Beets are one vegetable you can purchase most months of the year but those you grow yourself taste the best. The good news is there is still time to grow your own this season.
These flavorful vegetables contain fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and more iron than most vegetables. Betalain, the antioxidant and pigment in beets, can be used as a natural red dye and food coloring. In fact, it inspired the saying “red as a beet” and was used to provide that color in makeup.
Beets tolerate warm temperatures but germinate best during cooler weather. Plant seeds ½ inch deep and one to three inches apart every three to four weeks for a continuous harvest. Make your last planting about eight to ten weeks before the first fall frost.
Beet seeds are a cluster of seeds. Remove all but one seedling in the cluster soon after the seedlings appear. You will also need to remove any excess seedlings to provide the remaining seedlings the space they need to grow and reach full size. Take the sting out of this task by thinking of thinning as a form of harvesting. Use the beet greens removed during thinning as sprouts on sandwiches, salads, and in stir-fries, and other dishes.
Reduce the amount of thinning needed with the help of seed tapes. The seeds are secured onto biodegradable tapes at the proper spacing. Just dig a shallow furrow, lay in the tape, and cover it with soil at the proper planting depth. You’ll spend a little more money on seed tapes but save lots of time.
Make sure your plantings receive sufficient moisture throughout the growing season. The flavor is best during cooler weather. All leaves and no edible roots may be a problem you have experienced when growing beets, radishes, and carrots. Thinning and growing root vegetables in well-drained fertile soil at the proper spacing is key to growing success. Improve heavy clay soils by working several inches of organic matter into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. If this hasn’t worked in the past, try growing your beets in containers filled with a quality potting mix.
Harvest beets in about 50 to 60 days when the roots are 1 to 1.5” in diameter. Pull or carefully dig the beets with a garden fork or shovel. Place the shovel several inches away from the root crops. Push it straight into the soil to avoid damaging the roots. Wiggle the shovel to loosen the soil and tilt to lift the beets free.
Trim the leaves back to an inch and leave the taproot intact. Rinse off the soil and allow the beets to dry before storing them in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator. Wash, and further trim your beets as needed right before using them. Minimize scraping, cutting, and slicing that will increase the loss of vitamins and flavor.
Most garden centers and mail-order catalogs still have beet seeds available for purchase. You’ll find red, purple, golden, and even white beets to grow and enjoy. Select the variety that best suits your gardening and cooking needs.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition, and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.