Known for its deep purplish-red color, this popular root-vegetable is found in cuisines from all around the globe. Yet beets are one of those plants that people either love or they absolutely despise, cringing at the thought of them on their plate. Though for those that don’t think they taste like dirt, they make a great garden crop.
They grow fairly quickly, don’t take up a large chunk of space, and are very versatile. The immature, nutritious greens can be harvested early in the growing season for salads while the roots are developing, or their nutrient-packed purple or golden-yellow globes are ready for harvest after a couple of months.
Whether you like them roasted, pickled, served Harvard-style, or made into borsch, you should include these interesting veggies in your next planting rotation!
In USDA growing zones 2 through 10, Beta vulgaris, the common biennial beet, is grown as an annual crop. There are two main types grown available in purple, pink, golden, and white: globe-shaped and long-rooted, Leaves are harvested for greens as the plants mature, and the swollen roots are dug up when fully formed.
Beets, like onions, carrots, and broccoli, are a cool-season vegetable, growing best before the daytime temperatures hit 75 to 80℉. If you have harsh winters, you can plant in the early spring for a late summer crop or late summer for a fall crop. In milder, southern climates, plants can be grown through the winter.
- For summer crops, plant seeds two to three weeks before the last anticipated spring frost date for your area. In many places, this is from mid-April to early May.
- For fall plantings, sow seeds in late summer, usually August or September, giving plants six to eight weeks to grow before autumn temperatures arrive.
Before planting, pick out any large rocks or debris from the garden bed and work it well to a depth of eight to ten inches, creating a loose planting area. Add in three to four inches of quality organic matter, such as finished compost or aged manure, and then work the soil well to incorporate it.
The little pea-sized clusters inside your seed package are several tiny seeds encased together. Plant these seed clusters ½ to 1-inch deep, 1 to 2 inches apart. Space rows about a foot apart, leaving up to 18-inches between them at most. When seedlings are 3 inches high, thin them to 4 to 6-inches.
As a root crop, beets need caring for differently than veggies such as tomatoes. They still need plenty of sun, consistent watering, regular doses of fertilizer, and help getting rid of weeds, but the type of fertilizer you use and how you handle weed removal needs to be done specifically to the plants’ growing nature.
Sow seeds in a garden spot where they will receive either full sun or partial shade, preferably with the shade occurring in the afternoon when the sun is the most intense. Like other garden veggies, they need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight to drive photosynthesis and develop the plant parts we harvest.
Since the plant roots stay short, beets are naturally inefficient at taking in water from the soil. During periods where water isn’t accessible, plant growth will slow, but it will resume when watered again. It’s best to keep the soil consistently moist, avoiding this yo-yoing, giving plants one to two inches of water every week.
Work a small amount of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer into the soil at the time of planting, making sure to water it in well. A 10-10-10 is sufficient. During the growing season, beets don’t typically need supplemental fertilizer, but you can add compost tea or liquid seaweed about a month after planting to promote root development.
With a short root system, beets work hard to take in needed water and soil nutrients. So any weeds growing nearby compete with these resources, negatively impacting plant growth. Whenever weeds sprout in the garden bed, remove them by hand to minimize competition. Avoid hoeing as chopping too deeply in the soil damages the beetroots.
When to Harvest
Compared to some garden veggies, beets have a shorter time to maturation. Depending on the variety, they take 45 – 65 days. A month after planting, the young beet greens are harvestable for salads. Baby beets can be harvested approximately 40 days after planting; mature roots are ready when they are between golf ball and tennis ball size.
For the most part, beets are incredibly easy to grow, requiring little attention or care beyond proper soil prep before planting and consistent watering during the growing season. They don’t have many pest problems and are pretty resistant to most diseases. The following growing tips will help you maximize your efforts and reap the best harvest.
- Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers; they cause beetroots to grow abnormally, forking or twisting, and develop a bunch of adventitious roots, making them “hairy.”
- Hill up soil around the roots as necessary to keep the “bulbs” covered as they grow.
- Germination success drops considerably in heavy clay soils; opt to start seeds indoors and transplant outside when seedlings are big enough.
- Sow succession plantings every two to three weeks until daytime temperatures hit 75 to 80°F.
- Place row covers over plants in the spring to protect them from wind and chilling temperatures.
Beets are quite tolerant of their garden neighbors, growing well next to many different veggies and herbs. They do incredibly well when planted next to the cabbage family members and the Allium family members that naturally ward off pests. Fortunately, they get along with most species and shouldn’t be planted next to a very select few.
The best companion plants include:
Avoid planting them next to pole beans or mustards.