Beets

Beta vulgarisBeets (Beta vulgaris)

Family: Chenopodiaceae
Related vegetables: Swiss chard and spinach

Snapshot

  • Frost-tolerant, cool-season biennial. The swollen root and sometimes the leaves are harvested the first year of growth.
  • Leaves (often called tops) are eaten as greens. Enlarged roots, which come in several shapes and may be red, yellow, or white, are eaten as a vegetable.
  • Plants are short (12”-18”). • Plant seeds directly into garden starting 2-3 weeks before average last frost date. Sow thickly, then thin to 2-3”, rows a minimum of 12” apart, spacing within a wide row is 3”x3”. Harvest period is short, so plant repeatedly for continual harvest until mid-late summer, about 2 months before the average first frost date. Beets are somewhat shade tolerant.
  • Harvest at about 50 days for tops, 60 days for 1.5” roots. Beets will tolerate a light frost but do not allow to freeze in the ground. Harvest or protect if temperatures threaten to dip into the upper 20s. Estimated yield per 10 ft row is 10 lb.

As with all root crops, a well-prepared soil without stones will let the roots develop their natural size and shape. Purchased beet seed is usually fruit that contains several seeds. Some seed companies are now selling single, separated seed. Plant about 1” apart and about 1/2” deep. Cover seed with a thin layer of fine mulch or compost rather than garden soil to prevent soil crusting which can hinder seedling emergence. Beet seeds can be planted starting 2-3 weeks before average last frost date. They germinate best at 65-75 °F but will germinate at temperatures as low as 40 °F.

Don’t plant too early or an extended cold spell may induce plants to bolt. It’s best to let soil warm to 50 °F. Continue planting every 2-4 weeks to ensure continual harvest through the growing season. However, high temperatures can cause the roots to be woody, with alternating bands of light and dark red and low sugar content. Because of this, some gardeners plant spring and fall crops and avoid planting when roots will mature in the heat of summer.

Plantings after August 1 may be injured by frost before they mature. Note that seedlings establish more easily under cool, moist conditions. After emergence, thin seedlings to 3-4”. If you like, let plants get to 3” before thinning, then eat the greens and small swollen root. If not thinned, swollen roots may not develop properly.


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