Growing Beets: A Bounty Of Root Crops For Fall & Spring

Ed Wike
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Beets: Quick Care Guide

Beets are easy to grow and they thrive in moist soil. They don’t require a very large amount of care, and you should be able to produce a bounty of root crops. There are two categories of beets: those with smooth leaves and those with jagged leaves.

The difference in leaves has to do with the difference in root types, but both are equally delicious. The leaves of the beet plant are edible and make a nice addition to any salad.

All About Beets

When we are talking about kitchen garden vegetables, we can't forget about the beet.

Beets are the perfect addition to a dinner table during the fall and spring season. They add a pop of color, great taste, and nutrients your body needs to fight off any cold weather.

A hardy cool season crop, beets grow well in the cool temperatures in spring and fall. They also produce in the heat of summer, but as they grow, your plants will stop producing as much root mass. This decreases the quality of the vegetable, and you will get beets with woody centers, and they will not be market quality. They can still be consumed, but they won't taste good. For this reason, they are best grown in the "off" season.

Beets are easy to grow. Starting from seed is the best way to go. Sow them about one inch deep, and the seed can be covered with about a quarter inch of soil. Plant the seeds about two inches apart and cover them up with lots of soil. You can do this with a garden fork or a hoe. Some gardeners prefer to use corn gel to water the seeds rather than using straight water. As seedlings emerge, thin them by picking the smallest ones out of the row.

When shopping for beet seeds, you can find regular shapes, such as the classic red beet with a long root, or you can find round varieties. Round varieties are known for their sweet, tender roots and have a better storage quality than the classic types.

Few beet varieties remain in your garden through their entire life cycle. The majority of beet seeds pull nutrients and energy from the seed, which means they need to develop above ground in order to be harvested. To keep your beets producing as long as possible, you could choose a frost tolerant variety. These varieties will allow you to harvest beets through the fall and even into the winter months.

Red Beets

Red beets are an excellent source of folate, manganese, and potassium – all of which are essential for heart health.

Fresh beets are at their peak during the fall, but because you can grow beets throughout the year, you're likely to find them at your local supermarket year-round.

Most red beets you find at your local market are called Chioggia beets. While there's a lot of debate as to whether or not these beets are sweeter than other types, they are gorgeous! This variety typically has broad oval leaves that are stunningly spotted with red and white and their flesh is typically a bright magenta color.

If you've never had a Chioggia, you're missing out. They are great roasted with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt or you can try roasting them with a sugar glaze with pine nuts and orange peel. If you'd like to try something new, they are also delicious when sliced very thinly and pickled.

Mixed with red cabbage and a few apples, Chioggia beets make excellent red and white slaw. Or try roast radishes plus crisp apples, carrots, and beets with a honey and Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

Golden Beets

The Different Kinds Of Beets, Including Golden Beets, Are Easy to Grow In Your Vegetable Garden.

Beets grow in two colors, red and gold. The red-colored beets are the most common ones, and are very delicious when cooked. The gold colored beets are not only a beautiful addition to the garden, but they are also edible. Golden beets are actually a cross between orange-colored beets and yellow beets.

Beets are easy to plant and grow well in most soil conditions. They prefer a pH range of around 6.0 to 6.8, with neutral to slightly acidic soil being ideal. You can plant them in the spring, but beets that are planted in the fall will often grow quicker and larger than spring planted ones.

The tops of the beets can either be green or purple. Either way, they are edible and are rich in antioxidants. Their leaves are also high in the antioxidant beta carotene. If you are planting them in a garden that is simply too small to grow other root crops, you can simply pull them up and use them as greens. You can add them to salads, sandwiches, or serve them for dinner as a side dish. You can also eat the stem itself of the beet plant. It is crisp, rich in nutrients, and is also quite delicious.

White Beets

Beets are part of the same family as Swiss chards and are an excellent source of calcium. When cooked and mashed with other foods, beetroots can add their color to foods and make them red. They are also easier to grow from seed than Swiss chards. Beets are also very sweet and when cooked with other root vegetables, they form a nice balance.

Soil

Beets need about 2 months of cool weather and a well prepared soil to germinate. Plant beetroots as soon as the danger of frost is gone.

Plant about 4 to 6 beetroots per square meter.

The best soil to grow white beets is a sunny, well-drained, and composted soil. Avoid soils that are too rich in nitrogen, as it gives the beets a green color.

Sowing Seeds

The best time to sow beetroot seeds is in spring and early fall. In the spring, germinated seeds can be sown again to get a continuous harvest.

