Beet Tops and Backyard Farming

July 17, 2012 in Antioxidants, Blog Recipes, Cooking & Baking Hints, Diabetic Menu Item, fiber, Health Claims, Nutrition, Nutritionism by Joyce Bunderson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my favorite poet/writers said, “The glory of the farmer is that, in the division of labors, it is his part to create.” He goes on to say, “The food which was not, he causes to be.” Emerson, of course, lived in a different time, but I very much believe that farmers and gardeners enjoy and learn in their way of life may still be ours. It may be so only in a small way, and then only if we’re lucky enough to have a garden plot. Now you may be wondering why an older lady, who has been to college for nine years, wants to be a backyard farmer.

The fact is that I was raised to be a city girl. My father lived on a farm for part of his boyhood, and my mother never lived on a true farm, but always had a vegetable garden and fruit trees. I guess that I’ve become conscious that I’m a city person, in spite of not being so many generations removed from family farms. I have, however, always been an avid gardener.

Many of us, modern, civilized persons don’t give much thought to the garden; of course, it’s fairly simple to make our quick trips to the market to choose from a vast array of edible items. Our civilization is past the agrarian stage. So why bother? I think that there are very good reasons why we should take a tiny peek toward farmers and gardeners.

At first glance, you may say, “After being at the desk, or factory all day long, (probably under artificial lights) I don’t have any energy to work in the garden.” But do we miss something when we never get our hands in a little dirt? I believe that many of us feel a deep kinship with nature. Of course, we’re not noticing it as much as the farmer, who is paying close attention to weather (and worries about droughts, frost and floods) and soil conditions; but all the same, if we spend any time at all thinking about it, we will note that we are dependent upon nature.

What do we miss if we never have a chance to till a little plot of soil, plant some seeds and watch them grow, wait with high expectations, see the sprouts push through the earth and warm in the summer sun, enjoy the beauty of the growth and maturation of the food, and then harvest it, prepare it, and taste it. We have the rewards of nature all along the way. Can we learn any of the lessons of nature, even from tending just a few fruit trees, or a vegetable or flower garden? Maybe it’s worth the effort. It doesn’t need to be acres of land to have a wonderful little encounter with nature. Even a little grow box on a patio or deck can yield a nice little experience producing tomatoes, peppers, herbs and flowers.

As I’ve told you above, I’ve gardened much of my life, but never lived on a farm. But certainly I feel a little like the Oklahoma song, you know the one, it says: Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’. I should admit right here, that last year I tried corn. It not only did not get ‘high as an elephant’s eye’; it was pretty much a complete failure. I don’t usually allow a failure to win out, but this year I didn’t even plant it. The farmer’s markets and local stands have such perfect corn…. Well, I just threw in the towel.

This week it was time to thin the beets. Of course, if I had a true clue about growing vegetables, I wouldn’t have planted so many beet seeds in such a small area. This city girl is still learning about vegetable gardening. The nice green tops looked pretty, just the way they were, but the seed packet warned that the seedlings were to be thinned to give the remaining plants a chance to grow nice round fat beet roots. I took some pictures so you can see what was pulled out. It was quite a stack of greens; some with small beets already growing. Seeing that big stack of pesticide-free, fresh, young, tender, beet greens is when the Beautiful Mornin’ song got going in my brain. I had so many thinned beets that I gave a huge stack to my dear neighbor.

Even if you’re not a gardener, you can find beet greens at some farmer’s markets; so give them a try with the recipe below. Also, beet greens are a nice addition to green salads; there’s just a touch of sweetness, especially with the young, tender ones.

I’ve been eating beet greens for a few years; at first they were from the grocery store. Those were not always so tender, but they were still good. Some people just rip them off and toss them. It’s a bit of tragedy on three fronts. One is the waste of food; another is that the greens provide nutrients that the beets don’t provide; and third, it’s a shame to fill the compost heap or trash mountains with something so nourishing, edible and truly delicious.

When the remaining beets in the plot are nice and fat, I’ll pull them out and sauté the greens or if they’re a little bigger, braise them (cook for a little longer with a cover on the pan). As to the beetroots, we have become quite partial to roasted beets. I know you can go to many trendy restaurants and order them; but there is something quaint about getting them from your own organic, pesticide-free garden. It’s probably just psychological, but they taste better.

Dark green leafy vegetables are among the most nutritious of foods. They include the nutritional powerhouse – beet greens. The greens are only about 40 calories for 1¼ cup. Like most greens, beet greens have some omega-3s; and are extremely low in fat. It’s tempting to sound like I’m embracing nutritionism, because beet greens are so full of nutrients, but I have them here together, the whole team.  I am not extracting one nutrient and putting it in a pill. These greens are a nice source of protein and complex carbohydrates as well. The colors are a big hint to the antioxidants inside There’s about 900% of the Daily Value of Vitamin K. That’s nine days worth of vitamin K. There’s about 240% of vitamin A (really carotenoids); and over half a day’s vitamin C. One cup is over a third of the day’s potassium – pretty nice for your blood pressure. Did I forget to tell you how much fiber you get from beets and their greens? Very good source of fiber! I’m not too worried about the natural sugars in beets; the fiber is efficient at slowing the release of sugars in the beetroots. Beets really help you stay full for a long time. The beets themselves don’t have lots of protein, but the greens do. The greens are strongly anti-inflammatory – perfect for those trying to protect themselves from the damage of diabetes and heart disease.

Radish tops are another green veggie that I’ve discovered are quite wonderful. They make a wonderful addition to soups. The flavor is divine. Maybe one day I’ll write down my recipe for Tarragon Chicken Soup and Radish Tops and share it on this blog.

And if you’re still throwing your carrot tops away, don’t miss the previously posted recipe Mary Ireland’s Beets and Carrot Tops.  If you have greens on your veggies; think twice before tossing them in the trash.

If you’re trying to eat Mediterranean style, beet greens and roots are one of those low glycemic foods. One little warning: skip the plethora of recipes for greens that instruct you to make your greens with a load of bacon or other saturated fat.

I certainly recommend the chance to feel the beauty in the mornin’, when you reach into the grow box and pull out a healthy wonderful beet with the tender tasty greens right there in your very own hand; not too mention the nourishing tasty meal it will contribute to. If you have a little space, plant some seeds later in the summer, because beets will grow into the fall, as they’re a cool weather crop. If you’re not inclined to garden, see if you can find a farmer’s market with the beet greens still attached.

Beautiful Mornin’ Beet Greens


A stack of washed beet greens (more than will fit easily into your largest skillet – I used a 13” skillet)

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1 – 2 tablespoons vinegar (I used red wine this time, but sometimes use balsamic vinegar.)


Cut the roots, large and small off the stems. Chop the beetroots into fairly uniform sized pieces. Put into the skillet with 2 or 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil; steam in covered skillet until just beginning to be tender.

Meanwhile, chop the stems from the leaves and then into 1/3-inch pieces. When the beetroots are beginning to become tender add the cut stems to the skillet. Replace the lid for a few more minutes – until the stems are just becoming tender.

Meanwhile, cut the leaves into one-inch pieces. Add to the roots and stems. Sprinkle with salt to taste, pepper and minced garlic. Stir and sauté until the leaves are soft. Sprinkle with vinegar and stir.

The stack of thinned beets

The beet patch after thinning

Some already have little beets

Cut the little beetroots off

Chopping the stems

A nice big stack of beet greens

Chopped beets in olive oil

Slicing the greens

Cooked until just barley tender

Adding the stems to the beets

Trying to fit the greens into the skillet

The greens have wilted, and the garlic and vinegar have been added - ready to serve