Some people love this root, while others loathe it. It's probably because the root contains the chemical geosmin, which gives it an earthy smell.
It was originally just grown for its tasty leaves, but now we enjoy the roots and leaves in salads, soups, and roasted. The common varieties are red -- but gold, white, and red- and white-striped varieties are also available. You probably guessed: I'm talking about beets.
Beets grow best in the cool spring and fall weather. Although they have an earthy smell, beets are sweet. The sugar beet makes up 20 percent of the world's sugar production.
As soon as the ground dries out and warms up, it's beet planting time.
Beets like a loose, well-drained, fertile soil. Add a few-inch-thick layer of compost, sow seeds on raised beds in rows, or broadcast them -- and don't worry too much about seed spacing.
The beet seed is actually a dried fruit with multiple seeds inside. So no matter how carefully you properly space the seeds, you'll still get a crowded seedlings.
Just let them grow until the true leaves form, then thin, spacing the remaining beets four inches apart. Add the thinnings to salads for an early taste of spring.
I like growing the heirloom Lutz Winter Keeper beets, because I can leave them in the garden until I want to harvest -- and even though it gets large, it doesn't get woody.
Smaller varieties are best picked when they're the size of a hand ball.
Get creative with varieties, too. Golden beets and Chioggia red-and-white-striped beet offer nice stain-free color options.
Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about white fringe tree. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.