The best time to harvest beets depends on your intended use. Once the tops of the beetroot protrude from the soil, it’s easier to determine their size. Read on to learn when to harvest beets, how to harvest beets, the best ways to store them, and other essential gardening tips for growing the best beets.
Beets, or Beta vulgaris by their botanical name, are cool-season crops most suited to harvest in spring and fall. In hot climates, beets sometimes struggle in the warmer months, and the beetroot becomes tough and fibrous.
Some gardeners prefer harvesting baby beets when they’re about the size of a golf ball. Others let them grow a bit larger, more like the size of a tennis ball.
Beets are known as root crops, but beet leaves are also highly nutritious and are edible raw, cooked, or used as a garnish.
Whether you use them for pickling, juicing, or eating fresh, beets are among the most popular veggies for home gardeners for an excellent reason. Harvesting beets right from your garden several times each year makes growing them worth the effort.
- How to Harvest Beets at the Right Time
How to Harvest Beets at the Right Time
Many beginner gardeners wonder, “When are beets ready to harvest?” In general, expect to harvest beets about 45-55 days after planting beet seeds.
However, the actual time to maturity varies based on weather, temperature, moisture level, and sunshine. Harvest beet greens sparingly while the root is still growing or cut the entire bunch a few inches above the crown when you harvest the beetroot.
Beet greens are rich in calcium, iron, manganese, and vitamin K. They’re an excellent addition to fresh salads, steamed in a side dish, and juiced in smoothies.
Beets come in various colors, from pure white to golden to deep red, and even with natural red and white rings. Here are a few of the most popular beet varieties.
No matter which type of beets you choose to grow, make sure to plant them in loose, well-draining, fertile soil that’s rich in organic matter and free from large obstacles that inhibit root growth like rocks, tree roots, and large sticks.
Beets grow best in cooler temperatures below 80℉—plant beets in full sun in cooler climates and partial shade in warmer regions.
Ensure that they get plenty of water throughout the growing season. It’s helpful to apply a mulch layer to prevent the soil surface from drying out, which causes the beets to grow tough and fibrous.
When to Harvest Beets after the First Planting
Have you ever wondered, “How long do beets take to grow?” The actual growing time varies based on which variety you’ve planted, the climate conditions, and desired size at harvest.
Therefore, the best way to know when to harvest beets is by the size of their “shoulders” that protrude above the soil level.
For baby beets, which have a more potent flavor, harvest when the shoulders are two to three inches wide. If you prefer larger beets with a milder flavor, wait until the shoulders are four to five inches wide.
Succession Planting Beets
Succession planting is a useful gardening technique to maximize your space. Many crops produce a plentiful harvest initially, and their production rates dwindle later in the season. Others have a limited growing time and are ready at once, like beets.
In this case, cool-season crops planted in early spring, like beets, brassicas, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips, can be replaced by warm-season crops like beans, peppers, tomatoes, and squash.
In cool climates where mid-summer temperatures don’t regularly exceed 80℉, plant beet seeds every three weeks throughout the season for a continual harvest.
To prevent beets from bolting in hot weather, keep the soil consistently well-watered until temperatures cool. For an early summer harvest, plant beet seeds two to three weeks before the average last frost date.
To enjoy a fall crop, plant beets in late summer, four to six weeks before the first frost. Be sure to harvest beets before the ground freezes. In USDA Zones 9 and warmer, it’s possible to grow beets in the winter.
Beet seed germination typically takes five to eight days in soil warmer than 50℉. It may take up to two or three weeks for beet seeds to germinate if the soil is colder.
Best Methods of Harvesting Beets
Now you have an answer to the question, “When are beets ready to harvest?” Next, you’ll need to learn how to pick them. There are two principal ways of harvesting beets.
For both methods of how to harvest beets, water the garden soil a few days in advance for easier removal. When harvesting beets by hand, grasp the stems just above the crown where the leaves meet the root and pull firmly until the beetroot comes out of the soil.
Be careful not to pull too hard and break the stems. Alternatively, use a shovel to dig the beets out. Be careful not to slice into the beetroot when digging. Place the shovel or trowel a few inches away from the beets’ edge and lift the soil to loosen it.
Once the soil is loose enough, lift the beets out from underneath. This method is a bit less labor-intensive and helps remove the beets with their taproots intact, which is better for storage.
Why are My Beets Undersized?
