Starting and Growing Beets
Join the beet renaissance! Beets come in a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. All types are highly nutritious, and contain 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-xanthine pigment. Beets are grown in all areas of the country, and they take up very little garden space.
Beets were originally grown and enjoyed only for their 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.
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 the first fall frost for late summer/fall crop. Growing during hot temperature periods should be avoided. In mild climates, sow fall through winter. Because root crops do not transplant well, it is not recommended to sow inside.
Special Sowing Instructions: To hasten germination, soak seeds for 8-24 hours before sowing. Do not allow a crust to build up on the soil surface, as the 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.
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.
Beets are frost-tolerant and grow best in the cool temperatures of spring and fall, or winter in mild climates.
Beets demand a constant supply of moisture. Without it, even for a short period, root development may be adversely affected.
Cultivate shallowly to avoid root disturbance.
Since one beet seed can create several seedlings, be sure to thin to 1 seedling every 4″ by the time seedlings are 2″ tall.
For early spring sowings, harvest beets before the summer heat arrives. For late summer sowings, harvest before the first heavy frost. For winter sowings in mild climates, harvest in the 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 they will become. Beet greens are even more nutritious than the roots.
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.
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.