A popular member of the vegetable garden, beets are pleasingly easy to grow and harvest. A brilliant choice for northern gardeners, beetroots will happily survive frosts and almost freezing temperatures.
Our guide to growing beets will take you through everything from choosing the right variety of beets to harvesting and storage.
Beetroot is a pleasingly easy to care for crop. Happy to thrive in colder climates, beets are not only fun to plant it is also packed full of vitamins and nutrients.
Newcomers to gardening may benefit from beets that are bolt resistant. These beets are less likely to react to temperature changes, making the beets slightly easier to care for. Another easy to care for variety of beets is the classic Boltardy. While not bolt resistant, these beets are slow to bolt and tolerant of temperature extremes.
If you want to plant heirloom varieties of beets, Detroit Dark Red is a sweet variety of beets dating back to 1892. Maturing in 65 days, it can be eaten fresh or canned for long term storage. For a slightly more unusual heirloom variety of beets try Golden Beet. A yellow fruit, it is grown for its sweet potato-like flavor. Sow this variety of beets more heavily than other beetroots because these beets don’t tend to produce as well. Other yellow varieties of beets include Touchstone Gold and Bolder. For something even more interesting try growing a white variety of beets such as Albino or Avalanche.
Beetroots aren’t just available in the typical deep red color. Yellow, white and even striped varieties are available. Take the time to research the available options and you will be able to fill your garden and plate with lots of colorful crops.
Gardeners in colder climates will enjoy success with cold tolerant varieties such as Bull’s Blood. A dark maroon colored heirloom beetroot, it is at its best when harvested as a young crop. The greens are edible within 40 days, while the root will take about 60 days.
If you are more interested in the greens of the plant than the root, Winterkeeper or Lutz Green as it is also known is often grown primarily for its greens. However, you shouldn’t overlook the sweet, baseball sized roots. Maturing in 70 days, this variety also stores well.
Another variety that stores well is Red Ace. Maturing within 60 days, this variety can also be used fresh in salads. A heirloom variety from Denmark, Formanova is another variety that stores well. It produces long, cylindrical shaped roots that are similar to carrots.
How to Grow Beets
Beets do best in full sun positions. Cold tolerant, you can sow the seeds of beets in early spring before your last local frost date. The soil should be 50°F before planting. Warm the soil before planting beets by placing a fabric cover or mulch on the soil.
You can sow an additional crop of beets once you harvest your early season crops of beets in midsummer. A hardy crop you can continue sowing beetroots until September, desping on your local weather conditions. This can form part of your final crop of the year, helping you to plant food into and through the winter months.
In USDA zones 9 and warmer you will be able to continue growing beetroot throughout the winter. If temperatures begin to fall dramatically cover the crop with a fabric or cloche to prevent the roots of the beets from freezing.
Beetroot likes fertile soil that is well prepared. While beetroot will tolerate slightly alkaline soil, a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is prefered. If you are unsure about the condition of your soil, soil testing kits are easy to use and readily available.
Work over the soil before planting the beets. Beets prefer well draining or sandy soil. Working the soil over helps to loosen the soil, improving the drainage. Clay soils can be too heavy for beetroot. Working in organic matter, such as homemade compost, will help to lighten the soil.
Beetroot are usually sown where they will mature. This prevents the roots from being unduly disturbed by transplanting. It also means that you will need to keep the soil around the beets weed free and well tended. Before sowing seeds, make sure the soil is well worked and, if necessary, enriched.
Sow beetroot seeds in their final position in the garden. This avoids disturbing and possibly damaging the growing roots. Sow seeds half an inch deep. Cover the seeds of the beets with a thin layer of soil.
Space seeds, depending on the variety of beets 1-2 inches apart. Each row of beetroot should be spaced around 1 ft apart. Again spacing depends on the variety you are growing so check the seed packet before sowing.
For a continuous crop, sow successively 20 days apart. Once the weather exceeds 75 – 80°F beets will cease growing. At this point stop successive sowing until the temperatures begin to fall.
