Beets are an amazing garden crop because they are so versatile and flexible, they have a very long growing season, and provide a different food at different stages of growth. They also have a delightful range of colors, patterns and shapes, which makes them a favorite for gardening with kids. Packed with nutrition and flavor, both beet greens and beetroots are gaining popularity with farm-to-table chefs and home gardeners as well.
This article will give you an understanding of how to successfully grow and harvest beetroots. They can be one of the easiest crops to grow, and grow much like a turnip, carrot or kohlrabi.
Prepping and Sowing
Beets can be grown in the ground or in containers or raised beds; they do need full sun, but otherwise are a forgiving plant. If planting in the garden, sow thickly in a nursery row, a trench about a half-inch deep. You can sow an entire seed packet of beets in a trench three to four feet long. Keep very damp and water daily for the first two weeks, until the seeds have sprouted. To keep the trench soft for the seedlings to push through, consider a line of straw mulch or a piece of burlap over the row for the first two weeks. Gardeners can also extend the season by using row covers and cloches to warm up the earth for seed germination.
When the new seedlings are two to three inches tall, transplant into other parts of the garden. Beet seedlings grow in small clumps--don't try to separate out into individual plants too early. Transplant as clumps of seedlings. Thinning beet seedlings throughout the growing season gives a gardener some delicious greens!
Soil, Water and Site Specifications
Soil needs to be around 50 degrees F for seed germination, but several crops can be grown throughout the year. Early spring and autumn are best for succession planting. The plant can tolerate light frost. Many gardeners plant early and eat the beet greens and small beetroots, then leave plants to overwinter. With a layer of straw mulch, beetroots can be left in the garden and picked all winter. This technique works especially well with raised beds.
First spring planting should be around a month before the last frost of the year, and fall plantings should be around ten weeks before the first usual frost of the autumn.
Soil should be worked well with compost before planting. Best soil pH for beets is 5.5 or above; for fertilizer, a heavy phosphorus and light nitrogen fertilizer encourages root growth. Heavy nitrogen in the soil will encourage thick green growth with thin roots. Loam or sandy loam is best; thick clay soil can be lightened with compost and sand for best root growth.
If growing beets in a container, a moisture-controlled potting soil with integral fertilizer for vegetables is best. Seeds can be planted around three inches apart across the surface of a planting container at least eighteen inches in diameter.
Harvest and Enjoy!
When beet seedlings are two to three inches tall, with several pair of true leaves, the gardener can start to thin the clumps of seedlings. Snip off the weak plants at ground level with scissors or a knife; don't disturb the roots by pulling up. The leaves can be eaten raw as baby greens or when larger, sauteed alone or in a mix of other greens.
As the seedlings are thinned, the root starts to grow. Beetroot can be eaten when the root gets to be the size of a golf ball; the plants can be left in ground to be grown as large as desired. As beetroot gets bigger, the root pushes up out of the ground. The shoulders of the root, when exposed to sun and air, gets tough and fibrous, so if you want to grow larger beets and keep them tender, keep mulch covering the roots as they push up from the ground. If beetroots are harvested, store in a root cellar with the green tops cut off, unwashed.
Known Diseases and Pests
Rabbits and voles love the sweet beets and their greens, so good fencing is important; various beetles also like the plant leaves. Flea Beetles and Mexican Bean Beetles can leave a series of small holes in the leaves, or lines of tiny holes. They tend to live inside the curled inner leaves, so spraying with pesticides is not very effective. Beetles can be hand-picked by checking for the tiny holes, and then unfurling the inner leaves to check for beetles; a soap and water or pepper spray can also be put directly on the inner leaves.
In humid and warm subtropical climates, beets can be affected by fungal diseases on the leaves. If the gardener notices brown spots or patches, with curling brown edges on the leaves, remove the diseased leaves and dispose. Sometimes thinning beets and keeping their bed dry, with good air flow, can reduce the incidence of fungal diseases.
Delicious and Nutritious
Beetroot can be cooked when as small as a golf ball, or as large as a softball. Much larger than a softball and the root will be very fibrous. Most gardeners can't resist harvesting beets when they are no large than three inches across. Beetroots can be sliced thinly and dried in a dehydrator for beet chips; this is especially fun with the patterned beets, such as Chioggia, or bulls-eye beets. The deep red and golden colored beets add rich flavor and color to soups and stews, and oven roasting with maple syrup will have your crew swooning. Traditional flavors and recipes such as borscht can be made as healthy or a decadent as you like. The earthy sweetness of beets, along with their luscious colors, can add a bit of fun to cupcakes; a couple of tablespoons of cooked, mashed beetroot in the batter, with a dried beet chip stuck in the icing at a jaunty angle, is a fun treat for picky eaters.