Every bit of the beet is edible, from the root to the greens, and they have become such a garden staple because they’re easy to grow. There are several varieties of beets and several different colors to suit any taste or use. They can be pickled, frozen, added to salads, and cooked. Some varieties are excellent as livestock feed for the winter months. Beets are a close relative of spinach and chard, and were once known as “blood turnips.”
To grow beets, your soil pH ideally needs to be around 6.5, though a range of 6.2 to 7.0 will do. Acidic soils will result in reduced or non-existent yields. Recently limed soil may be deficient in the mineral boron. You can compensate for this by sprinkling one tablespoon of household borax along a 100 foot row and carefully working it into the soil. Be judicious, however; too much borax can be toxic. Beets also require a good supply of potassium.
You’ll want to loosen the soil up well and remove any rocks or chunks that could interfere with root growth. Beets do best in soil with lots of organic matter. Five gallons of compost per 100 square feet of garden area, worked in, will boost your yields. Beets do better in well-drained, fertile sandy loam soils. Seeds will not germinate well in heavy clay soil, so to successfully grow beets in this type of dirt, you’ll need to use transplants instead of direct seeding.
When to Plant
If you’re using transplants, start your seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before your last frost date. Harden the seedlings off and plant outside about four weeks later. If you’re direct sowing, seed your site about two weeks before the last frost date. For a continuous harvest, seed or transplant lightly and continue adding more seed or plants every three weeks or so. In high heat areas, stop sowing or transplanting about 60 days before full summer temperatures set in.
How to Plant
Seed spacing is about 8 to 10 seeds per foot. The rows should be 18 inches apart. Thin your seedlings to 4-6 inches apart. The beet seed is not really a “seed,” but a dried fruit that contains several tiny true seeds. Presoak these for about 12 hours before sowing to speed germination. Your seedlings will sprout in clumps. Thin out by snipping unwanted plants at ground level.
If you’re using transplants, plant one seed per pot and then thin to one plant per pot after they have sprouted. Set them out at the proper spacing to begin with so thinning isn’t necessary.
To control weeds and competition for nutrients, water your seedlings in well and then cover with a thick layer of mulch (about 4 inches) between rows. (If you have a slug problem, wait until the plants are a few inches tall before mulching.)
If you’re planting a fall crop, sow your seed about 6 to 8 weeks before your first expected frost date. You’ll only sow once in cold climate areas, but those in mild winter climates may sow seeds more often for a continuous harvest throughout the winter.
Water your beets regularly, but use mulch for moisture retention. Moisture fluctuations will cause the beet roots to crack, stunted leaf growth, and low yields.
Fertilize your beets about 6 weeks after germination with an organic solution to encourage plant growth.
About one month after planting, you can begin cutting beet greens for use in salads and side dishes. You can begin harvesting baby beets about 40 days after planting, and full-size beets should be ready about two to three weeks later. Ping-Pong to golf ball size beets have the best flavor. Beets can be stored through long-term storage. Pack the beets in moist sand or peat in containers in an unheated garage or basement. Sort them by size as smaller beets don’t last as long as larger ones do.
Black sunken spots on or in the roots are caused by a lack of boron. Cut these spots away. The rest of the beet is still edible.
Holes in the leaves can be caused by any number of pests—slugs, beet armyworms, flea beetles, or garden webworms. Pick caterpillars by hand or control pests with a Bt solution.
Tunnels in the leaves are caused by the spinach leafminer. Cut off the leaves and destroy them.
Brown spots on the leaves can be caused by leaf spot fungus and occurs when foliage remains wet for long periods of time. This is a problem more common late in the year.
A yellow discoloration of the plant is caused by leafhoppers. There are no known treatments or control for this.