This root vegetable has a brilliant bright color, and is packed with a ton of essential nutrients! Aside from being a delicious addition to salads and other dishes, pickled beets are a great way to enjoy this veggie year- round. And they’re not just a great food staple – their juice is often used as a natural dye!
To help ensure your beets thrives, we’ve put together this how-to video and transcript covering topics like:
Glossary of beets terms
Varieties of beets available
Starting your beets seeds
Caring for beets at all stages
Fertilizer and/or Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Companion Plants do’s and don’ts
Common challenges and Their Solutions
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your beets
Glossary of beet terms
Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about beets
When you plant your crop in smaller intervals to extend the growing season and protect your soil. Beets can be successively planted every 2-3 weeks for a continuous supply of delicious vegetables.
These are fertilizers with high nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) concentrations. Each nutrient is needed in different quantities by different plants.
N-P-K fertilizers will have a ratio on their label, showing how much of each nutrient is in the fertilizer. For example, a ratio of 10-20- 20 contains 10% nitrogen, 20% phosphorous, and 20% potassium.
When growing beets, you’ll want a fertilizer that has twice the amount of potassium and phosphorous than nitrogen.
Beets are a juicy vegetable and may “bleed” some of their deep red/purple juice when cut. If it stains your hands (which it probably will), use some lemon juice to get rid of those stains!
You can also prevent bleeding by waiting to peel and slice your beets after you’ve cooked them.
Veggies from the Brassica family like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radish, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard, collard greens, turnips, bok choy and Chinese cabbage.
They have high traces of a sulfur- containing compound that gives off a strong scent, and this makes them excellent companion plants for beets.
Varieties of beets
When it comes to growing beets, you’re spoiled for choice! Check out all the different varieties you can choose from:
A miniature variety that grows a smooth skinned, round red root early on in its growth cycle (unlike immature full-sized larger varieties). It has a sweet root, green leaves, and red stems and veins. The roots are even small enough to steam whole!
A sweet variety with a medium deep red/purple root, red stems, and green leaves. This is quite possibly the sweetest variety of beet.
This heirloom variety is harvested for its leaves as salad greens - though its small red roots are sweet and edible too. Bull’s blood is distinguishable by its deep red leaves and stems.
Named after a town in Italy, this sweet variety is known for its green stems and pink roots with their characteristically striped insides.
Like its name suggests, this variety has a cylindrical shape instead of the more typical round shape. It has the classic beet red roots, and is sweet in flavor. Cylindra has green leaves with green to red stems.
A super sweet red-rooted variety with red stems and green leaves. Harvesting this variety encourages the growth of any remaining plants.
This is a dual-purpose variety with delicious roots AND leaves. The leaves are green and taller than most (around 18 inches), with red/pink stems.
Golden beets have a mild, sweet flavor and are known for their golden/orange roots with bright yellow interiors. They have green stems and foliage.
Known for its sweet and tender red roots, Red Ace has robust tops with green leaves and red stems and veins.
WHITE/ALBINO/AVALANCHE (variety name depends on the seed company)
This is a sweet beet with a rich flavor. Stems are green, and the roots are round and white. A bonus to this variety is that it doesn’t bleed when cooked!
Planting beets from seed
Since beets are shallow root vegetables, they thrive best when directly sown because their roots will develop quickly.
Their ideal soil temperature for germination is 50-86°F (10-30°C), and they need darkness in order to sprout! Then, after they’ve emerged, they prefer either full sun or some partial shade.
Beets also like it best when air temperatures are between 40-95°F (4.4-35°C). You also want to make sure you don’t sow or transplant your beets until after the threat of frost is gone!
When it comes to soil pH, beets prefer a neutral to slightly acidic soil. In general, you’ll want to make sure your soil pH doesn’t fall below 6 or above 7.
Beet seeds are viable for about 4 years
Caring for beets
We’ll tell you everything you need to know about preparing your soil, watering and thinning, using fertilizer or mulch, transplanting best practices, and which companion plants grow best with beets!
