It seems with beets, folks either love them, or they- don’t love them. I’m of the opinion though that if you think you just don’t like them, then you just haven’t had them in the right preparation. Try fresh raw beets grated on your next salad. Slow roast some with garlic, thyme, and orange zest. (yum!) And don’t forget about those greens! Delicious! Easy to grow, incredibly nutritious, and will add beautiful color to your plate, beets have earned their place in your garden. Plant them!
Round, red beets are familiar to everyone, but these leafy root veggies come in a surprising variety of colors and shapes. Cylindrical beets have carrot-like roots that uniform enough to be ideal for fitting nicely into pickle jars for delicious pickled beets. There are fun specialty types that have white, golden, and even striped flesh, and beets that have been selected for especially large leaves or other unusual characteristics.
Beets grow easily and quickly in the cool, moist weather of spring, hold up well into early summer, and produce a wonderful, sweet crop in fall. Avoid planting in early summer because beets left to mature in the hot weather of mid-summer will become too fibrous and stringy to eat.
Fun fact! Each beet seed is a fruit that contains several seeds, so several seedlings will appear where each seed was planted! Be sure to thin seedlings to provide room for the roots to grow, but don’t waste your thinnings! They are a tasty addition to your salads.
Planting and Aftercare:
Buy seeds of different shapes and colors to see which ones perform best and which you like most. Avoid buying beet plants, their long taproots do not transplant well. Dig in about an inch of good compost to amend your soil. As with all root crops, loosening your soil to a depth of at least 12” will allow room for good root development.
Plant in full sun to partial shade. Beets thrive in full sun, but summer and early fall plantings will tolerate partial shade.
Sow your beet seeds 1”, ½” deep, in rows 1’ apart. When seeds germinate and have aged about 5-7 days, pinch off all but one seedling per clump. When your plants reach about 3” tall, thin them to 4-6” tall to give roots room to form. Use the thinned greens for salads, and you can either cook or eat raw the tiny roots.
Harvest roots when they are at the mature size suggested on your seed packet, or when they have a diameter of 1 ½ to 3”. Dig carefully to avoid bruising. After harvest and you cut the greens from the roots, make sure to leave 1-2” of the stem attached to the roots to prevent bleeding.
Tips for Success:
When planting your fall beet crop, you can improve germination by first soaking seeds in water. Be sure to keep your seedbed moist and shaded while the beets grow.
Avoid using fresh manure with beets. It encourages hairy side roots. Instead, use only well-rotten manure or a rich compost to amend your soil.
If growing beets mainly for the greens, thin seedlings when they emerge, but skip the second thinning described above. Begin harvesting leaves when 4-6” tall.
Beets grow well where beans or peas grew the season before, because they appreciate the nitrogen the legumes have fixed into the soil.
Trouble to Watch For:
Crinkly, stunted leaves and woody roots are caused by curly top virus. Pull up infected plants and discard them. The disease is carried by leafhoppers, pale green or yellow/brown ½” long insects that literally look like tiny little leaves. If you find this to be an issue in your garden, prevent spread of the disease by keeping plants covered with floating row covers.
Rough, brown patches on the skin and stunted growth of your beets are often signs of soil that is too acidic. Beets like neutral soil of a pH of 6.5-7.0 so stay as close to that as possible. In the Southeast here, we run quite acidic, so I need to amend my beds with garden lime every 2-3 years. I don’t wing this though! I always made amending decisions based on my yearly soil test. Obtain a soil test for free, or very inexpensively from your local Extension Agency.
Pronounced rings or zones in flesh and tough, stringy roots are usually caused by letting the soil dry out during the growing season. Keep soil evenly moist to encourage uniform, fast growth for your tender beets.
Growing Zone and Special Conditions:
Beets are a biennial in their flower and seed production cycle, but we harvest them as annuals before their roots get too tough and fibrous. They will grow well in all USDA growing zones, and most areas can plant in succession during spring and for fall planting, leading to almost continuous harvest.
When growing beets and any root crop, make sure your soil is loosened well to allow the roots room to move. If you have clay soil, incorporate shredded leaves, rotting straw, and compost as early as possible before planting. The autumn prior to your spring planting time is ideal to allow time for further decomposition.
Beets thrive in temperatures between 50-65 degrees F, but will grow when hotter. They are very frost tolerant, and even young seedlings can withstand freezing temperatures.
When harvesting your fall crop, pulling after a frost yields a sweeter root. Beets make amazing pickles! Put up enough for munching throughout the winter. They also dehydrate well for adding to soups, stews, and smoothies. Beets are also notoriously good keepers fresh. I like to store mine in plastic bags with holes punched in them for ventilation. You can store them in a cool basement, or anywhere you might have that has cool temps just above freezing.
Written by Sow True Seed's Education Director, Angie Lavezzo.