Beets are one of those things that you either love or hate. If you hate beets, there is no recipe in the world that can make them appetizing. If you love beets, however, you may enjoy exploring some of their possibilities. The greens can be used in salads or lightly cooked. The roots can be boiled, steamed, baked, pickled, or shredded and then sautéed.
- Cool temperatures.
- Partial shade or full sun (depending on the temperature).
- Well-drained soil free of rocks and other debris.
- Plenty of potassium.
- A pH around 6.5.
- Before planting, make sure that all rocks have been removed from the top four inches of soil.
- Plant directly in the garden up to a month before the last spring frost, the earlier the better. In Kansas, the ideal planting time is late March into April.
- Each beet seed is really a cluster of seeds. Buy fragmented seed, fragment your own seed with a rolling pin, or be prepared to thin the seedlings later on.
- Soak seeds in water for at least 12 hours before planting.
- Plant half an inch to an inch deep. Spacing is two inches for fragmented seed and four inches for unfragmented seed.
- Lightly mulch in hot weather.
- For a continuous harvest, plant more beets every two or three weeks until the ideal planting time has passed.
- For a fall crop, plant more beets roughly 10 weeks before the first fall frost. In Kansas the ideal time is from mid-July to mid-August.
As the beets grow, it is important to thin them periodically so that they don’t crowd themselves. If you did not plant fragmented seed, start thinning right after the beets sprout by pinching or snipping off all but the strongest seedling from each cluster. Beets from both fragmented and unfragmented seed should be thinned periodically after they start to form roots. Try to leave at least three inches between each plant. Save the thinnings to use in a salad if you like young beet greens.
The other major requirement of beets is a steady supply of water. Periodic deluges are not helpful; they just promote rot. A light watering every day is much more productive.
Pests and Diseases
- Leaf miner.
- Cucumber mosaic virus.
- Leaf spot.
- Root rot.
Greens can be cut any time that the plant looks big enough to support the loss. Only snip one or two leaves from each plant, however.
Beets are best harvested when the root is about the size of a ping-pong ball. Check them periodically by poking around them with your finger. When it comes time for harvest, carefully pull the beet out of the ground. Don’t dig it up, since there’s too much risk of hitting the beet with a shovel and ruining it.
Fresh beets will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
To put away some beets for the winter, you have several options. The first is to twist off the tops and layer them in sand in a root cellar. The other is to leave them in the garden buried under hay bales or a very thick layer of mulch. Of course, you can also can, pickle, or freeze beets to store them.
- At fall harvest time, leave some plants in the ground to overwinter. (You should be able to safely take a few leaves from these beets for salads early on.)
- Another option is to dig up the roots before the first killing frost and store them in the root cellar as described above, then replant them in the spring.
- Separate beets and Swiss chard by two to five miles to avoid cross-pollination. If this is not possible, shelter the plants in windproof cages in groups of six to ten.
- Shake the plants together regularly to pollinate.
- When the beets have stopped flowering, the cage can be removed. You may want to prop up the stalks, however.
- Allow the seeds to fully dry on the plants.
- Harvest when the seed clusters have turned light brown.
- Either pull off the seeds or cut the stalks.
- If you cut the stalks, allow them to dry further, then put them in a bag and stomp on them to thresh.
- Winnow the seeds with a screen or fan.
- Store seeds in a cool, dry, dark place. They should keep for five to six years.
Information on root rot and nematodes.