To grow beets indoors, cover them before the danger of frost or sow them in modules and plant them outside about 2 weeks later.

Fall-sowing is a good option for colder zones. In zones 8 to 11, sow the seeds in summer and harvest them when the weather begins to cool down.

Planting Beets

Plants are started from seeds every year in the spring. That is because they grow best during that time period.

You can find seeds for beets at any garden center and they are a fairly common crop grown in home gardens.

For the best results, you should consider starting them indoors about four to six weeks before the last frost in your area. This will give the seedlings a chance to get off to a good start before the warm weather arrives.

However, if you are planting beets from seeds outside, you can plant them as soon as the soil temperature hits 50 degrees.

Beets are a cool season crop. Planting them grows larger root crops in autumn and spring. Generally, they will bolt if you plant them in the summer or grow too small without enough sunlight.

When you are shopping for seeds, look for varieties that have been bred for growing both root crops and shoots.

Beet seeds are one of the largest of all seeds, only smaller than radish seeds. So you will have no problem finding them at the store. Plant scarlet ball, Detroit dark red, Altansa, and sugar beet. These grow well in the south and have a lot of sugar content.

In the north, plant yellow beet seeds like golden ball and bantam. They are not as sweet, but still make excellent root crops.

When To Plant Beets

As mentioned above, you can grow beets as an annual or biennial vegetable plant. Some varieties may also be grown as perennials in zones 9 and warmer.

As spring requires fairly precise timing in regards to seeding, starting beets from seed in the fall is the way to go for most growing regions in the nation.

The beet seeds should be pre-soaked in warm water for a few hours before you plant them. This will help to jumpstart the germination process.

The seeds should be spaced about 1/2 inch apart and covered with soil.

Beets prefer rich, well-drained soil and will need about 6 to 8 weeks to germinate.

The warmer and shorter your growing season, the earlier your beets will become ready to dig. Zones 7 and warmer have plenty of time to grow very early beets. Zones 8 and 9 should be ready to harvest beets by the end of summer.

For spring and fall planting in zones 6, 5 and 4, you will have to wait until the frost has passed and the soil has warmed in order for you to grow spring beets from seed. The seeds should be planted after all danger of frost has passed in order for them to germinate.

The seedlings should be spaced about 8 to 12 inches apart, and the beets will need about 6 to 8 weeks to mature.

Where To Plant Beets

Probably one of the simplest and most healthful root crops, beets can be a wonderful addition to your garden plans. Growing beets is relatively easy since they are self-reliant. They don’t require lots of attention in the form of fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.

Plant your beets so they are deeply rooted to avoid the damage caused by frosts or when the soil is too dry. The rule of thumb is that the deeper the younger they can be grown before harvesting.

When choosing a location for your beet patch, consider that in spring they have tender shoots that are vulnerable to frost. In fall they produce abundant foliage and roots that are equally susceptible to damage by below-freezing temperatures.

Beets are fast growing plants, and their roots grow deep into the soil, which causes them to be more vulnerable than other plant crops. Transplant them carefully into their permanent locations to avoid damaging their root systems.

Plant seed directly into the garden after the soil has warmed up and the chance of cold or freezing temperatures has passed. The seeds should be planted 1 inch deep 3 inches apart in a row. They will yield best when planted in full sun and well-drained and enriched soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.

How To Plant Beets

Beets (along with carrots, onions, and radishes) are one of the first vegetables we think to plant in spring, but they can also be planted during fall. For those who grow their own vegetables, beets are one of the easiest vegetables to plant in addition to providing a lot of nutrition. Beets are very easy to grow from seeds, and you don't need a green thumb to produce a bountiful crop. Beets produce deep red leaves and edible round orange-colored roots. Beets are grown primarily for their edible roots but they are also useful for growing its leaves as well which is called “turning” the leaves to be used like spinach.

Beets are hardy plants, and do well in most soil types. When beets have been growing for about 3 months, you will see the center of the beet looking like a tongue. There are a few different ways in which to harvest the mature beets. The first way is to pull the roots from the ground leaving an inch or so of the stem and to cut off the leaves. To prevent the beetroot from bleeding, which is a bright red color, you can hold the leaves over the roots as you pull them from the ground.

Growing Beets

Beets are a versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways. Beets are in the same family as spinach, Swiss chard, and mustards. The mild-flavored and sweet beets come in two main categories, table beets and sugar beets.

Table beets are generally used for eating fresh as well as for pickling and canning. Naturally, sugar beets are generally used for the production of sugar and to feed cattle. In the United States, beets are grown in the temperate climates along the Mississippi river, Great Lakes, Ohio river valley and the Pacific coast. Beets are generally grown as a fall purchase vegetable, but they can be grown in the spring as well.

