Beets should be a staple of any vegetable garden. As well as being truly delicious, they’re really easy to grow from seed – and you don’t have to wait long ’til harvest time.
Where to Grow Beets
Beets can be grown in containers of quality potting soil, but for best results grow them in well prepared soil that has been raked to a fine tilth. Beets need a sunny, open position and moist, fertile conditions.
There are lots of types of beets available. If you're a beginner, look out for bolt-resistant varieties that are less likely to produce flowering stems (rather than the tasty roots) in hot summers. For the adventurous there are many interesting colors; varieties with concentric rings such as 'Chioggia' look particularly impressive in salads.
When to Sow Beets
Sow seeds outdoors from mid-spring until the middle of summer. You can sow a couple of weeks earlier by using crop protection – for instance, grow them in greenhouse or hoop house borders, or sow into trays or pots under cover to plant out once temperatures outside have improved. In areas with scorching summers you'll need to avoid growing them in the hottest months, but you may be able to squeeze in a fall crop.
You can use our Garden Planner to work out exactly when to sow beets in your area. The software uses your location to set personalized sowing dates for your garden. Just click on the Plant List that accompanies your plan to find out exactly when you can expect to sow and harvest. If you add a season extender such as a hoop house or row cover to your beets, the dates in the Plant List will automatically adjust to take into account the additional warmth.
How to Sow Beet Seed
To sow, first mark out seed drills into prepared soil. You can use a long-handled tool to make depressions into raked soil, or for shorter rows simply use a hand trowel to create your drills. These should be about an inch (2cm) deep with subsequent rows spaced one foot (30cm) apart.
The seeds are quite big and knobbly, which makes them very easy to sow. Unlike other crops, beet seeds are actually clumps of individual seeds, so you'll often get several sprouts from each one. Simply drop the seeds into the drill so that they are about 1-2 inches (2-5cm) apart. There’s no need to be too precise with this as you can always remove excess seedlings once they’ve germinated. Now cover the seeds over, patting the soil back down with the palm of your hand or the back of a rake. Don’t forget to label your rows.
You can also sow seeds into module trays of potting soil for easy transplanting. Growing in module trays allows plants to be set in place at their final spacings without the need for thinning, and is great for early crops started off under cover. Sow two or three seeds into each cell then cover with potting soil, and water. Keep the potting soil moist as the seeds germinate and grow on into young seedlings.
Caring for Beets
Module-grown seedlings should be planted so that each cluster of seedlings is about 8-10 inches (20-25cm) apart in each direction. Don’t worry about thinning the seedlings – the plants will naturally push themselves apart as they grow.
Rows of direct-sown seedlings should be thinned in stages until they are around 4 inches (10cm) apart within the row.
Keep plants watered in dry weather. As well as encouraging good, even growth, this reduces the risk of bolting (flowering), which renders the crop useless. Carefully remove weeds between plants by hand or by using a hoe.
Beets can be harvested from about the size of a golf ball up to the size of a tennis ball. To harvest, gather the base of the stems and twist the root out of the soil, or alternatively, use a fork to dig them out. Leaves can be twisted off and cooked in the same way as spinach, or just snip the leaves off into the compost heap. In areas with mild winters, roots sown later in the season can be left in the ground to dig up as required. Alternatively, store roots in boxes of sand in a cool but frost-free place.
Beets are wonderful: colorful, tasty and packed with nutrients! Enjoy your beets grated into salads, roast them in a little oil with herbs and rock salt, or if you’re feeling adventurous why not make a warming borscht soup, topped with a scattering of garden-grown dill.
If you’ve grown beets before, don’t forget to share your own tips for growing them by popping us a comment below.