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Sugar Beets

 
Dale Hodgins
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I've been checking out the possibility of growing sugar beets. About 25% of world sugar production comes from beets. Other than being high in sugar, these beets are nutritionally similar to others in the family. They contain protein,vitamins, antioxidants,and other good stuff. The refined product is virtually identical to cane sugar. But if the roots were dried and ground, we would have a high fibre, mostly sugar product which should be easy to preserve and use.

World sugar prices are driven by subsidy, regulation and import restrictions with many countries producing it on the backs of tax payers and with little regard to the environment or for the workforce. Huge inputs of herbicides and pesticides are typical. Enormous monocultures are also typical. Sugar plantations are very low in biodiversity, they hog water, they polllute waterways and use land that might be better used for local food production. Not something we should support.

Sugar beets are produced commercially in Alberta and have been grown as far south as Louisiana. Most production is on the northern plains. Government policy in the U.S. favours domestic production and beet sugar is the leader. Most sugar consumed in Europe comes from beets. They grow all over temperate regions. Prefer alkaline soil. Monsanto controls quite a bit of seed. GMO beet is the norm.

Few of us need to increase our sugar consumption but by growing our own we can choose to eat a much better product that doesn't feed agribusiness. It is a very cheap commodity so not something I would envision producing commercially as things stand today.

Other uses- Pulp is commonly fed to livestock. They mix it with less palitable food just as is done with molasses.
- finely ground fibre used in laxitives
- tops eaten like spinnach

Do any of you grow sugar beet? Do you refine it or just grind it pulp and all? Does it produce any off taste when used raw?
 
Kota Dubois
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Dale, when I was young my grandfather used to grow several acres on his farm in s. Ontario (zone 4ish, calcareous soil) as a cash crop to be sold to the processor. He said that during WW2 it was a very common crop but by then (early 60's) they were going out of fashion. I've been considering them for ethanol production, and I'm sure that ruminants would appreciate the resultant mash like Kobi beef.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I'm from southern Ontario. After ww2 cane sugar became readily available and cheap. We eliminated tariffs and beet production in the east ended.

Pierre Trudeau moved away from domestic sugar production and towards deals with Cuba as a way of asserting himself internationally. Our former P. M. enjoyed pissing off the Americans.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I've grown sugar beets. Beets grow very well here but neither I nor my husband especially like the root part though we both like the greens a lot. Beets are very nutritious as well as having a good amount of calories for a vegetable. Sugar beets, alas, taste like beets. They will add a beety flavor to whatever you add them to, and not just sweetness. I think I tried making muffins with them as a sugar substitute. The beetness definitely comes through and without refining, the sweetness is not especially intense. But definitely worth growing as a calorie crop if you like beets. I think it would be fun to try refining them for sugar, but I doubt I will ever get around to it....

http://www.sucrose.com/lbeet.html

 
kent smith
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There were several articals this past year projecting a shortage of sugar from sugar beets. Seems there was legal action to stop the production of GMO beet seeds until studies were finished. From what I remember there was a large shortage of non-GMO seeds and that there would not be enough seeds to plant this years crops.
kent
 
Paul Krum
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My father grows sugar beets in Michigan. The hybrid field varieties he grows are nearly indestructible, I've helped through the mechanical harvest. They'll roll off a the top of a pile on a dump truck, off the side, drop 10 feet onto pavement and be no worse. Their size prevents more then one in a standard kitchen pot. They would be hard to process without special equipment.

He has also mentioned the seed thing this year. He says there are 3 big providers. 1 failed for whatever reason, 2nd scrambling to cover increased demand, 3 nobody likes because you don't get enough sugar content in the beets. I assume he uses GMO when he can, but such topics are off limits for the sake of family harmony.

Anyway be great to know what heirloom varieties have worked. Sounds they may be more practical then then the modern monsters. I assume they are both smaller and more tender. The drawback is they will have less sugar content and probably be "beetier."
 
