Beautiful, bold, bombastic beets! I absolutely love beets, and am incredibly excited to be sharing my tips on how to grow them with you in this video. So, get your rake, hoe, and seeds ready, because here comes all you need to grow perfect beets – every single time…
Where to Grow Beets
Like many vegetables, beets prefer a sunny spot in moist yet well-drained soil. They like a soil that’s got good fertility too and the very easiest way to achieve that is to simply add some well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, to the soil before you plant. About an inch (2cm) deep will be about right.
With all that leafy growth and those chunky roots to support, beets are thirsty vegetables. Adding organic matter will help the soil to hold on to moisture for at least a few days after watering or rain, while at the same time improving the soil structure so it doesn’t stay wet for too long, which could cause the roots to rot.
How to Grow Beets From Seed
Beets often bolt (flower prematurely), especially earlier on in the growing season. That makes the roots tough and inedible, so seeking out bolt-resistant varieties, such as the popular ‘Boltardy’, is really worthwhile. I really love traditional red roots – they’re deliciously earthy in taste – but you might want to try one of the other types available that have a sweeter flavor: gorgeously golden roots, pale roots, or the really very stunning ‘Chioggia’ variety with its mesmerizing concentric rings.
You’ve got two options when it comes to sowing your beets: direct into the soil where they are to grow, or into plug trays to grow on and transplant later on.
I do both. Direct sowing obviously saves time transplanting the seedlings, and it’s worth doing if you have vacant space in the garden, ready to grow. To sow, simply mark out your row using a hoe or trowel, aiming for a depth of about half an inch (1cm).
Did you know that the chunky seeds are in fact seed capsules containing a few seeds? That means a good chance that one ‘seed’ may in fact give you a cluster of seedlings. Space them out about 2in (5cm) apart along the row and allow about a foot (30cm) between each row.
Sowing direct is simple and straightforward, but sowing into plug trays has a couple of advantages. It means I can enjoy an earlier start right at the beginning of the growing season. In my garden (which is in the equivalent of US hardiness zone 8), I can sow from late winter, perhaps a month ahead of outdoor sowings, although you might need to wait until spring in colder areas. And by sowing into plug trays at any point during the growing season I can make sure I’ve got sturdy seedlings ready to be planted the moment valuable ground space is freed up.
If you’re growing in a warmer climate, late summer or autumn is a superb time to sow beets as these cool-season roots definitely don’t like it too hot – you’ll get a much better crop as they grow on into the fresher temperatures of late season.
Fill your plug trays with an all-purpose potting mix, sieved to remove any larger bits, then firm it into the plugs. Don’t be afraid to push it in – you want a good fill, so the roots have plenty to explore. Make dimples into the middle of each plug with your fingertips, then drop in up a few seeds per plug and cover over with a little more mix. Give them a good water to set them on their way.
The seedlings should appear within a week in good conditions – warm but not too warm – or a little longer at the start of the growing season while it’s still cool. If you get more than four seedlings per plug, just remove the excess so they’re not too crowded.
After a month or so, when the roots are well developed, your seedlings should be ready to transplant into your garden. Carefully, to avoid damaging the roots, poke the seedlings out of their plugs. Make holes to plant them into, spaced around 8-10in (20-25cm) apart in both directions, then pop the plugs into the holes and firm them in. It’s as simple as that!
As the plants grow the roots will push up against each other and then simply grow apart, in opposite directions. This is why we can grow them in clusters like this. In fact, beets seem to positively relish company, growing better together rather than isolated. Thin them in stages to leave plants at least 2in (5cm) apart at first. That’s enough room to give smaller roots, but if you want bigger roots, continue thinning in stages til the plants are 4in (10cm) apart. One thing you can do is harvest every other root for baby beets, then leave the remainder to grow on to full size.
Protect From Birds and Beet Leaf Miner
There are two pests you need to be aware of when growing beets. The first is birds early on in spring. Birds are hungry at that time of year, and young seedlings offer a tasty morsel. If you find birds pecking at your baby beets, just cover them over with netting or mesh.
The second pest is one that’s definitely given me a hard time this season: leaf miners! Leaf miners burrow within the leaves themselves, creating tunnels as they feed. It’s not a disaster, but this can slow down growth quite considerably.
The solution is to pick off then crush leaves where you see signs of tunneling to kill off the larvae. Do this the moment you spot damage to stop them metamorphosising into adult flies which will then go on to reproduce and continue the cycle. Alternatively, cover beets the moment they germinate with a row cover like a fine insect mesh or garden fleece.
Keeps Your Beets Well-Watered
Keep your plants quenched and you’ll avoid so many issues: small, cracked, or woody roots, bolting from stress, and disappointing flavor. Keep them well hydrated enough that the leaves are not wilting from lack of soil moisture.
I like to pair regular watering with the occasional mulch of grass clippings. This helps to shade the soil, keeping it both a touch cooler in hot weather, and slowing evaporation so the ground stays moist for longer. You could use shredded leaves or straw instead of grass clippings.
If you’re gardening in a hot climate, you can help beets keep their cool by growing them in the dappled shade of a taller crop such as beans, or lay shade cloth over recent transplants to help the soil retain moisture while they settle in.
It doesn’t really matter when you harvest beets – every bit of the plant is edible, and can be eaten from seedling stage (as microgreens or sprouting seeds) onwards.
For baby roots, harvest when they’re a little under golf ball size. In most cases you can tell how big a root is by looking at the size of the shoulders poking proud of the ground but, if necessary, scrape away some of the soil to check. Pull out the roots carefully to disturb the remaining plants as little as possible. The easiest way is to grab the plant at the base of the foliage and then lift and twist.
The great thing about growing beets in clusters is that you can go through and just harvest the biggest root from each group, then leave the others to grow on and take full advantage of the extra space created. Don’t let the roots grow too big – anything bigger than about tennis ball size runs the risk of them having a tough, woody texture.
Twist off the foliage to prevent the leaves from drawing moisture up away from the root and leaving them shriveled or spongy. Trim off the straggly root end, then store your beets in the crisper or salad compartment of your refrigerator. Beets sown later in the season for winter eating can be stored in boxes of damp potting mix or sand to keep them good til you’re ready to use them.
Using Beet Roots and Beet Leaves
Don’t toss the leaves. These make excellent eating – just use them up in exactly the same way as chard or spinach. Steam them, stir-fry them or add them along with a beet root to your smoothie! Young, tender leaves are great in salads too.
You can do so much with beets – it’s not all about pickling them! My favorite way to enjoy them is roasted, but they can also be baked into cakes, pureed, or even dehydrated and ground up into a nutrient-dense powder to use as a super-food addition to just about anything. The roots are stuffed with antioxidants and cancer-fighting good stuff – you really can’t beat beets!