PREPARING YOUR SOIL
Beets do not grow well in hard clay soils, but they can tolerate soils with low fertility levels.
Find them a spot that gets full sun and has well-draining loamy soil. Then, while your soil is still cool (50-86°F), remove any weeds or rocks from the area and amend your soil depending on what it needs.
Add some organic material as well as an N-P-K fertilizer to improve their growth (see our Fertilizer/Mulching section below for more details), mix them into your soil, then level the top with a rake!
You’ll want to plant your seeds in rows that are 12-18 inches (30-45cm) apart, with seeds 2-4 inches (5-10cm) apart and about half an inch (1.25 cm) deep.
Seeds should take about 5-12 days to germinate when your soil’s conditions are ideal!!
Beet “seedballs” actually contain multiple seeds, which is why they need a little extra thinning.
So, once your seeds have germinated and seedlings are about 2 inches (5 cm) tall, thin the rows so that your beets are about 3-6 inches (7.5-15 cm) apart.
Beets need a lot of water! Make sure you give them a nice deep watering directly after sowing, and try not to let them dry out between watering.
It’s important to keep your beets watered during dry spells so that their growth isn’t interrupted, which will also prevent any interior growth rings!
On average, beet plants need about one inch of water per week.
Also, if you use an overhead watering system, water your beets in the morning so that their leaves have enough time to dry off. That way, you’ll be able to prevent diseases from festering!
NOTE: You’ll want to avoid using certain tools around your beets that could damage the roots (like weeding and/or harvesting tools).
FERTILIZING AND/OR MULCHING
You’ll want to use an N-P-K fertilizer that has higher amounts of phosphorous and potassium than it does nitrogen. You can apply this to your soil while you’re dressing your bed, ahead of planting.
Then, you can apply a layer of mulch that’s 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) thick to help maintain soil moisture and prevent competition with weeds.
Just make sure to keep any mulch away from the base of your beet plants to prevent diseases.
In general, it’s best to apply your mulch either after germination, or after transplanting.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
Beets are most successful when sown directly in the ground, but transplanting is possible. Here’s how to do it:
STEP 1: Sow your seeds indoors about 5-6 weeks before the last frost (you can use the average time from the past few years).
STEP 2: Plant your seeds half an inch (1.25 cm) deep, with 3-4 seeds per inch.
STEP 3: Water your seeds after planting, and make sure you don’t let your soil dry out before you’re ready to transplant.
STEP 4: Find a sunny area for your seedlings so that they can get lots of direct sunlight.
STEP 5: You can start the hardening-off process about a week before transplanting. When the weather is warm and sunny, simply bring your beet seedlings outside, place them in full shade, then bring them back inside overnight. Repeat this process for a couple days, and it will help adjust your beets to their new environment without shocking them!
STEP 6: Bring your seedlings outside, but this time place them in partial shade that will also get some direct sunlight. Continue to bring them back inside overnight, and repeat this process for a couple days.
STEP 7: Now, bring your seedlings outside and place them in direct sunlight for several hours, leaving them outdoors overnight. You’ll want to repeat this step for a couple days.
STEP 8: Your seedlings are now ready for transplant! Typically, they’re ready once 6 weeks have passed since seeding. Be sure to first amend your soil as you would if you were direct sowing.
STEP 9: Transplant your seedlings 3-6 inches (7-15 cm) apart, thinning as needed, with rows that are about 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) apart.
STEP 10: Water deeply after transplanting!
COMPANION PLANTS DO’S AND DON’TS
Plant your beets with cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and bok choy to improve the soil and enhance the growth of your beets.
Allium plants like onion and garlic are good companion plants too, because their scent deters common beet pests. Catnip is another companion plant that will help keep pests away from your beets.
Radishes can be planted alongside beets as a fast-growing companion, and will loosen up any compacted/tight soil that could potentially hinder the growth of your beets.
Also, scarlet runner beans are a safe bean to plant with beets, adding accessible nitrogen to your soil that beets will need to grow.
