Plant beets now for a fall crop
According to our farm calendar, the week of August 3rd is when we sow beet seeds for fall and winter harvests. Beets seeds will germinate quickly in the warm summer soil and respond well to the cooling temperatures of late summer into fall.
Beets are closely related to spinach and chard, and red beets were once called “blood turnips”. You can also find beet varieties that are white, striped, orange and golden. We love beets pickled, raw (grated in salads or in slaw), pureed, roasted and in raw juices. Eating both the greens and root fulfills our daily need for calcium, iron and fiber.
The greens are also loaded with beta-carotene and are a tasty alternative to kale, collards and spinach.
How to Grow Beets
Although beets can be transplanted, directly sowing the seed in the garden is the preferred method. Direct sowing is easy, and most seed packets of beets contain from 200 to 350 seeds per pack to allow for multiple sowings.
By sowing seed every 10 days over the next month you can harvest a diversity of beet sizes and flavors, from “baby” size greens and roots to full maturity. Direct sow beet seeds in a ½ ‘‘ deep trench in rows 12-18’’ apart and cover the seeds with a mixture of ½ garden soil with ½ peat moss or compost fines.
Keep the seed bed consistently moist for best germination. Beet seeds germinate in five to 10 days. Because beet seeds are actually capsules with two or more seeds inside, thinning is essential to growing big, round beet roots. Thin the seedlings to 1’’ apart, and then, as seedlings grow, to 3’’ apart. Add the thinned seedlings to salads for a tasty and unique flavor.
Beets are heavy water users due to the rapid formation of the edible root and therefore adequate watering is important for the best harvest. Beets are also shallow rooted and do not compete well with weeds for water and nutrients. Your fertilizer should be light on nitrogen and more focused on phosphorus and potassium (potash). A sprinkling of wood ashes for additional potassium supports good root formation.
The target soil pH for beets is 6.5. If you have grown small, stunted beets in the past, you may need to raise the soil’s pH. Add 25 pounds of lime to 100 square feet of garden to bring your soil into a good pH range for beets. Add as much organic matter as possible as a top dressing to conserve moisture, keep the soil from compacting and to keep a steady flow of nutrients to the root.
Pest & Problem Tips
Beet roots will naturally push up out of the ground as they mature and be exposed to the sun. This exposure can cause the shoulders of white or yellow beet varieties to become green and tough and the shoulders of red beets to become “woody”. Cover the roots with mulch or loose soil to limit this problem.
Tiny holes in the beet leaves? Look for flea beetles. Healthy plants will quickly outgrow the damage.
Meandering lines through the leaves? Look for the larvae of the leaf miner inside the leaves. Cut off the affected leaves and dispose of them to prevent a second generation.
Small spots on leaves with cracked, tan edges? That’s cercospora leaf spot, a fungal disease brought on by poor plant nutrition and warm, humid weather. You can prevent these problems through good plant rotation practices, adequate seedling thinning for good air flow and a high level of soil fertility.
Harvesting & Storage
Harvest and enjoy beet roots from their tasty baby stage through full maturity, which is approximately 45 days from sowing. When harvesting beets, leave the fibrous root that is attached to the bulb intact to prevent the beets from bleeding. The ideal size for harvesting tender beet greens is 6’’. Beets store in a refrigerator for up to a month, and can preserved by freezing and pickling.
Mary Roberts and Ray Tarlton are owners and managers of Windcrest Farm, a USDA Certified Organic farm and greenhouse in Monroe, NC . Visit www.WindcrestOrganics.com for more information about plants, produce and classes. Facebook: Windcrest Farm Organics