Paul Krum
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Haha! just followed Tyler's link. The sugar beets I've seen are about the size and shape of an NFL football. Those are different!
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think I grew the ones available from JL Hudson. http://jlhudsonseeds.net/VegetablesA-D.htm
 
Kay Bee
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I grew up in Michigan and remember someone bringing some sugar beets in to my 3rd grade class as part of a lesson. they were big and oval shaped. Cut up, the flesh was white and very sweet. Pretty fibrous to chew, but tasty with just a bit of an earthy aftertaste. Not nearly as strong as our detroit red beets.

I tried growing them in our garden in North Carolina and the beets stayed small and were very tough. Our soil there was hard red clay. I think Michigan's sandy soil makes a big difference.
 
Leron Bouma
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How different are the sugar beets from the mangle beets that are used for animal feed?
 
George Lee
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http://sustainableseedco.com/Sugar-Beet-Seeds.html has tested gmo-free seeds...
I've used them for several years now. Amazing company with a bright vision of the future.
Peace -
 
Cj Sloane
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I've been checking out the possibility of growing sugar beets.

...
Few of us need to increase our sugar consumption but by growing our own we can choose to eat a much better product that doesn't feed agribusiness. It is a very cheap commodity so not something I would envision producing commercially as things stand today.

Other uses- Pulp is commonly fed to livestock. They mix it with less palitable food just as is done with molasses.
- finely ground fibre used in laxitives
- tops eaten like spinnach


Sigh.

I think part of the deal with permaculture is that it has a design component that people miss or misunderstand. Really, people should start with a goal and explore all options that would fulfill that goal.
So is your goal to grow sugar beets or to use "a much better product that doesn't feed agribusiness" or something else?

You might want to check out Tree Crops.

If you download the pdf there is a chapter on honeylocust, which the author calls The Real Sugar Tree:
The beans from some of these unimproved and unappreciated
wildlings carry more than 30 percent of sugar. This is equal
to the best sugar beets and more than the yield of the richest
crops of sugar cane.
This, too, after man has been struggling
with the sugar cane for centuries.


Much of the book is devoted to explaining the damage annuals do to soil when farmed on inclines.

Forest-field-plow-desert- that is the cycle of the hills under plow agricultures.


OK
Here I am, gently stepping off the soap box.
 
Cee Ray
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in BC omega blue farms http://www.omegabluefarms.webs.com and mountain seed co http://mountainseedco.com sell OP seed
 
Steven Gayler
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The neighbor hood I live in in utah is called sugar house because there used to be a sugar mill here. The soil is realy poor and alk but some how the pioneers managed to grow ALOT of sugar beets in the salt lake valley. I'm sure you can grow them anywhere you want. Is the sugar from beets red?
 
Cj Sloane
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Steven Gayler wrote:Is the sugar from beets red?


I don't think so. There is at least 1 variety of white beet.
 
Svilena Racheva
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I grew sugar beets last year for the first time. The patch was about 3m/6m or 10'/20'. some straw for mulch, and they didn't need any special care at all. I waited to pull them out after first frost, as I read that this increases their sugar level. Beets were huge at the end, some as big as a football ball. there were at least 30kg of them after we cut the tops. Then we peeled them, and grind them, after that boiled them untill soft. We strained and pressed the pulp, and boiled and reduced the juises untill thick molasses. It was a lot of work, took us 3 days to complete. So you will understand my dissapointment when I tell you that we ended up with less than 3 kg of molasses. The stuff tastes great, I love it, and used it like sugar substitute, whenever possible (it is best on pancakes and bread), I used it also in some baking recipes, but have to tell you that I am not sure if it is all worth it. I expected to not have to buy a single pack of sugar through winter, only to find out the jar was almost empty shortly before Christmas. So I am still thinking if I will do it again this season...
 
Cj Sloane
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Sounds like more work than maple syrup, which makes sense because the tree takes care of itself. You just have to do the processing.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Cj Verde wrote:
Dale Hodgins wrote:I've been checking out the possibility of growing sugar beets.

