A delicious addition to home vegetable gardens, beets (Beta vulgaris) are a great choice for fresh eating, roasting or canning. Both foliage and roots are edible and baby heirlooms, with their beautiful colors and earthy sweetness, are a culinary treat! Tops or “greens” as they are called are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of potassium, iron, vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Organic beets are easy to grow at home. You can sow them directly into the garden from spring to mid summer. They tolerate cold temperatures – down to 25˚F – but it’s a good idea to start mulching them as soon as frost season hits. And the peace of mind you’ll gain from raising them without chemicals? Priceless!
Beets prefer a cooler climate and should be grown in well drained, loose textured soil. Choose a site that gets full sun and dig down deeply — at least 25cm — to promote good root development. Work in 15 to 20 lbs of garden compost for every 100 square feet of soil. Beets also make an excellent raised bed crop, just make sure that they get plenty of water.
How to Plant
Sow seeds 3cm apart in rows in early spring or late fall. Beets can withstand freezing temperatures, but plants exposed to 2 to 3 weeks of cold weather (below 50˚F) may go to seed early, especially after the first leaves have developed. Thin rows as plants develop and apply 10-15cm of mulch to help maintain soil moisture and limit weeds. Promote rapid growth by feeding every three weeks with a balanced organic fertilizer and seaweed extract.
Tip: The highest yield of baby beets is obtained when they are sown at a rate of 10 to 15 seeds per sq. ft. For larger more mature roots, the best spacing is 5 to 10 seeds per sq. ft.
Harvesting and Storage
Begin harvesting beets when roots reach 2.5cm across (typically 55 to 70 days after sowing seeds). Do not allow roots to grow larger than 8cm or they will be tough and woody. Try to leave at least 3cm of foliage on the root to avoid bleeding during cooking. Greens are ready to harvest 30-45 days after planting.
Beets can be refrigerated for several weeks. To store overwinter, pack in damp sawdust and keep cool.
Insect & Disease Problems
Cover with floating row cover immediately after planting to deter leafminers and flea beetles. Wireworms are another persistent pest of beetroot.
Beetroots with scab disease develop corky spots on the root surfaces. Maintain uniform moisture and lower the soil pH. Keep an eye out for curly top virus which can affect the leaves making them look stunted and crinkled.
Seed Saving Instructions
Beets are a biennial plant, and they will cross pollinate. If you want to keep seeds true to their parent plants, varieties must be separated by 1/2 mile from similar crops the second year when going to seed.
Plants are frost tolerant and will overwinter in mild climates if well mulched. In northern climates, trim leaves to 5cm and store roots in slightly damp sawdust or sand in a root cellar over the winter. Roots are stored 4-6 months at 32-40˚F. Replant in the spring and harvest seed heads when dry.