If you look closely you will see that each beetroot seed is actually a small, hard cluster of up to 4 seeds. Germination occurs when this hard shell breaks down. This can take up to a week. During this time keep the soil moist. Once germination has occurred thin out the surplus seedlings. These are edible.
Growing Beetroot in Containers
Beetroot will also happily grow in containers.
Your chosen containers should be at least 8 inches round and 8 inches deep. They should also be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom.
Fill the containers with fresh, multi-purpose compost. Gently firm down the compost, don’t compact it. Sow the beetroot seeds thinly over the top of the soil and cover with a thin layer of compost. Water the containers gently.
Keep the compost evenly moist until germination occurs. Following germination, thin the seedlings out to a spacing of about 5 inches.
Once germinated, caring for beets is a refreshingly easy process.
Watering and Feeding
Aim to keep the soil evenly moist. Allowing the soil to dry out may cause the roots to become stunted or tough. If you find you are using lots of water, why not try harvesting rainwater? This is a great way to cut your water usage without neglecting your plants.
Mulching soil will help the soil to retain moisture. It will also help to add nutrients to the soil. Aged compost can be worked into the soil in advance of sowing the seeds. A further side dressing of homemade compost can be applied during the growing season. While fertilizer isn’t necessary you can apply an organic general fertilizer if your soil is poor. Alternatively you can try making your own liquid plant feed.
Keep the soil around the seedlings weed free. Weeds grow quickly and can often smother plants, blocking out sunlight and harvesting moisture.
When the beetroots reach about 3 inches in height they can be thinned out once again. This will allow the remaining roots to mature to their full size. Harvested, young crops can often be consumed. The best way to thin out the crops is to pinch or cut off the leaves. Be careful if you are pulling the plants out of the ground, this may disturb the roots of other beetroot seedlings growing nearby.
Companion planting is the useful process of growing certain plants alongside each other. When planted in certain combinations crops will thrive. Beets thrive if grown alongside kohlrabi and onions. They also enjoy the company of cucumbers.
Avoid planting beneath tall or shade casting plants such as pole beans. These prevent the sun from reaching your beets.
Beetroot is a reliable companion plant. It grows best alongside other vegetable plants with a similar height and growth habit. A sun loving crop, avoid planting beets in the shadow of taller plants.
Common Pests and Problems
If correctly spaced and cared for beets will generally be trouble free. Adopting other, simple practices such as crop rotation will also help to keep the soil and your crops healthy.
One of the most problematic insects is the Beet-leaf miner. Regularly check your crops for signs of infestation such as bumps on the leaves. Should you notice any bumps in the leaf squeeze it with your fingers, squashing the bug. Homemade insecticidal soap can also be carefully applied to the plants to get rid of infestations.
To prevent infestations place row covers over crops during the insects activity peak period, May until late June.
How to Harvest and Store Beets
Beets mature at different rates. This will depend on the growing conditions as well as the variety of beetroot. Most beetroot will mature between 50 and 70 days. Check your seed packet for a more accurate time frame.
Whatever the variety, harvest beetroots when they reach roughly the size of a golf ball. If you wait too long to harvest, overly large beetroots can be woody or tough.
A root crop, the tops of beetroots will emerge from the soil as they grow. As the crop reaches its optimum size your thoughts should turn to harvesting.
How to Harvest
When your crop is ready to harvest, loosen the soil around the beetroot. Gently pull the beets from the earth to harvest. Shake or wipe any soil from the beetroot and enjoy your garden harvest.
The greens of the crop can be harvested when the beets are still young seedlings, from the point of thinning out. From each plant take not more than two mature leaves. This harvesting can continue until the leaf blades are over 6 inches tall. Taller leaf blades can be tough. Additionally the beetroot will not fully form if all the greens of the plant are removed.
Many people make the mistake of throwing out the nutritious beet greens when they could save them and eat them. They will have a slightly bitter taste that is very similar to collard greens or kale. They’re a host of hearty greens that are perfect for sauteing with a small amount of seasonings and oil to make it a healthy side dish.