...
Few of us need to increase our sugar consumption but by growing our own we can choose to eat a much better product that doesn't feed agribusiness. It is a very cheap commodity so not something I would envision producing commercially as things stand today.

Other uses- Pulp is commonly fed to livestock. They mix it with less palitable food just as is done with molasses.
- finely ground fibre used in laxitives
- tops eaten like spinnach


Sigh.

I think part of the deal with permaculture is that it has a design component that people miss or misunderstand. Really, people should start with a goal and explore all options that would fulfill that goal.
So is your goal to grow sugar beets or to use "a much better product that doesn't feed agribusiness" or something else?


SIGH
There was no design component to miss or misunderstand. I didn't touch on how I would intigrate sugar beets into the greater plan for the farm. The goal is as stated --- to grow my own sugar from sugar beets. The reason is so that I'll have an unadulterated product that bypasses agribusiness and nothing else.
 
Cj Sloane
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Dale Hodgins wrote:
Other uses- Pulp is commonly fed to livestock. They mix it with less palitable food just as is done with molasses.
- finely ground fibre used in laxitives
- tops eaten like spinnach


I think this is the design component I was thinking should be the starting point. If you want pulp to feed to livestock, you really want a mangle beet -but do you really need a beet when, say, honey locust is a perrenial that might fulfill that need better.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Cj Sloane
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Dale Hodgins wrote:The goal is as stated --- to grow my own sugar from sugar beets. The reason is so that I'll have an unadulterated product that bypasses agribusiness and nothing else.


But maybe the goal (or starting point) should be an unadulterated sweetener. From there you look to see what fulfills that. In the best scenerio it's a perennial.

Look, I don't know if you've made maple syrup but I have and it's an awful lot of work. Or, at least it takes a long time and it can be really tricky. Making sugar from beets has got to be just as tricky if not trickier because you're going an extra step. I just think there are much easier ways to get your sweetner. Honey would be a way better choice. Let the bees do most of the work for you.

If you want to do the work of the bees, well, knock yourself out! Sort of like that that vegan who asked Sepp how to get rid of blackberries (or whatever) if he didn't have pigs. "Then you'll have to do the pigs work!"
 
Cj Sloane
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I'd like to add that I think a valid reason to make sugar out of beets is because you just want to try it. OK, I get it. I do stuff like that all the time. I grew tobacco and I don't even smoke! It was neat to grow, and then I dried it, but after that well, the processing was kind of a drag (ha!) and having quit 8 or 9 years ago I just wasn't into rolling hubbies cigs for him. It was a good idea (cigs free of chemicals and additives, much cheaper) but he never took the ball and ran with it.

I did a quick search to see if making sugar from beets would be the pain I thought and according to this it is, and then some. I'm not sure if I could think of a way to make a sweetener in a more non permaculture friendly way. I'm not even sure if corn syrup would be worse. It's very energy intensive. Worse than cane sugar apparently because cane sugar has a built in fuel to process the sugar.

Maple syrup is energy intensive too. You have to burn off between 29-49 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup. Chances are if you're sugaring there's lots of wood around to burn which is at least renewable. Some people make maple syrup using propane which is crazy expensive and, maybe this is me being too judgmental, just plain crazy!
 
Dale Hodgins
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Cj Verde wrote:
Dale Hodgins wrote:The goal is as stated --- to grow my own sugar from sugar beets. The reason is so that I'll have an unadulterated product that bypasses agribusiness and nothing else.



If you want to do the work of the bees, well, knock yourself out! Sort of like that that vegan who asked Sepp how to get rid of blackberries (or whatever) if he didn't have pigs. "Then you'll have to do the pigs work!"


I've just been compared to the most infamous buffoon to ever be displayed for public ridicule on the forum. The guy is like a living cautionary tale on the dangers of maternal drug usage.

My crime ? Entering into a discussion about the only commercially proven sugar crop that would have a prayer of surviving in my climate.

