Beginner’s guide on how to grow beets in a vegetable garden

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If you’re a fan of vibrant colors and earthy flavors on your dinner plate, there’s no vegetable quite like the beetroot. This plant comes in a lot of different types of beets. You can grow crimson, golden, or even candy-striped beets that are visually stunning and versatile when cooking dinner. You can use beetroots in salads, soups, and everything in between, and even make your own sugar out of them!

2 Golden beetroots in the soil with mulch around them
Two golden beetroots

This year, we planted beetroots for the first time in our small kitchen garden. We’ve grown yellow beetroots and red beets, which were delicious! We almost had no work on the beets, except for watering them every evening. We planted them after the last frost date up until the beginning of September. This meant we could harvest our homegrown beets 3 times this season.

The beetroots we planted at the beginning of September were the smallest we harvested and not every seed grew into a beet but it was amazing to see that, even in the last couple of days of summer, we could still grow vegetables in our garden!

Never had beetroot? Beets are full of nutrients, they contain folate, manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C, and can be eaten as a whole. You can even use the green tops, or as some call it the beet greens, which are delicious in a salad. This fresh, sweet, easy-to-grow and highly nutritious vegetable is an excellent choice for first-time gardeners in their kitchen garden.

In this blog post, I will guide you through the process of growing beetroots in your vegetable garden, so you can enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting your homegrown and healthy produce and gain a bit of independence along the way!

GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT GROWING BEETROOTS

CLIMATE AND SEASON

Beetroots are warm-season crops and will thrive in warm weather. They prefer temperatures between 50 °F (10 °C) and 75 °F (24 °C). This makes them suitable for planting from late March until late summer, and even late fall if we have a warm September and October. It’s best to start planting beetroots about 2 – 3 weeks before the last frost date in spring or about 8 – 10 weeks before the first frost in the fall or winter.

​WHICH SOIL TYPE IS BEST TO GROW BEETROOTS IN?

Beetroots, like all root vegetables, thrive in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. The ideal soil for growing beetroots is:

  • Loamy soil is sandy soil and is often considered the best soil for beetroots. It’s a balanced combination of sand, silt, and clay, which provides good drainage while retaining moisture and nutrients.
  • Slightly acidic to neutral with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. You can adjust the pH if necessary by adding lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it.
  • Not waterlogged, beetroots don’t like sitting in waterlogged soil, so ensure your soil drains well. Amending a bit of heavy clay soil with organic matter like compost can improve drainage.
  • Rich in organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, helps improve soil fertility and moisture retention. It also provides essential nutrients for healthy beetroot growth.
  • Loose textured, friable soil allows beetroot roots to penetrate the soil easily, preventing stunted or misshapen roots. It’s important to break up any clumps and stones in the soil.
  • Nutrient-rich, beetroots require adequate levels of essential nutrients, especially potassium and phosphorus. Ensure your soil is rich in these nutrients or amend it with fertilizers that have a balanced NPK ratio, with more emphasis on phosphorus and potassium.
  • Beetroots can become misshapen when they encounter obstacles like rocks or debris in the soil. Prepare your planting area by removing any obstructions that could hinder root growth.

Before planting, it’s a good practice to perform a soil test to understand your soil’s specific characteristics and nutrient levels. This will help you adjust your soil and amend it as needed to create the best conditions for growing healthy and flavorful beetroots.

PLANTING DEPTH, SPACING, AND LOCATION IN THE GARDEN

Beets are a plant variety that is often called “root crops”. The beets grow mostly underground and the beet is the taproot of the plant. You can eat the beets when they are still young plants, as a micro vegetable or baby beet, or as a mature plant. As said before, you can eat every bit of the beetplant. This makes the beetroot an excellent plant to grow in your vegetable garden!

Beetroot is a biennial plant which means that it will grow and bloom in two years after which it dies. The taproot, or the beet, is formed in the first year, and in the second year, the plant will bloom and mature its seeds. If you want to harvest your own seeds to grow beets next year you can keep a few beets in the ground until they bloom and mature seeds.

  • Planting depth: 0.5 inch (1.3 cm)
  • Plant spacing: 1 – 2 inch (2.5 – 5 cm)
  • Row spacing: 12 – 18 inches (30 – 45 cm)
  • Place in the garden: plant the beetroots in full sun or partial shade. Be sure to provide at least 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

You can sow beetroot seeds directly into the soil. Once the seedlings emerge, thin them to maintain a spacing of 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm) between plants. The thinned seedlings can be eaten raw and used for salads or as microgreens.

Raised bed with several beetroot plants spaced about 4 inches apart from each other
We planted the seeds about 4 inches apart from each other, you can see the foliage is quite big so the plants need this room to grow

CHOOSING THE RIGHT VARIETY

Beetroots come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Choose a variety that suits your taste and gardening preferences or just grow a few varieties!

COMMON VARIETIES OF BEETS

Detroit Dark Red

  • Has a rich, earthy, sweet flavor, the beets are dark red and round, that’s why this variety is also called just red beets.
  • Idealy to eat fresh, canned, frozen, or pickled.

Chioggia

  • Has a mild-sweet taste, the fruit flesh has alternating red and white strings inside.
  • This variety needs less cooking time than other beetroots or can be eaten raw.
  • The origin of this beet is the city Chioggia in Italy, also called ‘Little Venice”.

