Botanical: Beta vulgaris
Beets are wonderful food plants to grow because they give a double bang for the buck. If you plant thickly, you can have plenty of greens while the young and tender plant is growing and they are most nutritious. And as you thin them out you leave room for the large bulbs to grow as the plant matures. It’s an easy way to have a
lot of young greens and still keep the remaining plants growing in the garden for a while longer to produce plenty of mature beet roots for later.
The way to make this work is to plant beets thickly in wide rows. I read a description of beet seeds… “Beet seeds resemble tiny scraps of cork” and it is true, they are most unique. They are larger than most other salad and “greens” seeds. They are four times the size of lettuce. You know, I’ve said it many times, “Where ever there is a flower there will be seeds.” And that is exactly what beet seeds are… the fruit of the plant, dried, with up to six seeds inside. Spacing them at least one inch apart is important because up to six seedlings can grow from one beet “seed”. They do really well in wide rows, depending on your garden space, you can also plant them in blocks. (Think square foot gardening.) At four inches apart, you can grow nine beet plants in on square foot. If you’re growing for greens and roots, you can plant as many blocks as you think you will need for your family.
Tasty organic beets are grown quickly in light or loamy soils with a pH over 6.0. (slightly acid to neutral) In general, cool temperatures produce the best flesh color. Weird weather fluctuations will cause “zoning,” white rings, in the roots.
Plant early in your season, two to four weeks before the last frost-free date. After the seedlings are up, thin with a rake and then sit back and wait for the green bonanza.
It is helpful for the seeds to germinate to soak seeds for 12 hours before planting. It is not completely necessary and if you want to water them in really well when you directly plant them in the ground, that can work I’ve found (ask me how I know, LOL) I’ve done it both ways. Soaking them gives them a bit of push and they germinate and pop up through the soil a bit faster which is very satisfying, but they will grow either way. Plant beet seeds directly in the garden 3 weeks before the last frost date. Trying to start seedling in a pot isn’t a great idea. Beets do not transplant well.
But… if you’d like to try it, knock yourself out. I didn’t say they didn’t transplant at all, just not well.
Starting Beet Seedlings: Sow seed in a cold frame or indoors/greenhouse in early spring, about 5-6 weeks before transplanting to the garden. (That would be after heavy frosts become infrequent.)
Plant seeds 1/4″ deep, 3-4 seeds per inch. Transplant out 3″ to 4″ apart in however direction… blocks or rows. If you are planting rows, make the rows at least a foot apart.
Direct Seeding in Your Garden: Begin early planting when soil has warmed somewhat after thawing. (if your soil really freezes below an inch or two) Sow in a 2-4″ wide band, about 15 seeds/ft. (10/ft. if sown in single line), 1/2″ deep, rows 12-18″ apart. For a continuous supply of beet greens and small tender beets, plant a few seeds every two weeks until 8 weeks before regular heavy frosts begin to be expected in the fall. Of course, if you are growing them all at once to can, plant them all at the same time. 🙂
Beet Diseases to Watch Out For: Keep beets well irrigated to prevent “scab,” the same disorder that affects potatoes, causing raised brown rough spots on the mature roots. Internal breakdown or browning is most likely to occur in alkaline soils after prolonged hot, dry periods. This is caused by a deficiency of the nutrient boron. Rotate crops to prevent Cercospora leaf spot.
Harvesting Beets: Fork or undermine, lift plants, wash and hydrocool, and store bunches 10 days at 32°F (0°C) and 95% humidity.
Storing Beets: Cut the beet tops off, wash, and store 6 months at 32°F (0°C) and 95% humidity.
Days to Harvest: From direct seeding; subtract 14-21 days if transplants are used.
Harvest: About 60 days to maturity. In late June, or before hot season enters its prime, scrape some soil away from the beets to check their size. Pull the beets when they are 1-2″ across. They can become tough and woody flavored if you let them grow very much larger. This, of course, also depends on the variety.
Beet Companions: all brassicas, bush beans, head lettuce.
Incompatible Plants with Beets: field mustard, all pole beans.