Soon, I will get into the reasons why I don't want to attract bears by feeding them honey from the exotic European honey bee which has had a hugely detrimental effect on native pollinators throughout the Americas.
Then we can compare the .5% sugar content of Broadleaf Maple sap to 20% sugar beets and figure out how much less firewood that would take. Hint --- there's a 40 in the answer.

Finally, I'll see if I can wrap my head around a complex process called --- CHOP, SQUEEZE, BOIL = SUGAR --- apparently it's beyond my power to comprehend.
 
Cj Sloane
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Dale Hodgins wrote:[Then we can compare the .5% sugar content of Broadleaf Maple sap to 20% sugar beets and figure out how much less firewood that would take.


I was not comparing maple sap to sugar beets - but if I did I'd use a Sugar Maple which is 1-5% (why Broadleaf?). I'm also not suggesting someone in the Pacific Northwest attempt to make maple syrup. edit I have no idea if it's even possible.

Further up in the thread I did quote someone who compared honey locust to sugar beets
The beans from some of these unimproved and unappreciated
wildlings carry more than 30 percent of sugar. This is equal
to the best sugar beets and more than the yield of the richest
crops of sugar cane. This, too, after man has been struggling
with the sugar cane for centuries.


Just sayin'.
 
Cj Sloane
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Finally, I'll see if I can wrap my head around a complex process called --- CHOP, SQUEEZE, BOIL = SUGAR --- apparently it's beyond my power to comprehend.


The process isn't complex, it's just time consuming and incredible energy intensive.

Further up the thread Svilena Racheva did exactly what you propose and was not sure it was worth it.

If you do try it, let us know how it goes. I'd love to see a video of the very end of the process when the syrup/molasses gets thick.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Any talk of refining the stuff has come from others. My entire refining process is contained in the first paragraph in the initial posting. Grind and dry. It could be dry then grind. It could be chop and dry or slice and dry.

This method works with apples which have a far lower sugar content than sugar beets. The idea would be to then incorporate the raw chips into foods requiring sugar. The chips could be eaten as candy on their own. These chips would contain all of the fibre, protein and minerals inherent in beets. I've eaten beet chips but never chips from the sugar beet. It's not much of a leap to try this. The dry weight of beet chips run between 65% and 85% sugar, depending on fibre and mineral and protein variables.

I've investigated the nutrient content of beet pulp which is a common supplement added to horse feed. Dry pulp averages 10% protein, .8% calcium and .5% phosphorus. It also has pectin and large quantities of soluble fibre and insoluble fibre.

Back to beet processing --- The only energy source I could see using would be the sun, as this has proven adequate when drying fruit. I chop or slice mechanically with little labor. A dryer requires no attendant.

If I ever do get down to boiling juice, I'll stop when the sugar content equals that of maple syrup. 66 on the brix scale is the standard. I doubt that I will ever produce sugar cubes or dry granular sugar,which is why I haven't mentioned these products until now.

While investigating the reason that beet pulp isn't burned for fuel by commercial processors it became apparent that beet pulp is too valuable as feed to be burned. At 10% protein with other nutritional benfits it retails at prices ranging from 25 to 45 cents per pound in the U.S.. Any dry mostly fibre product will burn but it only makes sense to burn low value woody materials like bagasse ( cane sugar pulp ). Bagasse contains average protein of 0.17 % and is of little feed value but is a useful fuel, so they burn it at the refinery. With beets they dehydrate the feed before shipping, so it's not a moisture thing. It's a highest and best use thing. And as a fuel, beet pulp would be lower value with the high protein and mineral content.

Commercial beet farms aim for yeilds of around 20 tons per acre. This translates to 3-5 tons of finished sugar. That's a lot. Much more than any other temperate climate sugar crop yeild.

I first got going on this idea when I read about sugar beets being grown in hugelkultur. Does anyone know if beets are sepp holzer approved ? Beet sugar is the only domestically produced sugar crop in Austria and they have banned the importation of cane sugar from time to time. So, it is highly likely that Sepp has tried it.
 
