Beet Gardening: How to Plant Grow and Harvest Beets
Beet gardening these tasty vegetable can seem like a love hate between you and the people you cook for. Beets, also known as “beetroots,” are a cool-season crop that prefers full sun. It is easy to grow from seed in well-prepared soil and can tolerate cold and near freezing conditions but does best with temperatures from 50°F to 65°F. They are a perfect option for spring and fall crops in northern zones or as a winter crop in zone 9 and higher. In addition to being a good table food, beets are used to make food coloring and are used as a medicinal plant.
Types & Varieties of Beetroot
Beets contain iron and are high in fiber, vitamins A and C. They come in a range of shades, shapes, and sizes, with deep red, yellow, white, or striped roots. Here are some widely used types of beetroot.
• The most widely known beets are red/purple. They have the bonus of being excellent storage veggies. Detroit Dark Red is a prime example – it has a maturity date of about 60 days.
• Chioggia beet has a similar flavor to standard purple beets but is a little sweeter. The skin is a vivid pink/fuchsia color, with pink and white streaks on the inside when cut open. About 54 days to maturity.
• Golden beets are somewhat less sweet than red beets and they still have a mellower, less earthy taste. Burpee’s Golden has a maturity of about 55 days.
• Bull’s Blood is a stunning heirloom of dark maroon-red leaves that give a pop of color to salads. It is quick to mature at about 45 days.
• Lutz Green Leaf is a large plant with tasty green leaves. Its baseball-sized, heart-shaped roots are sweet and tender and it and stores well. With their large size, these beets take a bit longer to mature at about 80 days.
It will take approximately 2 ounces of beet seeds to plant a 100 foot row that will yield about 80 pounds of roots – excluding the greens. If you are planning to “year-round” food supply, plant about 10 – 15 feet per person.
Temperature & Timing for Growing Beetroot
Since beets are adapted to grow in cool climates, they are an excellent crop to plant in the springtime or late summer. The best temperature for daytime is 60° F to 70° F, and nights between 50° F to 60° F.
Sun Exposure and Soil Requirements
Grow beets in full sunlight. They require 6 hours of direct sun every day. Soil should be well-prepared and moist for proper growth. Soil should be free of rocks and other barriers to allow the beets to grow appropriately. Beets flourish in loamy, acidic soils with pH levels ranging between 6.0 and 7.5. Mix in an inch or two of compost, whether the soil is thick clay, rough, or alkaline. You can also add a pinch of wood ash, high in potassium, and promote root growth.
How to Plant Beetroot & Their Care
Starting beet gardening should be done as soon as the soil is workable in early spring. Plantings can be made every 2 weeks before mid-summer. They do not do well in hot weather. The heads can get tough and fibrous. One way to judge when to stop planting in the spring is to check average temperatures in your area. When the average temperature is expected to average over 80°F, count back 60 days – that should be the last date for spring planting. For Autumn planting, start sowing seeds 10 – 11 weeks before frosts are expected.
• Seeds should be sown 1/2 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart in rows about 1 foot apart.
• Beets prefer deep, well-drained soil. Use the slightly thicker soil when planting beets in the fall to help shield them from early frost.
• To ensure maximum germination, keep the soil moist. For best results, soak seeds for 24 hours before planting. Seeds should germinate in 7 to 10 days.
• An inch of water each week is recommended for proper growth. Too much water can result in insects and pest infestations.
• Beet “seeds” are a cluster of several small seeds together. When the seedlings are 2 inches tall pull the weaker ones to allow the strongest the room it needs.
• When the seedlings are 6 inches tall, pull every other plant. You can use what you pull.
• They will be ready for harvesting in 7-8 weeks. Gently dig them out once they reached their ideal size.
You should pull beets when the soil is dry. For your beet gardening, be careful when pulling or lifting roots from the ground, if you need to use a pitchfork or shovel, do so carefully. Do not to break or injure the beets.
The green tops are edible, and frankly very tasty. Leave an inch or two of the green stalks attached to the roots. If you cut away the top of the roots you will cause them to bleed.
Any roots that are damaged should be used within a few weeks, they will not store well and rot spots will start at any damage. To prepare any roots for storage, rub soil from the roots, try not wash but if you do, dry them.
Store beets in a cold moist place as near to freezing as possible without actual freezing, 32°-40°F and 95 percent relative humidity in a container—a bucket or plastic storage box or cooler with moist sand, peat moss, or sawdust. Don’t pack roots too tightly; if the roots touch they can start to rot; be sure to leave 2 inches (5 cm) of insulating material around at the top, bottom, and sides of the stored roots. Set the lid loosely so that there is good air circulation.
Problems: Fungal Diseases, Pests, and Insects
Your beet gardening will include pest and disease management. You’ll want to keep an eye out for and protect your crop from these top risks:
• Flea beetles are the most common pest problem. They damage leaves by leaving numerous tiny holes in beet leaves. If the infestation is bad enough the plants can be killed. Two organic methods to control flea beetles are:
- using floating row covers to protect the plants and
- putting beneficial nematodes in the soil to attack and kill the beetle larvae.
• Cabbage loopers, tiny green caterpillars that can destroy the plant. Use Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control.
• Different forms of soil-borne fungi that grow in wet, humid environments cause damping. It’s most likely damping off if the seedlings die unexpectedly not long after planting, and the plants look discolored and decaying. Enable the seed-starting mix to dry entirely before watering, and make sure your soil has good drainage. Do not overwater your plants.
• Cercospora leaf spot is a fungus that occurs on the leaves as dark, patchy spots that may be yellowy in color. Remove the affected leaves and throw them out without affecting the healthy ones. If your beets are planted close together, thin them out, so crowded plants have a better chance to grow. Cercospora can be controlled by spraying Mancozeb