A colorful, cool-season crop, beets are easy to grow from seed in well-prepared soil and grows quickly in full sun. They can survive frost and near-freezing temperatures, which make them an excellent choice for northern gardeners, and also makes a great fall crop. There are different varieties of beets, including those with deep red, striped, white, or yellow roots with different shapes.
Planting and Growing Information:
As soon as the soil is workable, begin your first round of beets in early spring. As long as daytime temperatures don’t exceed 75°F, successive plantings are possible through summer. Germination takes place in 5 to 8 days in soil that’s at least 50°F. If the soil is colder than that, germination may take 2 to 3 weeks. Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting to speed up germination or when planting in areas with low moisture and rainfall. Sow beet seeds from mid-summer through early fall for a fall harvest, and start about 4 to 6 weeks before your first fall frost. Winter crops are a strong possibility in Zone 9 and warmer. For a winter harvest, plant beets in early to late fall.
Plant beets in full sun; they should be receiving at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Be sure to avoid planting beets where Swiss chard or spinach has recently been grown because they are cousins of beets and are susceptible to similar pests and diseases. Soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is best and slightly alkaline (7.0+) soils can be tolerated by beets. However, they don’t tolerate acidic soil (pH below 6.0).
Beets should be sowed directly in the organic garden so their roots are not disturbed, but unlike many root crops, beets normally tolerate being transplanted while still young, but since they are cold tolerant, beets typically don’t have an issue being started outdoors. Sow seeds ½ inch deep with and 1 to 2 inches apart in rows that are about 1 foot apart. After sowing, cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Given each wrinkled beet “seed” is actually a cluster of 2 to 4 seeds, you will need to thin the young plants to 3 to 4 inches apart once the greens get to be about 4 inches tall, allowing their roots to grow to their proper size. Don’t pull up the plants when thinning because you may actually disturb the roots of the beets you want to keep, so simply snip off the greens. For optimal germination, make sure the soil remains moist. To speed up germination, soak seeds for 24 hours prior to planting. Mulch and then water regularly with about 1 inch of water per square foot per week. To grow well, beets need to maintain plenty of moisture. Weed when necessary, but make sure to be gentle around young plants given that beets have shallow roots that are easily disturbed.
Beets prefer well-prepared, fertile soil, but will also tolerate average to low soil fertility. Before planting, poor soil can be amended with a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer prior to planting. Though supplementing with extra fertilizer isn’t usually needed, if you do fertilize, make sure to use little nitrogen because beets are a root vegetable that grow below the surface of the soil, so phosphate and potassium are more beneficial to their growth. Should you want to grow beets more organically, depending on your soil, you may use compose, well-rotted manure, bone meal, and wood ashes.
For most varieties, days to maturity tend to be between 55 and 70, so plan to harvest beets about 2 months after planting. Make sure to harvest roots when they’re golf ball-size or larger as very large roots can be tough and woody. Loosen the soil around the beet and carefully pull it from the earth. Harvest the beet greens at almost any time, starting when you’re thinning seedlings. Take one or two mature leaves per plant until leaf blades are more than 6 inches tall and become tough. Given roots won’t fully form without greens, for proper development, leaving some is necessary.