Beets can grow best in sandy loam or sandy clay loam. Beets can grow in soil that is high in nitrogen but a high content of nitrogen can make the plant to grow quickly and not grow as large. Beets prefer a soil pH in the range of 6.2 to 6.8. Adding lime to the soil will increase the soil pH and adding sulfur will decrease the soil pH.

Sun & Temperature

Beets do well in temperatures below 80 degrees. There are some gardeners that advocate planting in the cooler months. The cooler temperatures can help beets resist the rot from their own wetness. It can also help to prevent bolting, which is a reaction to the warmth.

The danger of growing beets in the heat of the summer would be that because they are so wet, the hot sun can kill them, making them overly sweet. You might not want the excessively sweet taste either. Some gardeners like to grow beets during the cooler months and then re-plant in the hot summer months. They will have a fall crop that will be ready just in time for Thanksgiving and a summer crop that can be eaten in the late summer and early fall.

Beets will perform best in full sun, so look for a spot that gets plenty of sun. You can also use the mulch to make them self-protect from the heat, so they can come in to direct sun, and by mulching they will be protected from the heat of the summer afternoon.

Watering & Humidity

Plant roots require water. This is one of the basics and it sounds so obvious, but it is surprising how many people seem to forget about this important step. Beets like a good steady supply of water. If you have a tap with a hose attached to it you can simply direct a stream of water over the plant. You can also soak the whole plant. One of the most efficient ways to water your beets would be with a drip irrigation system. If your soil is dry you will need to water regularly at least once or twice a day. The best way to check whether the soil has enough water is the same way you check if you soil has enough sunlight.

When the soil is dry you will see little cracks forming in the surface. If you push your finger in you will be able to feel the dryness.

Try to water the soil and not the foliage. Beet leaves are very sensitive to moisture and excessive water can cause mildew to form. This will stunt the growth. In a raised bed you can cut a grid in the soil and set up a drip irrigation system so that you can water your plants without getting your hands dirty. This is an easy and convenient way to make sure your plants are getting enough water.

Soil

Beets are a cool-season vegetable that can be started in the spring and grown into the fall. Although they prefer cooler weather, they can withstand temperatures in the 90s. They also like moisture, and the more moisture they have, the deeper their taproot grows.

Fertilizing

Beets are an excellent and delicious addition to gardening. They are among the few crop plants that grow in slightly acidic soils. Beets thrive in pH 4.5 to 6.5. They are very easy to grow and are often planted alongside lettuce, carrots, radishes, spinach, and other crops that benefit by the plentiful nitrates found on beds where beets are grown.

| ^95% of all plants grown for human consumption come from soil infested with bacteria.|

Propagation

There are several methods of propagation to grow more beets, and each has its pros and cons. How you intend to use your beetroot crop determines which propagation method is best for you.

Beets are fairly easy to propagate and can be grown from seeds, roots, even paper toothpicks! To grow beetroot from seeds, simply let some mature, dry, and plant them when the soil temperature is warm or even frost-free. If you want to sow beet seeds in colder climates, start this process a couple months early. Keep in mind, your sown seeds will not germinate in the soil for weeks, so the sooner you start sowing, the sooner you'll have baby beets to use.

Growing beetroot from root pieces is common practice due to the ease of planting and the germination rate as compared to seeds. Use the root pieces of your own beets or purchase them from a farmer or garden center to save money.

Make sure your beets are grown in moist, unfertilized soil. Transplant the pieces, burying them knee deep so that there is only 1 inch of the piece remaining above the soil. Wait about eight weeks before harvesting, but check the roots in the spring to see if they are ready to pick.

Pruning Beets

How to remove beet tops: Use a knife to hold the beet tops. Grasp them near the base and pull until they come up. You can leave the leaves in the ground for the next crop or remove them prior to storing.

How to Grow Beets: Prepare the planting bed by loosening the soil to a depth of about 2 in (5 cm). To do this, either break up the clumps using a trowel or loosen the ground using a small, lightweight rototiller. You should also mix in a 2- to 4-inch (5- to 10-cm) layer of compost.

Once the bed is prepared, sow your beet seeds. The best option is to direct-sow your seeds, which means to scatter them in the garden bed. Afterward, cover the seeds with soil. In areas with cold winters, cover the seeds with a layer of straw or mulch.

Other options include starting your seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost of the season. Afterward, transplant the seedlings into the garden.