If you notice that your beets are smaller than average, several factors could be to blame. The main culprits are light, space, nutrients, and soil quality. Beets need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day to thrive.
They also require ample space to develop, so leave at least two or three inches between each plant. If necessary, thin out seedlings once they’re about three inches tall. Since beets are primarily root crops, phosphorus deficiency causes undersized beetroots.
Soil that’s too compact also causes dwarfed beets. Use a fertilizer rich in phosphorus, and improve your soil quality before planting by working in several inches of compost, well-rotted manure, peat moss, or other organic material one week before planting.
Fertilizer for Beets
Beets require a fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium. Most fertilizers have three primary elements: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Phosphorus and potassium encourage strong and healthy root growth and cell wall structure, while nitrogen stimulates green leafy growth.
Purchase a fertilizer suitable for root crops at your local garden center, or try making a DIY fertilizer blend using this simple recipe.
Blend the ingredients in a bucket with a lid or a large, resealable plastic bag. Add two cups of fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden space in early spring.
Apply two or three inches of compost over the soil and work it in with a rake. Water in and let it sit for a few days before planting beet seeds.
What Happens if Beets Stay in the Ground Too Long?
If you don’t get around to harvesting beets in time, the roots become tough, fibrous, or woody, but the greens are still edible. Add the woody root to the compost bin.
Some gardeners recommend storing a fall crop of beets in the garden soil under a mulch layer 12 inches thick. Harvest beetroots stored in the ground in early spring before new top growth starts to emerge. Use them within several days of harvesting.
Common Pest and Disease Problems for Beets
Beet cyst nematodes are soil-dwelling insects that feed on beetroots and cause significant damage. An early indication is yellowing and wilting leaves. The roots also acquire yellowish blisters where the insects feed.
Although there isn’t anything to do for the existing crop, try to prevent future infestations. After removing the beets, turn over the soil and leave it exposed to the sunlight for five to seven days.
Repeat the process several times to allow the sun to kill the nematodes. Leaf miners are fly larvae that chew tunnels through leaves as they feed, resulting in light-colored lines on the leaves.
Protect young plants with row cover, preventing flies from laying eggs on the leaves. If you notice an infestation of leaf miners, spray all sides of the plants with neem oil every few days.
The most common fungal disease for beets is leaf spot or Cercospora. Spots on beet leaves appear white in the center with red borders, and they grow as the fungus spreads. Treat with organic copper or sulfur fungicide.
Ways to Store Beets
Fresh beets last in the refrigerator for two to three weeks when stored properly. Freezing, pickling, or canning are ideal for long-term storage unless you have a root cellar with a consistent temperature of 32-40℉.
Store beets in the root cellar packed in damp sawdust, sand, or peat moss in a lidded container. After harvesting beets from the garden, don’t rinse the soil off unless you’ll use them within a few days.
Otherwise, allow the beets to dry completely, then brush excess soil away. Once it’s completely dry, remove the leaves. Place the beetroot in a sealable plastic bag and remove as much air as possible, then store it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
To avoid bleeding from red and purple beets, cut the leaves a few inches above the crown. Use beet leaves in addition to or as a substitute for spinach, kale, and swiss chard.
Before freezing beets, boil them for 20-45 minutes until tender. Cool them in the refrigerator or an ice bath, remove the skins and chop or slice them, then place in a freezer bag and label them with the date. Frozen beets last for eight months to a year.
Pickling is one of the favorite ways to store beet crops after harvesting. Try this simple recipe for making pickled beets.
Boil the whole beets for 15 minutes or until tender. Set aside two cups of the beet water, and drain the rest. Cool the beets, then peel and slice. Sanitize all jars and lids by boiling for at least ten minutes. Add several cloves and fill with beets.
Combine the beet water, sugar, vinegar, and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a rapid boil. Pour in the hot brine and seal the jars.
Place a rack in the bottom of your stockpot and fill it with water. Bring to a boil, then carefully place the jars in, leaving a bit of space between them. Make sure that the tops are submerged, and add more water as needed. Cover the pot and boil for ten minutes.
Pickled beets are ready after curing for two weeks and keep for up to a year. Discard if you notice an unpleasant odor, flavor, or color.
Beets are an easy and rewarding crop to grow. In most climates, it’s possible to harvest beets at least twice per year. In warmer regions, some gardeners even grow beets in the winter.
Enjoy beets fresh, steamed, boiled, roasted, or pickled. Beet juice is delicious in combination with citrus or mixed into smoothies.
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