How to Grow Beets
Growing Beets In Your Backyard Or Garden
Great fresh, pickled, frozen and canned, the beet root is a power-packed vegetable that provides a good source of iron, folic acid, manganese and potassium in the diet. The familiar red-rooted varieties are the most common, although growers can find yellow, orange and even white varieties as well.
But that's only half the story. Beet greens, the leafy plant tops, are a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron and calcium. Many people enjoy the leaves and stems of beet tops eaten while still young, when they can be lightly steamed or enjoyed fresh in salads, and with a little more cooking, mature leaves can be enjoyed right alongside the root.
Generally, beets are a hardy, versatile crop. Read on for a few tips and tricks to help get your beets off to the best start and promote prolific harvests.
Beets favor cool temperatures, thriving when soil temperatures average 60 to 65 degrees F. But they will tolerate some hot weather and almost any but the most severe freezes. In most Midwestern and Northern locales, beets may be sown as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring, and you can keep planting all the way through fall, although you'll do best to avoid planting when average daytime temperatures consistently hover above 80 degrees. In the South, beets do best when planted in the spring, but planting and production can begin again in the fall.
Make sure you locate your rows in a sunny location that's protected from heavy wind, and sow seeds one-half inch deep, about 2 to 3 inches apart. Plant in rows, with each row 12 to 18 inches apart. Note that beets may be slow to germinate. Water as necessary to promote germination and mulch lightly to avoid soil crusting. North Carolina Extension specialists recommend making sure the seeds get one-half to three-fourth inches of water every 4 days to keep the soil moist and 1 inch of water per week after the seedlings emerge.
After the seedlings grow 1 to 3 inches tall, thin them to ensure plants remain 2 to 3 inches apart. Overcrowding will promote top growth to the detriment of the roots. (But that may be O.K. if it's only the greens you're after.)
Beets grow best in loose, well-drained soils. Consider raised beds to enhance drainage, and make sure soils are free from large stones that could hinder growth. In soils with high clay content, make sure to incorporate organic matter to improve drainage. The soil should remain moist, but not saturated.
Ohio State Extension specialists note that beets are especially sensitive to soil acidity (indicated by a low soil pH). Get your soil tested at your local Southern States dealer and add lime as recommended to bring soil pH to between 6.2 and 6.8. It's best to apply lime early—at least 30 days before planting.
Similarly, rely on the soil test to guide fertilization applications as needed. Apply 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 fertilizer at the time of seeding and again as a sidedress when plants are 3 to 6 inches high if needed.
Beets can be sensitive to boron deficiency. If you start to see black spots in the roots and dead lower leaves, this may be a sign that the soil needs boron.
Weeds, diseases, insects and other pests
Cercospora leaf spot is one of the most common beet diseases. Look for circular spots with reddish-brown or purple margins, and consult with your local Southern States dealer for fungicide recommendations if you start to see symptoms. If you've had problems with this disease in the past, choose a resistant variety and/or be sure to rotate your beet crops to different locations each year. Clemson University Extension specialists also note that beets are also susceptible to damping-off and root-knot nematodes.
Leaf miners, aphids, flea beetles and webworms are the most common insect pests that trouble beets. Consult your Southern States dealer or local Extension office for assistance in identification and the best control methods.
Young beet seedlings don't compete well with weeds. Especially in the early stages of the crop, watch for weed problems and prevent weeds from overtaking the young plants. Because beets have extremely shallow roots, University of Illinois Extension specialists recommend shallow, frequent cultivation and hand pulling any weeds before they become well established. Deep cultivation or pulling weeds after become they large may damage the developing roots.
Growing for greens
When growing beets primarily for their tops, note that spacing the seeds closely together will promote leaf growth and lead to high leaf yields. If you’re growing for greens, you can plant seeds in wide 2 to 3 foot beds instead of rows, spacing seeds 2 inches apart. Remember that cooler growing weather tends to make for the best greens; hotter temperatures may make the leaves bitter and the stems tough and woody.
Growers can begin harvesting leaves while they are still very young. You can even use thinned seedlings for greens when they reach about 3 inches tall.
Growing as a root vegetable
When growing beets for the roots, note that cooler weather will often promote the deepest color. Depending on the variety, begin harvesting when the root grows to 1 to 3 inches in diameter. Beet roots allowed to grow larger than 3 inches in diameter may become woody and tough. Pull samples frequently after the root reaches 1 inch in diameter to make sure you’re ready to harvest at the optimum date. And for fall crops, be sure to get them out of the ground before a hard freeze.
Soon after harvesting, separate the tops from the roots, but leave about 1 inch of the stem attached to the roots until you're ready to eat them—it will help preserve moisture and flavor.
According to Virginia Tech Extension specialists, you can harvest the leaves while waiting for the roots to develop. But harvesting leaves too heavily may inhibit root growth, leading to lower root yields. So if your goal is to harvest some of the tops while waiting for the root to develop, trim them lightly until the beet's root is ready to be harvested as well.
Do you have any beet growing tips that you can share with fellow growers? Leave a comment below!