A Complete Guide to Growing Beets
Growing beets is quite easy and they make for a great meal, which are reasons you will see beets growing in backyard gardens across the country. Beets are one of the most versatile vegetables, because you can eat the top as well as the roots. The tops can be harvested early to be added to salads or you can boil them to be served with butter or vinegar. The beet itself can come in many sizes from small ones that are an inch in diameter to large ones that may be as large as four inches across.
Because beets like cool weather, you should start growing beets early in the spring, as soon as all danger of frost is past. They thrive when temperatures are in the 60 - 65 degree range. Because beets are a root crop, they like soil that is well-drained. The soil also has to be loose enough to give the beets room to grow and spread out. If there are many rocks just underneath the soil, it will stunt the growth of your beets.
If you test your garden soil, you will know whether or not you have a good pH for beets. They prefer a range of 6.2 to 6.8. Because they are such a versatile crop, your beets will still do well if you are in the range of 6.0 to 7.5. A good mix of soil, compost and dried manure is excellent for growing beets. If you use synthetic fertilizers, a ratio of 5-10-10 can be used at planting time and again at around the one month mark, when the seedlings are three to four inches high.
Beet seeds are quite small and should be planted approximately one-inch from one another. However, it is permissible to spread the seeds thickly and then thin to one plant every three inches when the seedlings have appeared. Rows can be around a foot apart. If you are growing beets which are an extra-large variety, you will want to space your plants accordingly, perhaps as much as five or six inches apart.
You can do succession planting with beets but because growing beets requires cool temperatures, you will want to hold off planting anytime summer temperatures get above the 70s. Depending on the variety of beets, the harvest can be anywhere from around sixty to ninety days.
When caring for beets, it is critical that you keep out weeds which can slow or even stunt beet development. Be careful if rototilling in-between rows, not to get close enough as to disturb the roots of the beets. In fact, if you use mechanical cultivation instead of hand cultivation, you should make your rows even farther apart--in the 18- to 24-inch range.
Beets need a steady supply of water and nutrients throughout the growing season. That means that if there is a drought or several weeks of inadequate rain, you probably are going to have to water your beets by hand. Once your plants are around four inches high, you can mulch the ground underneath the plants. Straw works really well for this type of mulching and keeps in moisture.
If you have never grown beets before, you should check with your local county agricultural extension agent to see what insects and diseases might try to attack your plants, and what they recommend for treatment options. Cercospora leaf spot can be a problem in some locations. As far as pests go, aphids, leaf miners and flea beetles can all be found eating holes in leafy beet tops.
Harvesting beets is the most fun of all because you get a chance to see how big your beets grew. Most beets are mature when they are one to two inches in diameter, but there are larger beets, which require a longer growing season. Some of these are bred not to get tough as they grow larger and larger so you can have one beet that could be big enough to serve one person.
There are lots of dishes you can cook that are made with beets. So whether you are looking forward to pickled beets, red flannel hash, or other creations, enjoy the harvest!