You can prepare and cook beets in several ways, and it’s also possible to eat them raw. If you do, they’re sweet and crisp. You can press them for juice too. Now matter how you want to eat them, you can do so in several versatile ways.
As well as the root of the beets, the leaves of the beetroot are also edible. These can be harvested continually as the plant grows, adding interest and flavor to salads and sautes.
Fresh beetroot can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 7 days. Beetroot greens can be kept in a plastic bag in a refrigerator for up to one week.
To keep the beets for slightly longer, clip the tops from each root. Aim to leave about one inch of stem on each beetroot. The greens of the plant should be stored separately.
Longer term storage can be done in a cellar or cold garage. To do this, clean any dirt from the beets. Bury the clean beetroots that you harvest in layers covered by dry sand, sawdust or peat moss. Don’t allow the beetroots to touch.
Beetroots can also be frozen, canned or pickled.
How to Pickle Beets
Pickling beets can help you store them much longer if you can’t eat all of them in one sitting. You’ll need:
- 10 pounds fresh small beets, stems removed
- 1 quart white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon pickling salt
- 2 cups white sugar
- ¼ cup whole cloves
- Put your beets in a large stockpot with enough water to cover them. Bring them to a boil and cook the beets until they’re tender. This could be around 15 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. If the beets are bigger, cut them into quarters. Drain the water, reserving two cups of the beet water. Cool the beets and peel them next.
- Sterilize your jars and lids by putting them into boiling water for 10 minutes. Fill every jar with beets and add several whole cloves to every jar.
- Get a large saucepan and combine beet water, sugar, vinegar, and pickling salt. Bring it all to a rapid boil. Pour the hot brine over the beets and cloves you have in the jar before sealing the lids.
- Put a rack in the bottom of the large stockpot and fill it halfway full of water. Bring it to a boil over high heat before carefully lowering the jars into the pot using a holder. Allow for two inches between the jars. Pour more boiling water in if necessary until your water level is at least an inch above the tops of each jar. Allow the water to come to a full boil, cover the pot, and allow it to process for 10 minutes.
Easy to grow, beetroot is suitable for gardeners in many climates and situations. It can also be grown as part of a container garden. Wherever you decide to grow your beetroot you will be able to enjoy it fresh, cooked, juiced, frozen or pickled.
How to Use Beets
Beets are sweet enough to use in dessert, and you’ll see them in a naturally dyed red velvet cake. Earthy-tasting beets work well in savory dishes, especially when you add a nice hit of goat cheese or tangy vinegar. Here are a few easy ways you can use beets if you have a lot left over:
- Crushed – If you want beets that are super tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, steam them whole. Once you finish, mash them until they’re flattened and sear them in olive oil and butter.
- Dip – If you want to make a low-calorie hummus, add cooked beets instead of chickpeas. You can also puree the beets with sour cream and onion and serve them with any crunchy white vegetables.
- Gnocchi – Puree your beets and use them in earthy dumplings.
- Kebabs – Skewer your cooked beets and finish them off on the grill so they get smoky and nice.
- Latkes – You can shred beets along with potatoes to make a slightly healthier version of original latkes.
- Pickled – You can pickle beets with or without eggs.
- Red Velvet Cake – You can dye this cocoa cake by adding in a red beet puree.
- Risotto – Beets allow you to stain this creamy rice dish a magenta color. Add the shredded beets right before you serve it.
- Salsa – Broil your beets until they’re charred before chopping them up and tossing them with chilies, garlic, and cilantro. Serve it with tortilla chips.
- Salt Roasted – To create nicely seasoned and flavorful beets, you can bury them in salt and roast them.
- Sandwiches – Slice your rounds of cooked beets and sandwich them on slider rolls with horseradish or goat cheese. You can use them to create a vegetarian rube.
- Slaw – Shred beets and serve them in a citrusy dressing raw.
- Soy-Braised – Braise your beets in soy sauce and vinegar-seasoned stock to serve it as a nice side dish.
