By E. VinjeTweet
A delicious addition to home gardens, growing beets is a great choice for fresh eating, roasting or canning. Both foliage and roots are edible and baby heirloom beets, with their earthy sweetness, are a culinary treat!
Beet tops or “greens” as they’re called are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of potassium, iron, vitamin C and fiber. Rich in flavor, chock-full of nutrition, and available in a variety of colors, it’s no wonder home cooks are serving up beets like never before.
Beets prefer a cooler climate and should be grown in well drained, loose textured soil for best results. Choose a site that gets full sun and dig down deeply (at least 10 inches) to promote good root development. Work in 15-20 lbs. of 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 seed 1 inch apart in rows in early spring or late fall. Beets can withstand freezing temperatures, but plants exposed to 2-3 weeks of cold weather (below 50 degrees) may go to seed early, especially after the first leaves have developed. Thin rows as plants develop and apply 4-8 inches 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 10-15 seeds per sq. ft. For larger, more mature beets, the best spacing is 5-10 seeds per sq. ft.
Begin harvest when roots reach 1 inch across (typically 55-70 days after sowing seeds). Do not allow beet roots to grow larger than 3 inches, or they will be tough and woody. Try to leave at least one inch of foliage on the root to avoid bleeding during cooking. Beet greens are ready to harvest 30-45 days after planting.
Note: Beets can be refrigerated for several weeks.
Insects and Diseases:
Cover with floating row cover immediately after planting to deter leafminers and flea beetles. Leafhopper and wireworm are other common pests. Beet plants with scab 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:
Biennial. Beets will cross pollinate. Varieties must be separated by 1/2 mile from other beets the second year when going to seed. Beets are fairly frost tolerant and will overwinter in mild climates if well mulched. In northern climates trim leaves to 2 inches 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 degrees F. Replant in the spring and harvest seed heads when dry.