Beets (botanical name Beta vulgaris) are a fast-growing vegetable that can be grown just about anywhere. Although beets are known as a root crop, all parts of the beet plant are edible.
Tender beet greens can begin being harvested when thinning a row of beets. The most commonly known root beets are red, but golden and striped varieties have made growing beets more popular in recent years.
Best Conditions for Growing Beets
The plants we know as beets are in the same family as Swiss chard. While chard is grown for its leaves, beets were traditionally grown from their bulbous roots, although all parts of the beet plant are edible. All types of beets and chard will cross-pollinate with one another.
Beets are not quite as cold tolerant as cool-season vegetables, like broccoli, but they can tolerate a light frost and they do like cool temperatures, so beets are generally grown in the spring or fall.
And, beets are biennial. They will not flower until their roots have matured and they’ve had at least a month of cold temperatures.
The plants' size will depend on the variety you grow and at what stage you harvest, but on average beetroots grow 1 to 3 inches in diameter. Leaves can spread about 12 inches and grow to about 8 to 12 inches high.
Harvesting and Storing Beets
You can start harvesting the beet greens when they are a couple of inches tall. The greens are most tender before they reach 6 inches long. Beetroots are ready to harvest when they are approx. 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Larger roots are tougher and more fibrous.
Harvest by tugging or digging. Leave at least 1 inch of the stems on the bulb, to avoid bleeding during cooking.
Beets are ideal root cellar vegetables and can be stored for 3 - 4 months, at near freezing temperatures with high humidity (98 to 100 percent). Beets can also be canned, pickled or frozen.
Growing Beets from Seeds
A light, well-draining soil is best. Rocks, clay, and anything that can interfere with the roots development should be removed.
If planting in the spring, wait until the soil has warmed and dried out. A soil temperature of 50 degrees F. (10 degrees C.) is ideal. Beets can be planted in succession every 3 weeks, for a longer harvest.
If you plant your beets in the fall, seeding can begin again once nighttime temperatures begin cooling off. Be sure you leave about a month before your first expected frost, from your last seeding.
Beets grow with a portion of the root above ground, so seeds do not need to be planted deeply. 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep is sufficient. Go with 1 inch deep, as the temperature warms, because it will be cooler underground.
Beets are planted only about 2 - 3 inches apart. That's all the space the roots need and when the leaves start growing together, they provide a cooling mulch for the roots. You can plant in rows, wide rows or blocks. It's easiest to simply broadcast the seed and then thin the plants to the recommended spacing. All thinned plants can be eaten.
Beets don't transplant well and are always direct sown from seed. The beet seed in packets is really clumps of 4-6 seeds. You can plant the whole clump and thin the seedlings when they get a few inches tall or you try and separate the clumps into individual seeds before planting.
The safest way to do this is to gently run a rolling pin over the clumps. Be careful not to crush the seeds. Most gardeners find it easier to simply thin the young greens. You can eat the thinned leaves in salads.
Germinating Beet Plants
Beet seeds can be slow to germinate, because of their tough outer shell. Soaking the seed clusters overnight will help soften the shell and speed germination.
You can always use the old trick of planting fast sprouting radishes in the same row as your beets. It helps to mark the row and loosen the soil. By the time the beets start to develop, the radishes are ready to be pulled.
Another germination trick is to cover the seed in the garden with vermiculite, peat moss or some other non-crusting material. This will keep the seed moist and warm, but not inhibit it from breaking through the surface. This trick is very useful in gardens with less than ideal soil.
Growing Beets in Containers
Their compact growth habit makes beets a good choice for containers. The containers should be at least 8 to 12 inches deep and have good drainage. Be sure to keep the pot well watered.
The small varieties of beets, like ‘Mini Ball’ and ‘Baby Ball’, do especially well in containers.
Caring for Beets in the Garden
Provide at least 1 inch of water every week. Mulching will help to keep the soil from drying out and getting too warm.
If your soil is not rich in organic matter, supplemental feeding will be necessary about 2 weeks after the beets emerge. Any good vegetable fertilizer will do.
To prevent deformed roots, keep the area free of weeds.
Pests and Problems
Flea beetles, leafminers, and aphids may attack the beet leaves, but should not affect the roots.
Certain leaf spot disease may affect beets. To avoid problems, grow them in full sun with good air circulation and remove any infected leaves asap.
Suggested Varieties to Grow
- "Burpee Golden": Beautiful yellow-orange color, but more temperamental when growing.
- "Chioggia": Heirloom with concentric red and white circles
- "Detroit Dark Red": Great for fresh eating or canning and pickling.
- "Mini Ball": Individual-sized beets. Great for containers.