How to Grow Beets



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Days to germination: 5 to 10 days
Days to harvest: 60 to 80 days
Light requirements: Full sun or partial shade
Water requirements: Consistent watering
Soil: Loose and fertile.
Container: Short rooted varieties work best

Introduction

Beets are one of those double-duty garden vegetables with both edible leaves and roots. You can eat them raw or cooked, and that goes for both roots and greens. Pickled beets are a particular favorite.

Traditional beets have deep burgundy-colored roots, but you can also experiment with varieties that grow white or yellow roots too. The leaves are usually green with red ribs, and some like Bulls Blood have fully red leaves. They look gorgeous in with flowers too.

Beets are very nutritious and their bright color is a nice touch to any meal. Their sweetness makes them different from most vegetables, and the sugar beet is the sweetest of all. Beet root has high concentrations of folic acid and manganese, and the roots are very high in fiber as well. The greens will give you added vitamins A and C.

Starting from Seed

Because beets grow a long taproot very quickly, they are not good candidates for indoor starting or transplanting. It’s best to seed them directly into the garden.

Dig your intended beet patch to loosen the soil down at least a foot so the root can grow without obstructions. Mix in fertilizer or compost before planting your seeds. You can plant your beet seeds 3 weeks before your last frost date, and again about 2 weeks after the frost date for a second crop.

Your seeding and spacing are somewhat dependent on how you plan on using your beets. For a root-only harvest at the end of the season, you should plant a few seeds every 6 inches. After they’ve sprouted, thin down to one plant in a spot. Your seeds should only be about 1/2 inch deep in the soil.

Be aware that most purchased beet seeds are actually in little clumps of several seeds. Take care not to overplant. Before planting, you can pre-soak the tough seeds to help speed up the germination.

If you intend to use the greens as well as the roots, you can plant closer together and thin out later as you harvest the greens. Even a random sprinkling of seeds will work just fine as long as you plan on pulling the smaller plants as they grow.

Growing Instructions

As your beets grow, you can harvest the young greens before the root matures (see harvesting section for more about that). Water your plants regularly and fertilize about once a month to keep these “moderate feeder” plants at their best. Don’t let your plants dry out, or get too much water either. Irregular growth can produce cracked beet roots.

Containers

Beets are not ideal for container gardening, but you can do so with plants that grow the traditional round roots. Varieties that produce a longer root (like a carrot) won’t work as well in a container. The plant has a tap root that is quite a bit longer than the edible root portion, so they need a lot of depth. Kestrel, Mini Ball and Merlin work great, but you should avoid beets like the Mammoth.

Your containers should be at least 12 inches deep, with very loose soil. Plant one or two beets per pot if you intend to grow them to maturity. You can start several more if you are going to pull them while smaller for the greens.

Pests and Diseases

The leaves can be targets for many insects, such as the leafminer, aphid, flea beetle and more. They will all chew up the leaves and can cause serious damage when they are in large numbers. Aphids and flea beetles can also carry diseases between plants, making them a double threat.

Treat your beet leaves with an organic insecticide but don’t treat them if you plan on harvesting any greens within a few days. If you are using insecticides, make sure to wash the leaves thoroughly before use.

Grayish or purplish spots on the leaves likely indicates Cercospora leaf spot. Some varieties are naturally resistant but there isn’t much you can do to treat the plants once it strikes. A copper-based fungicide may help but you won’t be able to harvest the greens for eating if you do. If your plants succumb to Cercospora, make sure you don’t plant and beets or carrots in the same part of the garden for at least 3 years.

If your beet roots have dark scabby growths once you’ve harvested them, you likely need a bit more boron in your soil. Use a seaweed as a fertilizer, or purchase boron-rich commercial fertilizer for your beets next season. Take care when using it because too much boron can harm other plants. Scabs on your beets doesn’t actually do any harm or make them inedible, so you can also just leave your garden alone and enjoy scabby beets.

Harvest and Storage

You can start to harvest the beet greens as soon as the leaves have grown to about 4 inches in length. You don’t have to pull the entire plant. Snipping off 1 or 2 leaves at a time won’t harm the plant and it will keep growing.

If you do pull the whole plant up, you’ll get tender baby beets along with a handful of greens. For full-sized beets, wait until they reach their maturity date before pulling up the entire plant. Your harvest options are very flexible with beets.

At maturity, you’ll get the largest roots but by then the leaves will be too tough for raw eating. Average beets will be between 2 and 6 inches at this point. You can still eat the greens as long as they are cooked.

