As people become more conscious about the food they eat and where it comes from, growing sugar beets has become a popular way for backyard gardeners to create their own sweetener. Sugar beets are easy to grow and process, and can be used to make anything from granulated sugar to molasses. In this article, we will guide you through the process of growing and processing sugar beets in your own backyard.
Growing Sugar Beets
1. Choose a sunny location: Sugar beets require at least six hours of sunlight a day to grow properly.
2. Prepare the soil: Sugar beets prefer well-drained, loamy soil. Work in organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure to improve the soil.
3. Sow the seeds: Sow the seeds directly in the garden bed, about 1/2 inch deep and 2-4 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to 6-8 inches apart when they are 2-3 inches tall.
4. Water regularly: Keep the soil evenly moist, especially during the first few weeks after planting.
5. Fertilize: Sugar beets require nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to grow. Side-dress the plants with a balanced fertilizer at mid-season.
6. Harvest: Sugar beets are ready to harvest when the tops are 6-8 inches tall and the roots are 2-3 inches in diameter. Pull them out of the ground carefully, making sure not to damage the roots.
Processing Sugar Beets
1. Wash the beets: Use a hose to wash off any dirt or debris from the beets.
2. Cut off the tops and bottoms: Cut off the tops and tails of the beets with a sharp knife.
3. Boil the beets: Place the beets in a large pot of boiling water and cook for 30-40 minutes, or until they are tender.
4. Peel the beets: Once the beets have cooled, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin.
5. Grate the beets: Grate the beets using a food processor or a hand-held grater.
6. Strain the juice: Put the grated beets in a cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice.
7. Cook the juice: Heat the beet juice in a large pot over medium heat until it thickens and becomes syrupy.
8. Cool and store: Let the syrup cool and store it in a clean, airtight container in the refrigerator.
Top Varieties of Sugar Beets
1. Red Ace: This variety has a high sugar content and produces a deep red beet that is perfect for making sugar.
2. Lutz Green Leaf: This variety has a higher yield than other sugar beets and produces a large, sweet root.
3. Golden: This variety has a yellow flesh and a sweet, nutty flavor.
4. Detroit Dark Red: This variety is known for its excellent flavor and high sugar content.
5. Chioggia: This variety has a striped pink and white flesh and is known for its tender, sweet taste.
Once you have processed your sugar beets into syrup or granulated sugar, it is important to store it properly to prevent spoilage. Sugar can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to two years. If you have made syrup, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months.