Cj Sloane
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Dale Hodgins wrote:The idea would be to then incorporate the raw chips into foods requiring sugar. The chips could be eaten as candy on their own. These chips would contain all of the fibre, protein and minerals inherent in beets. I've eaten beet chips but never chips from the sugar beet. It's not much of a leap to try this.


Sounds like Tyler Ludens has tried it and it didn't work like you envision:
Sugar beets, alas, taste like beets. They will add a beety flavor to whatever you add them to, and not just sweetness. I think I tried making muffins with them as a sugar substitute. The beetness definitely comes through and without refining, the sweetness is not especially intense.

 
Tyler Ludens
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My growing conditions were not the best, which affects flavor, so I think Dale should run his own sugar beet experiment. Mine also were not dried, they were just grated fresh. Dried beets would have a more concentrated sweetness, I think. I think it's worth a try.



 
Lacia Lynne Bailey
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I hesitate to weigh in with the tone of much of this thread. Hopefully we can ask clarifying questions about goals etc in a little more exploratory and less judgemental way about someone else's goals and ideas.

I raised sugar beets for years and won awards for my high sugar content and yields. The 4H & FFA that I grew up in was very competitive and we worked hard to outdo the adults and competed on a level playing field, it wasn't at all like the coddled 4H that I've seen in other times and places. I paid for everything including rent, seeds, water, fertlizering, harvesting etc, we had real farm businesses if we were capable.

The sugar content can vary dramatically. My winning beets often had double or more the sugar of the "average" beets, including the ones growing just down the road. So any generalizations about sugar content I take with a grain of salt. Cultivation can make a huge difference. And yes, I beat the big agribiz producers averages. That's a longer topic.

My winnings included not just cash, but also the weight of sugar that I brought in, and VIP treatment and tours at the Spreckels processing plant in Woodland, CA. That industrial process there seemed very energy intensive, used calcium hydroxide, traditionally called slaked lime, to change the ratio of sugars, removing glucose/fructose to increase the more profitable sucrose component.

I also had award winning honey and the bear risks are real in places! Not for folks in some online forum or other locations to be judgmental about if you've never faced it.

I loved competing in baked goods both with honey and beet sugar and won all kinds of stuff there too, I was constantly experimenting and insanely competitive back in the day.

We dried EVERYTHING. I kid you not. From apples to watermelon everything got dried in large quantities for off season and different uses. As chips, they might be too fibrous to really eat, but I say its always worth a try.

Some of what I learned from all that, was how and when different ratios of different sweeteners worked in the finished products. A bit of honey gives keeping qualities that keep baked goods moist for longer time, sugar gives a different texture, especially to the surface of baked goods. Making molasses from beet juice wasn't all that palatable to us compared to the sugar & honey we had in surplus. The animals loved and did well on beet and I've been experimenting with growing both sugar and mangle beets again, but they are not as happy here in our acidic soils and shorter growing season, so those experiments are on going. One of secrets to high sugar production in my beets was harvesting as the first fall storm approached and well into the storm usually. The longer dry period you can provide for them post peak growth, the more sugar they accumulate. Here in Seattle area, it would be the rare spot that I could really get a dry enough period to get high sugar. Not impossible, but suitable for a special microclimate and not the typical around here LOL.

We also used dried fruits and veggies as sweeteners when the flavor was an asset, because as someone said, you WILL get some, varying amounts, of flavor with just the dried product. In baked goods with nuts, or highly flavored like gingerbread cookies or pumpkin bread, it might work well. Something delicate, maybe not so well.

Sugar beets can be a multifunctional plant in SOME situations. No one can correctly say from afar or on a forum, if its appropriate for a given situation, we simply aren't seeing the whole picture and context that the posting person has. We can only ask questions to help them think through about soil, exposure, season length, lifecycle uses, successional planting, quantities of different sweeteners/sugars for different uses etc.

