perhaps I am planting my beets too close together. They always seem to get this wilty, grayish blotches on the leaves that I assumed was some sort of mildew from lack of air circulation. I have since learned this is actually a pest called “beet leafminer”.

The condition happens when the leafminer fly larva is laid in the leaves. They hatch and feed off the leaf, which creates these blotchy areas. There is a similar pest for swiss chard and spinach as well. Typically they are not active enough to kill the plant, but the infected leaves end up going to the chickens instead of my dinner plate.

It helps to cut out the blotched leaves, so they cannot as easily spread to the other plants. I have also heard that covered the plants with a plastic cloche until they are fully mature also prevents the insect from having access to the leaves. Be aware though that they can also lay larva in the soil, which overwinters and hatches the next season. This is yet another great reason to practice crop rotation!

Go forth and eat greens!

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Written by Renee Wilkinson