Beets are colorful, sweet, earthy, and nutrient-rich. Most people have a strong feeling about their flavor, either loving or hating it.
It’s easy to get a bumper crop of beet roots in your garden. They grow well in the cool weather of spring and fall (winter, too, in warm climates) and produce quickly. You can also find them in abundance at farmers markets during certain times of year.
Whether you’ve grown them yourself or bought them in bulk, you might end up with enough beets to start wondering about storage. The good news is that there are tons of ways to store them for both short and long term periods.
Here are some tips for growing and harvesting these colorful roots and a complete guide on how to store beets several ways.
Top Tips for Growing Beets
If you want to grow your own beets to harvest and store, you’re in luck because this is a pretty easy to grow and maintenance-free crop. There are just a few important tips and tricks to know about for a fantastic harvest:
- Beets are quick, easy, and cheap to grow from seed. Get a packet of a variety you’re interested in and sow seeds every 2 or 3 weeks for a continuous harvest later.
- Beets love cool weather (think 55-65°F temperatures). Plant them in sync with the cool season where you live. This could mean putting them out in early spring or in mid-summer to early fall. If you live in USDA hardiness zone 9 or up, plant in late fall for a winter harvest.
Beets are extremely easy to grow as long as they have the right conditions. You can also buy beets to store at the grocery store or a local farmer’s market if you don’t want to grow your own.
- If you’re struggling to get your seeds to germinate well, soak them for 24 hours before planting them. Beet seeds have a very hard seed coat, and soaking them will help to break it down.
- Root crops grow best in loose soil that’s free of rocks and other obstacles. If you have compacted soil or heavy clay, amend with something like compost or sand before planting to make it easier for your beet roots to grow.
- Once your seedlings pop up, they’ll need to be thinned to a spacing of 3-4 inches apart. Instead of pulling them up, which risks hurting the roots of those staying, snip each one off at the base and use the greens in a salad or to cook with.
- Fertilizing can give you a better crop if your soil is low on fertility, but avoid using a nitrogen heavy fertilizer. Adding too much nitrogen will cause your beets to grow large greens and very small roots.
- The most important care tasks for your beets? Water and weeding. Mulch can help to keep moisture in the soil, but they will do best with about 1 inch of water per week. Weed gently to avoid pulling up the roots of young plants.
Best Storage Varieties
Any variety of beet can be stored as long as it reaches the right size and hasn’t been punctured, bruised, etc. Growing your own allows you to pick from a much greater variety than what you’ll see sold at the store.
Besides the popular red varieties, you can also try planting and storing golden beets or the colorful, candy-striped ‘Chioggia’.
The best thing to do is try a few different varieties until you find your favorites, both in taste and in how well they grow for you. Here are some top beet picks:
- Merlin– A classic-looking and easy to grow red beet, this variety produces round, smooth, and uniform roots. They have a flavorful, sweet taste and mature quickly in about 48 days.
- Rhonda– One of the best beets for storing fresh. If you harvest in the fall, this variety can last until the next spring. The roots are round, red, and mature in about 60 days.
- Detroit Dark Red– An excellent heirloom variety. Roots tend to be perfectly round and dark red with a rich, sweet flavor. They mature in about 55 days.
- Golden– Golden beets are a step off the beaten path. They tend to be sweeter and milder than red ones with a beautiful yellow-orange color that keeps when cooked. Top varieties include ‘Touchstone Gold,’ ‘Golden Detroit,’ and ‘Boldor’.
- Avalanche– This is a pure white variety that won’t stain anything. It has a mild, sweet flavor that doesn’t have much of the earthiness that repels many people. Matures in about 55 days.
- Cylindra (also called Formanova)– This variety has the classic beet color and taste, but the roots are long and cylindrical (like stubby, red carrots). They are great if you want to pickle, can, or ferment your beets because slicing these roots couldn’t be easier.
- Chioggia– These are probably the prettiest beets you’ll see. The outsides are red and the insides are concentric circles of red and white, giving them a candy cane appearance. They mature in about 55 days.
Golden beets taste very similar to red ones, although they can be a bit sweeter and milder. Many varieties keep their color even when cooked, which will give you some colorful recipes.
How to Harvest Beets to Store Them
When to Harvest
Beets can be harvested any time after they reach about an inch in diameter. Smaller roots are more tender, and many gardeners think they are sweeter as well.
Typically, larger beets will store fresh for longer, although you can use any size for storage methods like pickling, fermenting, and freezing. To store in a root cellar or basement, aim to harvest when beets are around 3 inches across or about golf ball size.
Another thing to keep in mind for a fall harvest is that you should dig up your whole crop before a hard freeze. Light frosts won’t hurt beets and may give them a sweeter flavor, but really cold temperatures will turn them to mush.
The best time in general to harvest beets is during dry weather. They will pull out of the ground more easily and will store much better if they aren’t wet.
How to Harvest Beets
If your soil is loose and dry, harvesting beets is as easy as pulling them out of the ground by the stem. Grab them by the base of the greens and gently twist as you pull up.
