When people ask me about easy crops that require little space and can take some shade, I always recommend beets. They're a true two-fer: you can harvest the greens to eat raw in salads or add to soups and stir-fries, then you can harvest the beet root. But I always get this look, the look that says "yeah, great. But what do I DO with beets?"

Stay with me. We'll talk growing and eating beets.

How to Grow Beets

Beets are best grown from seed sown directly into the garden or container you'll be growing them in. When they germinate, you'll have to thin them. Beet seeds are actually clusters of several beet seeds. If you don't thin, the beet roots won't form properly. However, if you're only interested in growing the greens, you don't need to worry as much about thinning.

Grow beets in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. They grow really, really well in containers, and most beets are pretty enough to mix into ornamental plantings. They'll need an inch of water per week, otherwise the root gets tough and woody. You can harvest the greens once they're three inches high as long as you make sure to leave about 2/3 of the leaves on each beet root -- they need those leaves for photosynthesis. You can harvest baby beets as soon as the roots are an inch in diameter or left to grow as large as you'd like them. If you're growing beets in containers, the soil should be six to eight inches deep. You can sow a few beet seeds all season long to ensure that you're never short of beet greens or baby beets.

Beets to Grow in Your Garden

Here are some of my favorite beets:

- 'Detroit Dark Red' has really pretty dark green leaves with red veins. The root is deep red and sweet. This is a good keeper if you plan on storing them.

- 'Chioggia' is an Italian heirloom beet. It is beautiful -- the roots, when sliced, show concentric red and white circles. A very tasty beet, as well.

- 'Golden' is another heirloom beet with a yellow root and very pretty green leaves with yellow veins and stems.

Cooking and Eating Beets

Beets can be sliced thinly or shredded on a grater and eaten raw in salads -- that's actually one of my favorite way to eat beets, but I'm a salad person. If you're not a salad person, that may not do it for you. Not to worry -- here are a few beet recipes to try once you've harvested your crop:

- On Twitter, @studio6or7 mentioned a quick and easy recipe for Beet Fries: "Slice thin strips, toss w/ olive oil, salt & pepper, roast uncovered in oven till crispy."

- Emeril's Walnut Crostini with Shaved Chiogga Beets and Local Goat Cheese

- Emeril's Roasted Baby Beets

- Lentils and Beet Greens

- Emeril's Spicy Pickled Turnips and Beets

- Beet, Avocado, and Pea Shoot Salad