Your crops should emerge from the soil 3 to 4 weeks after planting.

Once the beets are producing their first leaves, thin out the seedlings. If the seedlings have been sown directly into the garden, simply transplant the seedlings into the garden, spacing them 6 inches (15 cm) apart.

Transplanting

Beets are cut-and-come-again vegetables that are a fast and easy crop for growing organically. The only thing you need to watch out for is that you don’t harvest the greens so much that you wipe out the root reserves. The tops of the plant really are the prize, too!

Beet Time! So when should you harvest your beets?

You can take baby beets anytime, but if you want to really boost your root, wait until the beets are a golf ball size, and then use your thinnings. Beets take about 2 months to become adult size, so if you grow them fast, you can have fresh beet greens and little beets for six weeks in the spring.

Beets are very slow growers, so you need to plant them at least a month before the average date of your last frost. You can plant them earlier and keep them growing in a cold frame to extend your harvest… When you get to the heart of summer, plant more beets so they can mature during the cool fall and cold winter months.

Cut-and-Come-Again! One of the nice things about the beet is that it continues to send up new leaves. So, you want to cut the top off before the plant grows taller than six inches.

Harvesting and Storing Beets

Beets are best grown from transplants because of the long harvest season. As with turnips and radishes, plant beets in a variety of colors for beautiful arrangements. In a container, you can start seeds indoors and transplant after danger of frost.

Start with seedlings or thin transplants to six inches apart in the garden. The top and root of the beet need cool temperatures to develop properly. At about one-inch in size, you can harvest the greens. Just pull off plant tops, leaving the roots in the ground. The greens are most tender after a frost or two.

When the roots are about the size of a golf ball or slightly larger, you can harvest them. The root will have deep taproot. Taproot makes harvesting difficult. You can harvest by pulling the plant, but the leafy beet greens can take root again and produce more beets.

To prevent that, you can cut the greens and gently pull the taproot out of the ground. Or freeze the area in front of the taproot with an ice cube. That will wilt the roots, making them easy to pull. Be careful, though. The wilting will cause the greens to wilt and fade. For most recipes, you will want to slice, dice, or grate the greens right before use.

Harvesting Beets

Beets are easy to grow with their tap root design. You don’t have to worry about replanting the tops because the root will regenerate. Harvesting the beet isn’t difficult either.

If you’re planting “beet seeds” or “seed beets”, the best time to harvest them is 3 to 4 months after planting. The average harvest is between 3 to 5 pounds.

If you’re planting “garden beets”, the best time to harvest them is 6 months after planting. The average harvest is between 10 to 15 pounds.

Storing Fresh Beets

Beets will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If they’ve been grown in sandy soil, rinse them well with water before storing. If not, tying a plastic produce bag around the tops of the beets will keep grit from soil from coming into contact with the root.

Beets also do well in the freezer for up to six months. Just wash and chop them before storing in freezer bags. Don’t cook before freezing … the sugars in the root may start to turn to starch.

Beets should be stored like any root crop. However, because they are not an onion or potato, they are more sensitive to the cold. So storing them in the coldest part of your refrigerator will make them last even longer.

Beets are also a good investment if you are interested in organically grown produce. Not only are they easy to grow, they don’t need a lot of pesticides.

Preserving Beets

Beets don’t keep long on the countertop after being harvested, however, you can store them to preserve them.The best way to store beets is first to cook them until they are cooked through. This process will drive most of the water out of the beets, and then you can either place the hot beets in an airtight container or seal them in a plastic bag. Store containerized beets in the fridge, and sealed packages in the freezer. You can store carrots and beets for up to three weeks in the refrigerator, and for up to six months in the freezer.

Troubleshooting Beet Problems

Beet problems generally occur because of improper watering, poor soil aeration, or improper fertilization. You’ll find in this list a detailed description of every problem and a way to fix it.

Offline: Low oxygen levels result in mold, root rots and disease. If you notice a musty, vinegary odor, you’re likely to have an oxygen deficiency in your soil.

To correct the problem, Aerate the soil before planting your beets. Mix in a small amount of compost with the soil. Water deeply, but don’t allow the soil to get soggy.

Overwatering can also cause fungal root rot. You’ll need to identify the type of fungus that’s causing the problem and amend the soil accordingly. Good drainage is also important to prevent too much water penetration. Don’t plant your beets in a low area that tends to collect water.

Offline ammonia burn can also occur when nitrogen-heavy animal manure is used. This causes the beet roots to dry out and eventually just burn up.