When grown together, beets and pole beans hinder each other’s growth – so they should definitely avoid each other in your garden.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
Beets can be grown either in a garden bed, a raised bed, or in containers.
As long as they have proper nutrients and the right soil depth, they’ll do well in any of these options!
Just keep in mind that beets need about 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) of soil depth, plus good drainage, sunlight, and water!
Common challenges and their solutions
There are a few pests, deficiencies, and diseases that could potentially harm your beets. Not to worry - we’ve listed them below, as well as how to either avoid or fix the problem!
Little maggots that feed on the leaves of your beets, leaving “tunnels” behind. Simply pick them off, squish them, then remove any damaged leaves. Insect netting can also be used to prevent unwanted pests from attacking your beets.
RINGED ROOT INTERIORS
Unwanted white rings can appear on the inside of beet roots when their growth is interrupted by inconsistent watering and weather.
For this reason, it’s essential to monitor their water levels.
You’ll want to make sure your beets always get at least an inch of water every week, especially during hot and dry periods.
Beets will develop cankers on their roots when your soil is boron deficient.
If you notice these spots, test your soil and then amend it accordingly.
This is arguably the biggest disease threat to your sugar beets. Caused by Beet Necrotic Yellow Vein Virus (BNYVV) the symptoms of this viral disease include yellowed leaves, stunted root growth, roots with a hairy/bearded appearance, and/or goblet shaped roots. The symptoms you see will depend on the time of infection, so you might not see any severe damage.
Solution: Rhizomania can be prevented by planting your beets in well-drained soils to control their moisture levels.
Also, early planting (when soil temperatures are below 59°F or 15°C) will allow your crop to become established before conditions are ideal for the growth of disease.
Finally, you’ll want to avoid soil compaction, rotate your crops, and control any weeds in your garden.
This disease affects the leaves and taproots of beet plants. When mature plants are infected, their leaves may become wilted on one side. Eventually, those leaves will turn yellow, dry out, and become brittle. Fusarium yellow can also rot the root of your beet plants, causing wilting and yellowing. It may even cause the tip of the root to turn black. Typically, this disease favors temperatures between 75-80°F as well as moist soils.
Solution: Planting your beets early in the season in cool soils is one way to avoid this disease.
You’ll also want to control weeds around your beets - especially Kochia, Lambsquarters and pigweed.
CERCOSPORA LEAF SPOT
A fungal disease that leaves small dark spots on leaves and causes lighter lesions with dark brown to purple borders. When exposed to high humidity, these lesions will appear fuzzy.
Solution: To control the spread of Cercospora leaf spot, avoid planting susceptible crops within 100 yards of a previously infected spot.
Till any infected crops to bury them (as well as fungal residue), which will prevent the disease from staying in the soil and carrying over into future plantings.
It’s also best to practice crop rotation so that you can protect your soil and prevent continuous disease and pest outbreaks.
BEET CURLY TOP
When plants are infected with this virus, their leaves will curl inward and cup upward with swollen veins on the undersides of the leaves. Your beet’s roots might also be stunted and could produce small secondary roots.
Solution: Early planting and using well-weeded soil are the best ways to prevent this viral infection.
Harvesting and storing
Your beets will be ready for harvest about 45 days after sowing, give or take a few days depending on the variety you’ve planted.
You can harvest your beets once their root tops are visible – for mature beets, they’ll be 3 inches in diameter. Baby beets, on the other hand, will be about 1 and a quarter inches in diameter.
Simply loosen the surrounding soil, then gently pull the root out. Just be extra careful not to break the root or the stems!
Also, when harvesting your beets, be sure to keep the main taproot (attached to the bulb) intact so that you can prevent any bleeding.
Finally, if you’re planning to harvest your beet greens, you can do so once they’re about 5 inches tall.
You’ll want to store your beets in moist, cool conditions with their leaves and stems removed. They’ll keep well in the refrigerator for up to a month, and can also be frozen
Another method for storage is to pickle your beets! That way, you can enjoy them throughout the winter.