Beets are one of the easiest garden vegetables to grow. They’re a cool-season crop, and in most climates, it’s possible to enjoy at least two beet harvests per growing season. Read on to discover the essentials for how to grow beets and answer the question, “How do beets grow?”
Remarkably low-maintenance regarding their growing conditions, beets are a cool-season garden staple. Like many other root crops, beets grow best when seeds are directly sown in the garden rather than started indoors and transplanted as seedlings.
From there, all they need is loose, nutrient-rich soil and plenty of water and sunshine. The best part of growing beets is that you get two crops in one. Beetroot is perfect for roasting, pickling, boiling, or baking. They’re also delicious when grated raw onto salads. Beet leaves are edible, too, and make a delightful addition to salads, and sandwiches, and steamed or sautéed for side dishes.
Best Ways of Growing Beets
Whether you have a traditional garden plot, raised beds, or a container garden, you’ll find success growing beets or cucumber plant growing by following a few simple guidelines.
In this article, you’ll learn about the various types of beets, how to start beets from seed, what their ideal growing conditions are, and how to keep beets growing from early spring to late fall.
Beets, or Beta vulgaris by their botanical name, are a biennial crop in the same family with Swiss chard, spinach, and quinoa. While their hardiness level depends on the variety, they’re generally cold tolerant and easy to grow.
Unlike when you grow vegetables at home like cucumbers and tomatoes, beets don’t require much maintenance throughout the growing season, and the rewards at harvest time are well worth the effort.
Beetroot is full of nutrients like fiber, iron, manganese, potassium, vitamins C and B9. Beet greens are an excellent source of calcium, copper, iron, manganese, and vitamin K.
Top Varieties of Beets
With so many options, it’s helpful to know the differences between the available beet varieties. Beets are typically red but also grow white, yellow, and multicolored.
Detroit Dark Red is one of the top heirloom beet varieties. They have sweet-tasting roots and flavorful greens. They’re typically ready to harvest in 60-65 days.
Chioggia beets are another favorite heirloom variety. Besides their rich flavor, they have unique color variegation in their roots, featuring natural red and white rings. Harvest time is 55-65 days.
Formanova beets feature large, cylindrical roots. They’re ideal for preserving by pickling or canning. Their roots have sweet, deep red flesh, and the leaves are large and tasty. Growing time to maturity is 50-55 days.
Albina vereduna is a Dutch heirloom with all-white roots and twice as much sugar content as most red types. They’re harvest-ready in 50-60 days.
Touchstone Gold is a prominent golden hybrid, with deep orange skin and bright yellow flesh on the roots. Their leaves are pale green with fibrous yellow stems. Both roots and greens have a mildly sweet flavor when eaten raw or cooked. Harvest time is 50-55 days.
How to Grow Beets from Seed
Do you know when to plant beets? The best way to grow beets from seed is to directly sow seeds a half-inch deep once you can work the soil in early spring, two to three weeks before the average last frost.
It’s also possible to start beet seeds indoors, but take extra care not to disturb the roots when transplanting. Peat pots are best because they’re placed directly into the soil and compost themselves as the plants grow.
The optimal soil temperature for germination is 55-70°F. Beet seeds don’t germinate if the soil temperature is above 75°F. Keep soil consistently moist while seeds are germinating.
Each beet “seed” is a cluster of several seeds encased in a protective shell. Once the outer coating breaks down, sets of two to four seedlings begin sprouting.
Once they reach three inches tall and their second set of leaves emerges, thin out or transplant the beet seedlings, so the young plants grow at least four inches apart.
Spacing is essential for the best root growth, and overcrowding leads to a stunted or deformed beetroot crop.
In climates with frequent cold weather in springtime, consider using row cover and mulch to protect your seedlings until temperatures are consistently above 25°F. The young plants would most likely survive a spring frost, but it may damage the foliage.
Don’t throw away the tops of your beets! Use a piece of the beet and part of the stems to grow beets from beets. Start them in a dish of water and replant after the roots develop.
Choosing the Best Location for Growing Beets
Plant beets where they receive full sun and have loose soil rich in organic matter when growing beets indoors or outside. Ensure that the soil is free from rocks and other obstacles that cause the beetroots to harden, split, or become stunted.
For best results, work a layer of compost into the soil before planting beet seeds. The ideal soil pH for beets is slightly acidic, between 6 and 6.5.
In most climates, beets grow best in full sun. For particularly hot areas, it may be beneficial to provide growing beets with partial shade, especially in the afternoon. They prefer cooler temperatures and may wilt or struggle in high heat.
Beets Growing Conditions
Beets require ample sunshine, mild temperatures, and loose, well-draining soil rich in organic matter and nutrients. They are not one of the vegetables that grow in partial sun as the yield will be less. Apply a layer of mulch once the seedlings are two or three inches tall.
Starting two to three weeks before the average last frost in your area, plant beets every 30 days through spring and early summer for a successive harvest.
If mid-summer temperatures in your region regularly exceed 80°F, sow seeds for the final time 60 days before the full summer heat arrives.
