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 distrubed 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.
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.
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.
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.