When you are cutting your beet roots, be very careful about the bright red juices. They stain terribly and that includes your fingers and cutting boards.

To store your beet roots, keep them in your fridge’s crisper drawer without washing them. They should stay fresh up to 3 weeks. Greens do not store well and should be used within a few days of picking. You can also freeze the roots once they are cooked, and the smaller beets are great for pickling.

For longer term storage, you can keep whole beet roots in a cool place like a root cellar for several months. They need to be kept in a humid environment, and a bucket of damp sand or sawdust works excellent for beets.

14 Responses to “How to Grow Beets”

  1. Mary  Says:

    Please, help me if you can. About a month ago, I cut up a Detroit Red beet to cook and eat. Later, I found that when kept in shallow water, the the beet top began regrowing stems and leaves, but not roots. At this point the top is still thriving, but still has no roots growing.

    Is it somehow possible to stimulate roots to grow?

    I really want this plant to remain alive (and grow another beet, if possible).

    Surely, there must be a way to keep it going.

    Can you please advise me?

    Thank You….

    Mary Elsener
    Lake Oswego, Oregon

  2. Administrator  Says:

    No, I don’t think so Mary.

  3. Craig  Says:

    Hi, I moved from one town where I would grow beets without any issues to another town where my beats will grown greens but he roots won’t grow they stay thin all season. I’m having the same issue with carrots. My squash, beans tomattos all grow fine however. Anyone know what might be the issue as my dad knew a lot more about this than I do and he has passed away so I can no longer go to him for advise on my garden.

    Thanks
    Craig

  4. Administrator  Says:

    Is the soil too compacted? That is a major reason for failure of root crops to produce.

  5. Craig  Says:

    I dug up about a foot and a half and replaced my old soil with new top soil that I shoveled in I also lossened the soil just before planting and tried to avoid walking on it. so I don’t think this could be the issue but from the rain we got the soil felt pretty packed down when the season was over but what can I do after the plant is already in the ground?

  6. stacy  Says:

    I had the exact same question as Mary. I did the same thing and now Beety (yes I named her) looks to be growing new leaves! I don’t care at this point if it ever makes a beet – just wanted to know if she’ll eventually become a plant with roots or… how is she growing new leaves?

  7. Dave  Says:

    Does anyone know if I cut the beets tops off does it slow down the growth of the beet or do more nutrients stay in the beet instead feeding the leaves. Figure it would be better to feed the root, not the greens if I don’t use them.

  8. Administrator  Says:

    The leaves feed the root Dave, if you want a bigger root, do not cut the greens, and make sure they get plenty of sun.

    The exception might be in periods of drought where the leaves may lose too much water. In this situation you can reduce stress by removing lower leaves that still respirate water, but are shaded so not providing a lot of energy to the plant. However, the better solution is just to water the plant.

  9. Suzanne Crawford  Says:

    Can I still eat beet greens with purple spots?

  10. Gerry Larson  Says:

    I purchased 3 packages of beet seeds. Planted them like I do every year, have never had any problems. I planted a lot of them, so I could share beets with friends who do not have the room.
    Three of us, canned them and just about all of the beets turned white. My one friend just canned hers yesterday, and she got one pint that came out nice and red. When she cooked them, she said they looked like they just bled out. I would really like to know what could cause this. I canned 11 pints, and out of the 11, I had 6 which were salvagable.
    My question is what could have caused this to happen? I might add, that I have gotten a lot of plants that look like rudabaga. Please Help.

  11. Reg  Says:

    My beets are about 3 to 4 inches tall and the birds are eating the tops. Will the. beet itself (the root) keep growing? I love pickled beets. Thank you.

  12. Judith Baker  Says:

    When canning or cooking beets, the root should be left in tact to prevent bleeding.

  13. Rick Tanguay  Says:

    Reply to #3 Craig,

    Too much nitrogen will cause lots of greens. Try using a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10not something like 20-10-10. The first number is the nitrogen percent of the fertizer.

    Response to #10 Gerry Larson,

    If you cut the stems too short before cooking, the color will bleed out. Try leaving the stems about 4 to 5 inches long and don’t cut off the roots before cooking. I’ll think you will see the difference.

    Rick

  14. Audray  Says:

    It is very cold where I live now, and I can’t get the beats to sprout. Any ways to keep them warm? I have to have them grow for an experiment. Please help!

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