For a fall harvest, plant beet seeds six to eight weeks before the first frost. Beets tolerate temperatures as low as 20°F. Late-season planting produces sweeter beetroot crops, as they store extra sugar in colder temperatures.
As beetroots grow, they occasionally push themselves above the soil level. In this case, heap extra soil around the plant’s base to keep most of the crown covered.
Best Fertilizer to Use for Beets
Since beets are primarily root crops, look for fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium. Most fertilizers have three principal components: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Phosphorus and potassium promote healthy root growth and cell wall structure, while nitrogen stimulates green leafy growth. Prepare your garden bed by working organic granular fertilizer and compost into the soil a few days before planting beet seeds.
Purchase a fertilizer suitable for root crops at your local garden shop, or make a homemade fertilizer for beets with a blend to help the growth in your garden.
Combine the ingredients in a bucket with a lid or a large, resealable plastic bag. Add two cups of fertilizer per 100 square feet.
Apply two or three inches of compost over the soil and work it in with a rake. Water and let it sit for a few days before planting beet seeds.
Beets have a relatively short growing season, taking 50-70 days to mature. Succession planting throughout spring and early summer is an excellent technique for extending your beet harvest.
Determining when to harvest beets depends on the variety and your personal preference. For baby beets, pick them when the crown is about one inch in diameter.
Some people find baby beets are sweeter and more tender. Others prefer to allow beets to grow two or three inches in diameter before harvesting.
Use a garden fork or knife to loosen the soil around the plants, taking care not to slice the beetroot. Grasp the stems near the crown’s base and carefully lift the plant out, using the garden tool to continue loosening the soil underneath if necessary.
To store beets, remove the leafy tops, leaving roughly one inch of stems attached to keep the beetroot fresh longer and prevent the color from bleeding. Beet leaves have a similar flavor to Swiss chard and are excellent steamed or used fresh in salads.
Companion Plants for Beets
The theory behind companion planting mimics a natural ecosystem in the garden using plants’ inherent properties that benefit their neighbors. Companion planting attracts beneficial insects to your garden, repels pests, and helps your plants thrive.
However, some plants aren’t friendly neighbors and should live apart. Alliums, including onions, garlic, and shallots, repel insect pests like aphids, leaf miners, and flea beetles, as well as deer and rodents. They also improve the flavor of beetroots when grown nearby.
What to grow with beets includes marigolds, as they deter pests like leaf miners, rodents, and deer. They release a chemical from their roots that repels harmful soil nematodes. Beneficial insects attracted to marigolds include ladybugs, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps.
Plant beets with cranberries to share insect-repellent properties. Radishes make excellent companion plants for beets, too, because they’re fast-growing and help loosen the soil. They also repel leaf miners.
Shallow-rooted greens like lettuce, spinach, and cabbage work well alongside root crops because the plants aren’t competing for soil space. Avoid growing beets near pole beans and mustard. These plants stunt one another’s growth.
Common Pests and Diseases that Affect Beets
While beets are generally resistant to pest and disease problems, there are a few signs and symptoms to watch out for. Utilizing companion planting techniques helps fortify your plants against fungal infection, repel pests, and attract beneficial insects.
Beet cyst nematodes are soil-borne insects that feed on beetroots and cause the plant to become stunted and distorted. An early indication is wilting and yellowing of leaves. The roots develop yellowish blisters at the insects’ feeding sites.
While there’s not much to do for the existing crop, it’s possible to prevent future issues. After removing the plants, turn over the soil and leave it exposed to the sun for one week. Repeat the process several times to allow the sunlight to kill off the nematodes.
Leaf miners are fly larvae that chew tunnels through leaves as they feed. Using row cover early in the season helps prevent flies from laying eggs on beet leaves.
If you notice a problematic infestation during the growing season, spray all sides of the plants with neem oil every few days. Flea beetles are tiny jumping insects that chew small holes in plants’ leaves.
Seedlings are especially vulnerable to flea beetle damage, but if the infestation is severe, they may stunt the development of mature plants. Row cover helps keep flea beetles off beet plants.
To make a repellent spray, add eight to ten drops of peppermint oil to a clean spray bottle with water and apply every few days.
The most common fungal disease that sometimes affects beets is leaf spot or Cercospora. Spots on leaves appear white in the center with red borders, and the spots grow as the fungus reproduces. Treat with copper or sulfur fungicide.
Beets occasionally suffer from boron deficiency, indicated by distorted or crispy leaves and black, fibrous patches on the roots. Spray a liquid seaweed fertilizer on the leaves and sprinkle one teaspoon of Borax around the base of the plant.
Beets are an easy and rewarding crop to grow. Thanks to their cold hardiness, beets are one of the first crops ready for harvest in spring and one of the last plants standing in the fall.
Beets are wonderfully versatile and are perfect for roasting, steaming, pickling, canning, or enjoying raw. Beet greens are also a delicious and nutritious addition to salads or side dishes.
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