The sweet earthiness of beets is something that is generally unappreciated by most people. This versatile vegetable is delicious shredded or sliced raw into salads, roasted with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper, or pickled. And aside from the root, the beet provides an additional crop of greens, which are mild in flavor and delicious both raw and cooked.
Beets are fairly simple to grow, and a few tips and tricks can keep you happily harvesting beets all season long.
Where to Grow Beets
Beets prefer well-drained, rich soil, and grow perfectly well in traditional garden beds, raised beds, or even containers. If your soil is heavy or clayey, the best solution is to grow in a raised bed or container. If you choose to grow in a container, just make sure that it is at least 8 inches deep. If planting in a traditional bed or raised bed, it's a good idea to amend your soil with a couple of inches of compost before planting.
Beets grow best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade as well. This may result in smaller beet roots, but should still provide for an excellent crop of greens.
Beets should be sown directly in the garden one month before your last spring frost date. They can be erratic in germinating, so you may want to soak the beet seeds overnight in room-temperature water to aid germination. Beet seeds should be planted one inch deep, and approximately three inches apart.
Beet seeds are actually compound seeds; several individual beet seeds are contained in one seed. When the plants are about three inches tall, thin the beets to one per every three inches. The thinnings can be transplanted elsewhere; just make sure the taproot goes straight down into the soil and doesn't curl up when you plant it. Otherwise, the thinnings can also be added to a salad or sandwich.
For a continual harvest of beets, plant a few seeds every week or two throughout the growing season.
How to Grow Organic Beets
The main thing to growing delicious organic beets is to make sure that they're getting adequate moisture. Beets grown in dry conditions tend to be woody, with discolored flesh and bitter leaves. Water when the top inch of soil is dry, and mulch to help retain soil moisture.
If you add compost at planting time, beets need no further fertilization during the growing season. Grow beets under floating row covers to help speed germination for early spring plantings, and to protect the seedlings from insects.
Beet Pests and Problems
The most common problem people have with beets is that the roots turn woody. This is often the result of dry soil, but also can be caused by hot weather. Beets tend to grow woody when temperatures are over 80 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time. To ease this problem, either stop planting beets until the weather cools, or mulch the soil heavily to keep it cool.
Flea beetles can also be a problem when growing beets. To eliminate this problem, grow beets under a floating row cover, or use yellow sticky paper traps to catch any flea beetles in your beet bed.
Recommended Beet Varieties
There are many beautiful, delicious varieties of beets. Here are some of the most popular varieties:
- Bull's Blood: A beautiful, sweet heirloom beet with gorgeous deep red leaves. This is beautiful both on a plate and growing in the garden.
- Detroit Dark Red: This is a very popular, reliable heirloom beet with bright red flesh and plenty of tasty green leaves.
- Chioggia: This Italian heirloom variety has alternating red and white stripes throughout the root -- very pretty sliced raw into a salad.
- Golden Beet: If you don't like the mess that comes with cooking with beets, golden varieties are definitely worth a look. They are just as sweet (and sometimes sweeter) and don't bleed. 'Golden' is a traditional golden variety, but there are others as well.