Beets can break up hard clay soils in a lower impact way than some mechanized methods, but you have to watch not undoing the progress with harvesting. Those pioneer crop beets likely won't be reasonably shaped for much cleaning/processing anyway, will be small and very forked, but that's more holes its working into the soil for you. Or let it rot in place and follow with a needed succesional soil building crop for that site, with or without rotational grazing inbetween, both for beet greens and/or interplanted crops, or using pioneer crop beets to motivate pigs to turn over the soil etc. Again, depends on fertility, growth, season length, and succesion plans to determine if its a good permaculture plan for that specific situation. Alfalfa has a lot of similar preferences for soil pH etc, some of my experiments now are using them together as mutifunctional feed and soil building crops as part of bigger succession plan and looking at my waste streams (ash, grey water etc) to stack functions for them to do their best work.

I encourage experimentation in small areas, with different variables. Learn from others experiences with a grain of salt as something in your situation or process will likely be different. Take good notes, careful to keep it "observations" instead of "interpretative evaluation" since what you simply describe and observe may trigger another useful idea when you look back on the notes later. You may find another good use besides your intended one, that's how many great things have been discovered while looking for something else and open to possibility.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Lacia, I have a few questions if you will.

1. Are there cultivars that have a less beety flavor and would optimal growing conditions tend to increase or decrease beetiness ?

2. What was your highest sugar content record ?

3. I have a south facing slope that gets really hot. It is an ampatheatre shaped pocket with zero sun blockage. The sort of spot where broom and gorse thrive. I have started a hugelkultur bed there. I have tons of available water. I'm 8 miles from the ocean and have had success with heat lovers including tomatoes, egg plant, peppers and sunflowers that like my hot conditions.

Would you consider this a suitable spot for sugar beets ?

4. On the woody chip question, I have an idea. I was thinking that dried chips could be finely ground and then the resultant "flour" could be dampened and then rolled out like pizza dough to dry.
Have you ever dried and ground beets ?

If so, did you ever use beet flour for baking or for any other purpose ?

Thank you: Dale
 
Tokunbo Popoola
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Lacia, I have a few questions if you will.

1. Are there cultivars that have a less beety flavor and would optimal growing conditions tend to increase or decrease beetiness ?

2. What was your highest sugar content record ?

3. I have a south facing slope that gets really hot. It is an ampatheatre shaped pocket with zero sun blockage. The sort of spot where broom and gorse thrive. I have started a hugelkultur bed there. I have tons of available water. I'm 8 miles from the ocean and have had success with heat lovers including tomatoes, egg plant, peppers and sunflowers that like my hot conditions.

Would you consider this a suitable spot for sugar beets ?

4. On the woody chip question, I have an idea. I was thinking that dried chips could be finely ground and then the resultant "flour" could be dampened and then rolled out like pizza dough to dry.
Have you ever dried and ground beets ?

If so, did you ever use beet flour for baking or for any other purpose ?

Thank you: Dale






used beats and attempted to make a ground cover. I learned that beats had the ability to go after deep nitrogen excess I might be producing even with the trees. so I planted them. Mix results really.

I used this guy but without the horses. I also didn't till as he did. I waited until after the chickens went through an area when it rain and use that section of land to plant the beets
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4nK8lnZEA4

the stand came up it wasn't great and it wasn't grand normally grasses and what not came up as well but didn't shade out the beets. We twice hard graze that area stunting the pastures growth the same way we plant grain crops directly into the pasture. (wide rows) the total was half an acre of beets in wide rows.

we ended up juicing the beats straining the juice and got more of a weird syrup out of the whole thing instead of real crystals


we also grew sorghum. per acre we didn't get crystals out of it but as a sweetener, it worked better in the long run. (we feed both the sorghum pulp and the beet pulp to the animals which seem to like it




hope this does help I would have kept better track if I knew someone was looking for numbers off this we might grow beets again in 5 years but you can't pasture crop every year only once every 3 or 5 years. our other two pastures are in naked oats, barley, and alfalfa this year. no room to try beats again for awhile.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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