Starting and Growing Beets

Beets
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Join the beet renaissance! As the popularity of growing beets increases, root vegetables are experiencing a culinary renaissance. Beets come in a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. All are highly nutritious, including significant amounts of fiber, potassium, folic acid, and vitamin C. Betalains are powerful antioxidants that give red beets their distinctive hue and unique flavor. Gold beets are rich in b-xanthin pigment. Beets are grown in all areas of the country, and they take up very little garden space.

HISTORICAL INFORMATION

Beets were originally grown and enjoyed only for the greens. The root did not appear in recipes until the 14th century in England. Although there were only a few varieties known in the 17th and 18th centuries, women used red beet juice as a cheek and lip stain.

GENERAL SOWING

SOWING OUTSIDE IS RECOMMENDED, 2-4 weeks before average last frost, when soil temperature is at least 45°F, ideally 60°-85°F, for early summer crop, 6-8 weeks before first fall frost for late summer/fall crop. Growing during hot temperature periods should be avoided. In mild climates, sow fall through winter.

When to Start Inside: Not recommended. Root crops do not transplant well.

Special Sowing Instructions: To hasten germination, soak seeds for 8-24 hours before sowing. Do not allow a crust to build up on soil surface, as seedlings will struggle to come up through the crust. Seeds can germinate and grow with soil temperatures as low as 40°F, but may take a month or longer to germinate. Beet seeds are actually dry fruit containing many seeds that often germinate in clusters, so proper thinning is very important.

OUTDOOR SOWING

Sowing Preparation and Spacing 

Beets will grow in a wide range of soils, but perform best in well-drained, sandy loam, rich in organic matter. Sow 1 seed every 4″ in rows 1′ apart. If you want to grow beets for only the baby greens, they can be sown more densely, with seeds just 1″ apart.

Growing Temperature

Beets are frost-tolerant and grow best in the cool temperatures of spring and fall, or winter in mild climates.

Water 

Beets demand a constant supply of moisture. Without it, even for a short period, root development may be adversely affected.

Weeding 

Cultivate shallowly to avoid root disturbance.

Thinning

Since one beet seed can create several seedlings, be sure to thin to 1 seedling every 4″ by the time seedlings are 2″ tall.

HARVESTING

Root

For early spring sowings, harvest beets before summer heat. For late summer sowings, harvest before first heavy frost. For winter sowings in mild climates, harvest in early spring. Harvest when roots are anywhere from 1″-3″ or 4″ in diameter depending on variety (consult seed packet). Do not let them get too big. The smaller they are, the more tender. Beet greens are even more nutritious than the roots.

Leaves

Greens are most tender when small, so harvest starting when they are 2″ tall. You can take as much as one third of a beet plant’s outer leaves without harming the root crop.

STORAGE

Remove tops and store washed roots in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Tops can be stored in a separate bag, in the refrigerator for up to a week.