- Tartare – Shave your cooked beets and top them with normal beef tartar ingredients like onions and capers.
- Tomato Soup – You can make a lighter soup that has a borsche texture by combining tomatoes and beets and pureeing with stock.
How to Cook Beets
Beets are healthy and very tasty, but you have to know how to cook them for the best results. The following four steps will help you cook them:
Boiling will tenderize your beets by submerging them in hot water and cooking until they’re fork-tender. You could notice that red beets have a color that leads out into your cooking liquid. Some methods suggest for you to keep them with at least two inches of the stem attached and add vinegar to stop the red coloring from seeping out.
However, many people claim that this won’t stop the color from seeping out. It can minimize it. Cooking the beets with the peeling intact is the most effective way to reduce the pigment loss. It takes around 30 minutes for them to reach tenderness, depending on the beet size.
Steaming is where you heat the water in a closed pot until it turns into superheated vapor. The pressure and temperature around 100°F in the pot allows the beets to cook using a small amount of water. It also keeps the nutrients locked into the vegetable and they don’t seep out and get lost in the water.
Don’t allow the water to touch the steamer basket because you want the steam to circulate around and under the beets to cook them. You should cook the beets until they’re tender and the skin will release easily from the beets’ peel. This takes roughly 30 minutes, depending on your beets’ size.
3) Whole Roasting
If you want to whole roast a beet, you coat the skin with pepper, salt, and olive oil before wrapping them up in foil pouches. This cooking technique lets you infuse more flavors on the surface while bringing out more vibrant flavor characteristics. The oven should be at 400°F, and it’ll take between 40 and 60 minutes from start to finish. You’ll have to periodically check for doneness.
4) Cut and Roast
If you’re after a quicker cooking method that adds more flavor in, cutting and peeling the beets into ½ or ¾-inch wedges is a great option. The higher 400°F temperatures in the oven will encourage Maillard browning, and this gives each slice more flavor.
If you’re going to cook yellow or red beets, you can section off the vegetables using aluminium foil as a divider on a baking sheet. Because you peel your beets, the red beets will lose some juice as they cook. The foil will stop the red juice from staining the yellow beets. It takes between 20 and 30 minutes to cook.
The reason you keep the skin on the whole beets is because it makes them easier to peel. Once you cook your beets by boiling, steam, or roast and you allow them enough time to cool, you can remove the peel using a paper towel to wipe the skin off. By cradling your beet in a paper towel, you can gently rub the skin off. This reduces the staining on your towels and hands. If you do get a stain on the cutting board, a salt scrub will help to lift it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Beets by Frankling Hunting / CC BY-ND 2.0 Beets can be an intimidating vegetable to grow and prepare if you’ve never done it before, so it’s common for people to have questions about them. We’ve picked up a few commonly asked ones below.
What is the healthiest way to grow beets?
Like several vegetables, the longer you cook them in water, the more phytonutrients will leach out into the water. You can help keep these nutrients intact by sauteing or roasting them instead.
Do beets reduce inflammation?
Beets are very rich in nitrate, and nitrate reduces inflammation by removing harmful compounds from your body. The combination of nitrates and betalains makes beets a great choice for people who have anti-inflammatory conditions like fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
Do beets have a higher sugar content?
Beets are a good source of manganese, and it’ll give you 22% of your recommended daily intake of the mineral in every cup. There is also no cholesterol and small amounts of fat per cup. You’ll get 13 grams of carbohydrates and 9.19-grams of sugar.
Easy to grow and rich in fiber, iron and vitamins, beetroot are a popular vegetable garden crop for a number of reasons. Following the instructions given in this guide will help you to enjoy great success growing beets.
Elizabeth learnt to love gardening as a child in her grandparents backyard. Today, she is a trained horticulturist and has maintained a productive allotment for over 10 years. When not growing her own, Elizabeth enjoys helping other people with the plant problems. An experienced writer and editor, away from gardening Elizabeth is also a keen bird watcher, local historian and genealogist, meaning that she can often be found with her dogs exploring an overgrown graveyard.