It’s not Thanksgiving without beets. Whether they’re tossed in olive oil and roasted with last fall herbs, pickled, or steamed, their earthy flavors lend themselves to almost any meal. The greens make a pleasantly sweet substitute for kale or spinach. Some varieties are even grown as fodder.
But perhaps the most remarkable thing about beets is their colors.
From brilliant purple to blood red to my favorite golden beet, which always looks more orange than golden, their colors are as varied as their flavors and lend a pop of color to the fall and spring market stand. The inside of a Chioggia beet actually looks like a peppermint candy.
They also stain your hands, clothes, cutting boards, and anything else they touch. Don’t worry. It’s not permanent. A little lemon juice and baking soda will get the stains off everything except a white shirt. For fabrics, pre-treat them with a little dishwashing liquid and wash as usual. Even if the stain doesn’t come out the first time, beetroot stains aren’t colorfast. They fade with time.
Beets adore cool weather, but they germinate best when the temperature is above 70 F. For plantings under 1 acre, consider starting them in a cold frame or a greenhouse and then transplanting them. That way the seeds get the warmth they want, but the plants get their preferred temperatures.
Practice caution when using aged manures and composted manures. Some varieties produce harvestable roots in as few as 50 days.
If you aren’t one hundred percent certain that your compost pile reached the necessary temperature (between 131 F and 140 F) and held that temperature for several weeks, incorporate it at least 120 days before harvest. Unpasteurized, aged manure should always be applied at least 120 days before harvest. For beets, this means applying compost at least 10 weeks before planting!
Incorporate all pre-plant fertilizer or band it in two bands each 1″-2″ below the seed.
Apply 60-120 lb/acre of nitrogen as follows: 1/2 pre-planting with the remaining 1/2 side-dressed 3-4 weeks after planting.
Apply 70-80 lbs/acre of phosphorus pre-planting.
Apply 80-100 lb/acre of potassium pre-plant or as indicated by a soil test.
Apply 1 lb/acre of boron pre-plant.
If boron was incorporated during pre-planting, foliar feed 1.5-3 lb/acre 3-4 weeks after planting.
Irrigate 0.25″-0.75″ every four days during germination.
Provide them with about 1″ of water per week after emergence.
Once roots begin developing, reduce irrigation. If possible, don’t let them get water-logged. Maturing beets hate having wet feet!
Beets are biennial in zones 3-9. Like most vegetable biennials, their flavor changes when they bolt. Unless you’re saving seeds, grow these as annuals.
In the spring, plant beets about 4-6 weeks before the last frost. The soil temperature should be at least 45 F.
Plant beets at least 8-10 weeks before the first fall frost. The soil temperature should be below 95 F.
They prefer cooler weather. If there’s a heat wave a few weeks before the spring/early summer planting season ends, it’s best to wait until the next growing season. Alternatively, start beets in a greenhouse or cold frame to get a jump on the growing season and avoid potential heat waves.
Double dig or till your beet beds to a depth of 10″.
Beets dislike wet feet almost as much as they hate heat. Although raised beds minimize wet feet issues, beets planted in raised beds need more irrigation. It’s a balancing act.
For the rainy season, prepare raised beds approximately 48″ across with sufficient space between the beds for your feet, cultivator, and/or tractor tires. If hand weeding, adjust the bed width to what is most comfortable for your body. For instance, I find 36″ beds more comfortable.
For the dry season, plant beets on flat ground.
In either case after planting, firm soil with a basket or roller attachment, if available. Otherwise, use your feet.
Succession plant beets at a 14-day interval.
For instance, let’s assume one planting per week.
|Row||Planting Date||Harvest Date|
|1||January 15||March 16|
|2||January 29||March 30|
|3||February 12||April 13|
|4||February 26||April 27|
These are just example dates. Please consult your local extension office for planting information specific to your zone.
Germination soil temperature: at least 40 F; 50-85 F for optimum germination.
Optimum root growth: 45-55 F low air temperature and 60-75 F high air temperature.
Harvest: approximately 50-70 days, depending on the variety
Use windbreaks if you have sandy soil. Burlap, wire ties, and stakes work well for this.
Starting in the Greenhouse
Transplanting beets is an excellent way to get a jump on the growing season. In warmer climates, it’s sometimes the difference between having a bountiful harvest of colorful beets and a poor one.
Sow 2-3 seeds per container in 1″ to 2″ containers 2-3 weeks before transplanting. Keep the seedbed moist and the soil temperature 70-80 F for maximum germination.
Transplant when they have 3-4 leaves, approximately 3 weeks after planting.
Using the row spacing below, plant seedlings 2″-4″ apart.
Bed width: 36″-40″
Row spacing: 12″-24″
Seed spacing: 15-18 seeds/ft
Planting depth: 1/2″-3/4″
Drill seeding rate: 8-10 lbs/acre
After emergence, thin seedlings to 2″-4″ apart.
Companions include cabbage, broccoli, kale, and lettuce.
Control weeds by hand weeding, hoeing, and/or mechanical cultivation.
Harvesting, Storage, and Marketing
Harvest beets before the first hard frost (28 F).
For fresh market beets, pull or dig when the roots are 1″-2″ in diameter. For processing, including canning and freezing, harvest when the roots are 2″-4″.
At the Market
Wash the beets. Bunch beets (6-8 per bunch; about 2 lbs) with the tops attached. Beets with tops should be sold within 2 weeks.
Store at 32-40 F, 95% relative humidity.
De-topped beets keep for 2-4 months.
In some regions, beets store well in a root cellar. Check with your local extension office before building a root cellar.
Beets may also be blanched and frozen, canned, and pickled.
Although there’s not a large market for beet greens in the US, beet tops are edible and extremely nutritious. They taste a little sweeter than kale. Baby beet greens work well with most salads. Sauté them like spinach.
Beets and Chard | Department of Horticulture | Oregon State University. Retrieved June 24, 2018, from http://horticulture.oregonstate.edu/content/beets-and-chard
Beets | NC State Extension Publications. Retrieved June 24, 2018, from https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/beets
Dotto, L., & Silva, V. N. (2017). Beet seed priming with growth regulators. Semina: Ciências Agrárias, 38(4), 1785. doi:10.5433/1679-0359.2017v38n4p1785
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Masabni, J. (no date). Beets. AgriLIFE Extension Texas A&M System. Retrieved from https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/vegetable/files/2011/10/beets1.pdf
Sacała, E., Demczuk, A., Grzyś, E., Prośba-Białczyk, U., & Szajsner, H. (2016). Effect of laser- and hydropriming of seeds on some physiological parameters in sugar beet. Journal of Elementology, 21, 527–538. doi:10.5601/jelem.2015.20.3.953
Vegetable Harvest and Storage. Retrieved May 4, 2018, from https://extension2.missouri.edu/g6226