Growing beets can be tricky in very warm climates, and they must be harvested at the right time for peak flavor. If you are interested in how to grow beets in your vegetable garden here’s a simple guide to get you started on the right path.
Beets are usually thought of as that can in the back of the cabinet that always gets pushed to the side while looking for something else. The canned version of beets is delicious, but fresh beets sauteed with butter is out of this world!
How to Plant & Care for Beets
Beets prefer cool temperatures and should be sown about a month before the last frost date in your area. Since they are a root crop you need to loosen the soil very deeply, at least one foot deep, so the root has plenty of room to develop.
Amend the soil well with compost and well-aged manures. Beets prefer a somewhat sandy soil that has a pH in the range of 6.5 to 7.5.
Beet seeds are actually a cluster of two to seven seeds that kind of resembles a piece of granola.
Sow the seeds 1/2″ deep and three to five inches apart. Seeds should begin germinating within five to ten days depending on temperatures and variety.
Keep the seeds well watered and add a thin layer of straw over top to help preserve soil moisture. Don’t cover them with too much straw, you still want the seedlings to have room to sprout up.
Water the area well with a diluted seaweed fertilizer.
After seedlings emerge you will need to thin the clusters to one healthy plant each. Choose the strongest, healthiest looking seedling and thin the rest. It’s best to thin the seedlings by using scissors and clipping off the unwanted seedlings at the soil level. This will help prevent disturbing the roots of the wanted seedling.
Water the beets so the soil stays consistently moist, but not soggy. Even watering will promote uniform growth of the root, and providing a mulch around plants helps to keep soils cool, which beets prefer.
If you have fertile soil, fertilization is not needed. If fertilizers are required, avoid any that are high in nitrogen as this will cause you to have bushy, lush leaves but poor root development.
How to Harvest Beets
Beets have their best flavor when harvested at about 1-1/2″ to 3″ in diameter. Once the roots get larger than that they will begin losing their flavor and develop a texture that is not appealing.
Plants that are harvested in very warm temperatures tend to lose flavor and color, so it’s best to harvest when as cool as possible. Harvest very early in the morning, or at dusk.
Carefully pull or dig up the roots and remove the green tops. The best way to remove the tops is by twisting them off. Cutting the tops off will cause the beet to lose moisture and dry out quicker.
Harvested beets can be placed in a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. They can also be stored in damp sand in a root cellar for longer storage.
The green tops can also be used in salads and other dishes. If you prefer to not eat the greens they make an excellent addition to the compost pile. Beet leaves contain a high level of magnesium which will greatly benefit your compost.