Beet: Direct Sow Vegetable
How to Sow
- Sow beet seeds in well-worked, well-drained soil in full sun after danger of frost in spring. In frost free areas, sow in fall.
- Beets are sensitive to acidic soils and prefer a pH of 6.0 – 7.0. If your soil is more acidic, add Garden Lime as directed on the bag.
- Sow thinly in rows 12 inches apart and cover with ½ inches of fine soil. Firm lightly and keep evenly moist.
- Seedlings emerge in 14-21 days.
- Thin to stand about 3" apart when seedlings are 1-2" tall. Note that beet seeds are actually clusters of seeds and require more thinning than other crops.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.
- Keep plants well watered during dry periods to promote uninterrupted growth. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
Harvest and Preserving Tips
- Pick the greens when they are 4-6 inches long and the roots are less than 2 inches in diameter.
- Harvest roots at 1 inch for baby beets, up to 3 inches for mature beets.
- Store fall-harvested beets at 33-35°F at 95% humidity.
- Cook beet greens like spinach.
- Beet roots can be pickled, grilled, baked or broiled.
- To prevent red beets from excessive “bleeding” in cooking, wait until after cooking to peel, remove taproots and slice. Trim off the tops about 1 inch above the roots and wash carefully with a vegetable brush. Boil until tender, then plunge into cold water. When cool enough to handle, slip the skins off with your fingers and remove the little taproots. Slice the beets, or serve whole.
Common Disease Problems
Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers for on the upper surface of the leaves. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Curlytop: This is a virus disease that is characterized by yellowing, stunting and eventual death of plants. It is spread by leafhoppers. Burpee Recommends: Control the leafhoppers which spread the disease and remove and destroy infected plants.
Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish gray patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.
Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.
Root Rots: A number of pathogens cause root rots of seedlings as well as mature roots. Burpee Recommends: Practice crop rotation and do not plant related crops in the same area for several years. Pull up and discard infected plants. Make sure your soil has excellent drainage. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.
Common Pest and Cultural Problems
Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.
Flea Beetles: These small hopping beetles feed on plant foliage. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different plant family. Use floating row covers to prevent damage to young foliage.
Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers cause injury to leaves and stunt growth. They also spread disease. Burpee Recommends: Remove plant debris. Use insecticidal soaps. Consult your Cooperative Extension Service for other insecticide recommendations.
Leafminers: These insects bore just under the leaf surface causing irregular serpentine lines. The larvae are yellow cylindrical maggots and the adults are small black and yellow flies. They do not usually kill plants, but disfigure the foliage. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected foliage.
Webworms: These worms skeletonize leaves and draw them into a web. Burpee Recommends: Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for insecticide recommendations.
Why are my beets not forming a root? There are several possible reasons for this. Your row of beets may have not been thinned enough, or they have not had enough time to develop yet. If the soil is too compact, lacking in nutrients or too dry, roots also may not form well.
Why are my beets woody and flavorless? Beets are a cool season crop and will turn woody when they are harvested too late in the season.
Can I eat my beet thinnings? Yes, beet sprouts are edible and have an earthy flavor.
Why do my beets have such an earthy taste this year? Beets can have an earthier than usual taste in particularly wet weather. This can come from a naturally occurring compound in the soil called geosmin. It makes beets have an earthy flavor, and will not affect the quality of the beet.
Why do my beets have a hollow space in the center? This can occur when the weather has been very dry followed by wet conditions.