You can store beets of any size, but smaller ones won’t last as long because they don’t have as much stored energy as larger ones. However, if beets get too large, they become tough and woody, so go for in between!
If your beets are sticking in the ground, use a shovel or garden fork to loosen up the soil underneath them before pulling them out. Work carefully so that you don’t accidentally stab any roots because they won’t store if they’re punctured.
Prepping Your Beets for Storage
Right after harvesting, you’ll want to get your beets prepared for storage if you want to store them fresh. (Other storage methods will require different preparation.)
Cut the greens off of each beet, leaving just an inch or two of stem sticking out. Make sure you don’t cut into the top of the beet itself. The greens are edible and can be cooked immediately or stored short term separately from the roots.
Gently remove as much dirt and debris from your beets as you can. Don’t rinse them because adding moisture will just cause them to rot more quickly. Also, beets and other root crops have a thin layer of beneficial bacteria in the soil sticking to them that helps them keep for longer.
You’ll also want to cut the long, thin root of each beet off with a sharp (and sterilized) knife. Once again, just be sure not to cut into the beet itself or you’ll shorten its shelf life.
How to Store Beets: 5 Different Methods
Refrigeration is a short term way to store fresh beets. They will keep for a few weeks to a month in the refrigerator, and you can also store beet greens for 5-7 days in the fridge.
Beet greens are nutritious and edible, just like the roots. You can cook with them right after harvesting, or keep them in your refrigerator for about a week.
To store beet greens, wrap them in a slightly damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. Wash the greens right before you want to use them, and try to cook them within a week for the best texture.
To store beet roots, follow the prepping method for storing fresh beets. Then, place them in a perforated bag and store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Check on them regularly and remove or eat any that show signs of going bad.
How to Store Beets in a Root Cellar
A root cellar is the ideal place for storing beets because it has the right temperature and humidity level for root crops. However, most people don’t have a root cellar, so you can also use a cool basement or a garage that doesn’t dip below freezing.
The ideal temperature for storing beets fresh is 32-39°F. They will keep for 3-5 months at this temperature in 90-100% humidity.
If you don’t have anywhere that gets this exact temperature, don’t worry! Get as close to it as possible and follow all the other steps for storing your beets.
Prep your beets before storing them by trimming off the tops and roots. Sort through them and discard or cook any that have been cut, bruised, or otherwise blemished.
Trimming off the tops and roots is an important step to storing beets long term. They will store for longest in conditions just above freezing, but will still last several months in a cool basement or warm garage.
The best way to store them long term is in perforated plastic bags or containers that can breathe (as in cardboard boxes or wooden crates, not airtight plastic ones). You’ll also need a medium like sand or sawdust to pack them in.
Place the beets in your chosen containers, and space them out so that they aren’t touching. Pack in between them with the sand or sawdust, and use it as a buffer in between layers if you need to stack your beets.
Take beets from the top layer whenever you want to eat them, and remove any that show signs of going bad.
Pickling was once one of the most popular ways to preserve beets. Pickled beets are something of an acquired taste, but if you like them, this is a good way to store your crop either short or long term.
The basic method for pickling anything is to make a pickling liquid with vinegar, sugar, and spices. You’ll cook the beets by boiling them in water, place them in glass jars, and then pour the brine over them.
At this point, you can store your pickled beets in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks, or you can go through the full canning process and store them for months.
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Fermenting is another way to process your beets and store them long term. It’s somewhat similar to pickling but uses a salt brine instead of a vinegar one. The salt interacts with bacteria that are naturally present on vegetables in a process that will keep your beets safely preserved.
You’ll need jars to put your beets in as well as salt, water, and spices. The beets go in raw but can be cut to any size you want them. Mix in your spices before packing them into jars.
A standard brine for fermenting is one tablespoon of sea or kosher salt for every two cups of water.
Submerge your veggies completely with the brine and put a weight on top of them so that they’ll stay submerged throughout the fermentation process. Seal them with airlock lids designed for fermenting.
Your jars will need to sit at room temperature for at least 10-14 days or until they reach your desired taste. You can then seal them with normal lids and store them in the refrigerator for several months.
Cooking and Freezing
Beets store very well when frozen, but they need to be cooked first. Freezing them raw will cause them to become grainy and unappealing.
Cooking your beets before freezing them will give them a better texture and make it easy for you to use them after thawing. All you’ll have to do is warm the beets up and they’ll be ready to eat.
Wash your beets and cut off the tops and roots (but don’t peel them). Bring a large pan of water to a boil on the stove and cook your beets in it until they are tender when jabbed with a fork (about 20-40 minutes, depending on size).
When cooked, cool them quickly by dumping them in an ice bath. The skins should now peel off easily, and you can leave the beets whole or cut them into cubes.
Space out your beets on a baking tray and freeze them until they’re solid. You can then pack them into freezer safe bags or containers and store in your freezer for up to a year. Thaw and slightly warm the beets when you’re ready to use them.
Enjoying Your Beets
As you can see, there are several effective methods for storing beets. The biggest secret when it comes to how to store beets is starting with healthy and whole roots and prepping them correctly.
Feel free to experiment with a few methods until you find the one you like the most!
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.