MASTER GARDENER: Don’t give up on beets, carrots until you’ve grown them

Beets and carrots have an earthy sweetness and rich color. (Courtesy)

Beets and carrots have an earthy sweetness and rich color. (Courtesy)

If the idea of a vegetable garden in the backyard is overwhelming, or more of a time commitment than you can manage, think smaller. Growing vegetables in containers will not make you self-sufficient, but you may be surprised to learn how many vegetables can be grown in very small spaces. It’s the perfect solution for anyone who enjoys home-grown vegetables, but doesn’t have space or time for a traditional garden.

Garden centers have a large array of vegetable plants in the spring and fall. Root vegetables such as beets and carrots are best started from seed. Seed packets are usually available all year for vegetables, like root crops, that don’t like to be transplanted. Carrots and beets are perfect for small spaces.

“Carrots and beets … yuck!” is often the reaction to these great tasting and nutritious veggies. Just wait until you taste beets and carrots you have grown! Think about the taste difference between a summer homegrown tomato and a tasteless winter grocery store tomato. No comparison, right? The same is true with beets and carrots.

Beets (Beta vulgaris) and carrots (Daucus catrota) have an earthy sweetness and rich color. Even the young tops are tasty additions to a mixed salad. These are two of the easiest vegetables to grow, and they are ready for harvesting in 50 to 60 days.

Seeds can be sown in a large container on the patio or directly into the soil in flower beds in early spring or mid-summer for fall harvest. Sow the seed sparsely to give the root space to grow. If seedlings are too thick, enjoy the “thinnings” as micro-greens in salads.

Still not sold on beets and carrots: Try roasting them. Place unpeeled beets (tops removed to about 1 inch) in a piece of aluminum foil large enough to make an envelope around the beets. Place foil packet on a cookie sheet and roast at 350 degrees for about an hour, depending on the size of the beets. A knife should pass easily through the beet. Remove from oven and allow the beets to cool. The skin of the beets will slip off easily, leaving a beautiful ruby-red globe.

Roasted carrots are even easier. Wash young carrots, remove the tops, spread on a cookie sheet and add a little olive oil plus salt and pepper. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes or until the tip of a knife pierces the carrot easily. Allow to cool and enjoy. No peeling needed.

Add the roasted vegetables to salads or serve as a side dish by simply adding salt, pepper and a dash of lemon. Delicious!

Sandra Caldwell, a Master Gardener, is a trained volunteer of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. For gardening questions, call the Help Center at (662) 620-8280 in Lee County or (866) 920-4678 outside Lee County and leave a message.