The problem is easily remedied by aerating the soil and using an organic garden fertilizer that does not contain fish emulsion. You’ll also want to space your beets more than 18 inches apart.

Growing Problems

Beets are easy to grow and delicious to eat. Most of us are familiar with beets in their canned or pickled form; however they also come in fresh varieties. They range in color from white to deep red and they have a subtle, earthy flavor. Beets have been a part of the human diet for over 10,000 years.

Beets are incredibly easy to grow in home gardens all across the United States. In fact, beets are the easiest of the root crops to grow. They thrive in the cooler months of the year. One of the things that makes beets easy to grow is they can be planted all year round. However, the beets that you plant in the summer months are usually harvested in the spring of the following year. In addition to the round variety, there is also the long, white variety of beets.

In addition to being a great cool-season vegetable, beets can also be grown in the warmer climates of the United States. However, the plants may take up to six months to grow into mature roots that are fit for harvest. Growing beets isn't a difficult task.

Pests

In the case of root crops, most of your focus will be on preventing disease; anyway, because root crops have very little tolerance for any soil borne disease. On the other hand, because the crops are generally grown close together, weeds can become a problem. Finally, beets are popular with pests, especially rabbits and groundhogs, so companion planting may be necessary.

If you are growing your beets for greens, then you will need to protect your greens from bolting as much as possible, by choosing varieties that are slower to bolt, such as the cold weather varieties.

However, you are more likely to be growing beets for the root crop, in which case, you need to take steps to minimize your internal soil borne disease risk.

The most important thing you can do here is select varieties that have been bred for disease resistance.

The best disease resistance you can currently get is resistance to Alternaria leaf spot. Alternaria is one of the most common diseases that affect beets, especially garden beets or beets grown for greens, so if you are going to be growing beets primarily for the greens, you are still going to want to use a variety that offers some degree of Alternaria resistance.

As Alternaria is soil borne, you also want to avoid planting in the same site where you planted beets the previous season.

Fungal and Oomycete Diseases

Fresh red beets slightly wilted can be stored for up to about one week in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. If you want to keep the beets for a longer period of time simply plunge them in cold water and they will retain their freshness and crispness much longer. You can also store them in the freezer for later use. Just remember to leave about an inch of the stems on before storing them.

Bacterial and Viral Diseases

Your typical home grown beets will be trouble free until you try to increase the sugar content of your beets. Beet sugar is a process that requires a lot of heat which unfortunately will promote bacterial and viral diseases. Watercress disease is caused by viral infection and will cause large irregular shaped white spots on the roots. This disease can spread into the consumers and causes blister like sores on the face and mouth. In addition, the infection can spread to the brain, eyes and spinal cord infecting them and leaving permanent scars. Bacterial infection can be worse as the bacteria will hinder the growth of the beet cells and causes large brown-to-black irregular shaped spots on the roots. This infection can be spread to your hands if you don’t wear protective gear when you handle them. The spread can also be done through the plants vein into the root causing the roots to look rusty and the beet leaf veins to appear yellow and turn brown.

To prevent these bacterial and viral diseases examine the beets you purchase before you buy them. If you see any of the symptoms return them to the store where you bought them. If infected plants are found in your garden remove them immediately and do not bring them into your home. Be sure to wear gloves and protective clothing when handling and planting beets.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where To Plant Beets?

A: You can plant in either early spring or late summer. You can also start seeds in the early spring for a fall crop or in the late summer for a spring crop. You can grow beets in raised beds, in the ground, on a patio or balcony, and even indoors. The key to success are the seeds, so make sure you buy good ones.

Q: When Is The Best Time To Plant?

A: If you're planting indoors, choose something with multiple seeds. The germination rates for the individual seeds are not very good and you'll have a much better outcome if you plant multiple seeds. Once the seedlings get about an inch tall and have two or three true leaves, it's time to move them out to the garden. (If that sounds like a full-grown plant to you, you're not alone. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a small seedling and a large weed.)

Q: Can I Grow Beets In Containers?

A: Absolutely. This is one of the great benefits of container gardening; you can plant anything you want. Beet seeds germinate in the same time period as beans and peas, and the pole type varieties are particularly suitable for containers.

Q: How Much Room Does Beet Need?

Q: What is beeturia, and is it dangerous?

A: Beeturia is the inheritance of red-colored urine as a symptom of elevated levels of betacyanin, a pigment and antioxidant found in beets, chard and other foods. Beeturia is harmless, and it is not usually seen in people with normal digestive efficiency. However, if you routinely notice that your urine is reddish, particularly if you drink a lot of beets, it's worth mentioning to your doctor.