Perhaps underappreciated in kitchen and sometimes in the garden, beets are actually a regular part of our garden. In vegetable gardens and edible landscapes, beets are easy to grow and help to feed the soil. If you have animals on the backyard homestead, you can grow beets to feed your animals, as well. Learn how to add beets to your spring or fall garden plan with this quick guide for growing beets.
Choosing Types of Beets to Grow
If you like the look of Swiss chard but want to mix up your dinner plate, go with red table beets. The stems and veins of the leaves – ready in about a month as edible greens–are red.
To feed livestock from a garden tailored to bigger crops, forage beets grow giant beetroots that go a long way for your backyard farm animals. Storage beets may also be good in a suburban or urban homestead environment, grown throughout the fall to store in a cold cellar.
If you already love beets and plan to cook them frequently, try the lighter color varieties like orange, yellow, and even white. They won’t “bleed” as much, which can tend to dye your whole recipe red!
Take some time leafing through a seed catalog for types of beets. Once you cut into them, they can be gorgeous, with stripes and ranges of colors. Incidentally, those colors are markers of loads of antioxidants and nutrients that will add to your family’s healthful diet. Beets are more than odd red vegetables that some people like. They can be versatile, edible in all parts, and gorgeous!
Where to Grow Beets
As part of the spinach family, you can put beets anywhere you might place similar leafy greens. They do especially well in cool weather, and they are light feeders. This all adds up to make beets a great fall crop to follow heavy feeders in your crop rotation.
Beets are pretty resilient in drought, and they actually prefer to follow soil that has been drained a bit of nitrogen. Let them chase squash or melons that will take a lot out of the soil.
Since the greens are edible, you may want to plant them close to your kitchen for quick dinner harvests. Or tuck them into the landscape for that chard-esque pop of color in the greens.
Beets also do well as shade-tolerant vegetables, opening up the possibilities of container gardens and slipping them under taller plants.
We like planting them in the late summer and letting them grow until the first frosts. Give up to three months from the time you plant them to give time for great beetroots to grow. If you’re mostly looking for the greens, you can expect results in about a month.
Spring beets can be sowed directly outdoors around a month before the last frost. For the best crop, stagger another planting in a few weeks after that so you can keep the greens and beets coming a bit longer.
You should see germination in about a week, but the seeds you’ll plant are actually pods. Within them are a couple of seeds, to watch what comes up and be ready to thin them out a bit once they begin to sprout. After they have leaves and a few inches of height, thin to a few inches apart.
Storing and Using Beets
Beet greens can be harvested and used as soon as leaves begin to grow well. We actually prefer to let our backyard farm animals enjoy the beet tops at will, while the roots grow nice and strong. The leaves don’t need to go any more than around 6 inches tall.
The tops of the beetroots will start to peek out of the soil when harvest time is close. Instead of letting them grow into prize-winning bulbs, go ahead and harvest the small ones. They should be ready around 50-70 days after planting, depending on your variety. Harvesting small beets will give you better flavor and texture than letting them get larger and more mature.
Pull the beets out by hand a day or so after watering them to make sure the soil is loose, and be sure not to cut the skin if you harvest by digging.
Beets that you plan to store should be dried, without washing the soil off, before placing into cold storage. Either way, wash them right before use.
Beets can actually be prepared in a variety of ways, from steaming to roasting to adding to salads. If you aren’t already a fan of beets, they are worth the try! Your garden will appreciate the new twist, and you’ll have fun experimenting with new recipes.