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Unusual vegetable and herb varieties, upcoming workshops and the humble beetroot

This Tuesday evening, our growing team and horticulture therapist are getting together to put the final touches to our annual seed order. We will review what grew well, what we might not grow again and also possible new varieties of particular fruit or vegetables. Sonia, our horticulture therapist, directed me to an interesting website in Yorkshire that promotes the more unusual perennial vegetables named Having looked at what they grow, I have ordered some plants from them to give them a go, namely Yacon tubers, Siberian purslane, mountain sorrel and a few others. I am always on the look out for unusual salad leaves, that being probably the most sought after item in the shop. We try to ensure that the leaves you get are different to those in supermarket offerings, tastier and have a longer life. I will be trialling the sorrel and purslane accordingly.

If anyone wants to book for this coming weekend marmalade course we have a few spaces left, likewise for next weekend’s garden obelisk workshop. Sarah Hughes will be with us that same Saturday leading the volunteer working party for our pond and hedgerow. If anyone would like to join us on that Saturday, please do get in touch. Sarah will also be with us on Thursday 25th for the same event.

Last year, I was given a book on the potted history of vegetables which has made interesting reading. I am also fascinated to know what nutritional value each variety might give. This week, when we have beetroot on the list, I thought I would let you know some of the facts I uncovered. Our modern day beetroot most probably derives from the wild beet growing in Mediterranean coastal regions. The Greeks ate the leaves, the Romans cultivated the enlarged taproot and it was this that was eaten as food, rather than the leaves, and also used for medicinal purposes. By the 19th century, it held great commercial value when it was discovered that beets could be converted into sugar. Many classic beetroot recipes are associated with central and Eastern Europe including the famous beetroot soup known as borscht. Beetroot’s earthy charm has resulted in its ubiquitous influence on fashionable menus and recipes. Its delicious but distinctive flavour and nutritional status have escalated it to the root you can’t beat! Belonging to the same family as chard and spinach, both the leaves and root can be eaten – the leaves have a bitter taste whereas the round root is sweet. Typically a rich purple colour, beetroot can also be white or golden. Due to its high sugar content, beetroot is delicious eaten raw but is more typically cooked or pickled.
Beetroot is of exceptional nutritional value; especially the greens, which are rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of fibre, manganese and potassium. The greens should not be overlooked; they can be cooked up and enjoyed in the same way as spinach. This is the reason that we leave the leaf on when cropped from our site.

The plant pigment that gives beetroot its rich, purple-crimson colour is betacyanin; a powerful agent, thought to help suppress the development of some types of cancer. Beetroot is rich in fibre, exerting favourable effects on bowel function, which may assist in preventing constipation and help to lower cholesterol levels too. Beetroot fibre has been shown to increase the number of white blood cells, which are responsible for detecting and eliminating abnormal cells. Red beetroots have been ranked as one of the 10 most potent antioxidant vegetables and are also one of the richest sources of glutamine, an amino acid, essential to the health and maintenance of the intestinal tract.