Golden Beets

  • A sweet beetroot with yellow flesh (also often called yellow beets).
  • This variety is as much a beetroot as the red ones, but it lacks the deep, bloody red juice.
Golden beets right with soil and roots still attached on some wooden planks
Golden Beets right after harvesting them

Sugar Beet

  • Larger roots than other beetroots.
  • Not a common garden beet.
  • It’s in the name, you can make sugar from this beet!

SELECTING THE BEST LOCATION IN YOUR VEGETABLE GARDEN

Beetroots thrive in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Choose a sunny position in your vegetable garden that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day.

To improve its fertility and drainage, prepare the soil by removing any weeds, rocks, or debris and amend it with compost or well-rotted manure.

PLANTING BEETROOTS

Sow beet seeds directly into the soil in the early spring once the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up. Create furrows about half an inch deep in the soil and space the seeds around 2 inches apart. Cover the seeds with soil, lightly patting it down, and water gently.

You can also start your beetroot seeds indoors and transplant the young seedlings later if desired. If you don’t have a sunny spot in your home you can use some grow lights and even grow the beets in a container garden.

Beetroot seeds in a hand with a golden ring
Beetroot seeds

WATERING AND MULCHING

Consistent moisture is crucial for the successful growth of beetroots. Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged throughout the growing season.

Water deeply once or twice a week, depending on your local weather conditions. When we are in a dry spell we water the beetroots every day. Applying a layer of organic mulch around the plants will help to retain moisture, regulate the soil temperature, and suppress weed growth (a bit).

THINNING AND PROPER SPACING

Once the beetroot seedlings have emerged above the soil and developed their first true leaves, you can thin them to maintain proper spacing. Allow each plant to have at least 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm) of space in between to encourage healthy root development.

Don’t forget! You can use the thinned seedlings for salads or as microgreens.

Young beet plants with small foliage
Young beetroot plants

WHICH FERTILIZER FOR YOUR BEETROOTS

Beet plants are heavy feeders and benefit from regular fertilization. Incorporate a balanced organic fertilizer into the soil before planting the beetroot seeds. Because beets are a root vegetable the fertilizer should be higher on the phosphate and potassium side to promote more root growth. Additionally, side-dress the plants with compost.

PEST AND DISEASE MANAGEMENT

Beetroots are generally resistant to pests and diseases. However, some common issues to watch out for include leaf miners, aphids, and fungal diseases.

Make sure to give the plants enough space, use a row cover for beet seedlings, and inspect your plants regularly. Take appropriate action if any problems arise. I found a very detailed blog post about all sorts of pests that can occur on your beetroot plants, check it out here!

​Leaf miners

Leaf miners are small insects that can cause damage to the leaves of beets (and many other plants) by creating serpentine tunnels or mines within the leaves. While they are not typically lethal to the plant, severe infestations can reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and, consequently, lower yields of produce. You should take preventive measures and immediate action at the first sign of leaf miners on your plants.

Prevention:

  • Rotate your beet crop to a different location in the garden each year. This disrupts the life cycle of leaf miners and reduces the chances of infestation.
  • Plant trap crops like radishes or Swiss chard nearby. These crops attract leaf miners and can serve as sacrificial plants, diverting the insects away from your beet crop.
  • Use floating row covers made of lightweight fabric to physically block adult leaf miners from laying eggs on your beet plants. Be sure to secure the covers tightly to prevent the insects from accessing the plants.
  • ​Plant your beets early in the season or late in the summer to avoid peak leaf miner activity, which often occurs during the warmer months.

Treatment:

  • At the first sign of leaf miner damage, prune and remove infested leaves. Dispose of them in sealed plastic bags to prevent the larvae from pupating in the soil.
  • Neem oil is a natural insecticide that can deter and kill leaf miners. Take note that neem oil has the potential to cause plant burns. Avoid applying neem oil to your plants during hot weather. Instead, wait until the sun has set, and then use diluted neem oil on the plant.
  • Encourage beneficial insects like ladybugs into your garden by planting a variety of flowers or herbs. Ladybugs feed on leaf miner larvae.

Aphids

Dill in a raised bed surrounded with mulch and beetroot plants
Dill is known for attracting beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, which feed on common beetroot pests like aphids

Aphids can be a common pest in gardens and can damage beetroot plants by feeding on their sap. This in turn will cause distorted leaves and stunted growth. Here are some methods to prevent and manage aphids on your beetroot plants:

  • Start by regularly inspecting your beetroot plants for any signs of aphid infestations. Early detection is key to effective control.
  • Plant aphid-repelling herbs and flowers near your beetroot, such as basil, marigolds, and nasturtiums. These plants can deter aphids from settling on your beet plants.
  • If you notice a small aphid population, you can simply squish them by hand or use a strong stream of water from a hose to knock them off the leaves.
  • Prune and discard heavily infested leaves or stems to prevent the spread of aphids to healthier parts of the plant.
  • Encourage natural predators like ladybugs which feed on aphids. You can attract these beneficial insects to your garden by providing diverse habitats and avoiding the use of broad-spectrum pesticides.
  • Neem oil is a natural insecticide that can be used to control aphids. As said before, neem oil has the potential to cause plant burns. Avoid applying neem oil to your plants during hot weather. Instead, wait until the sun has set, and then use diluted neem oil on the plant.
  • Reflective mulch, such as aluminum foil or reflective plastic, can confuse aphids and deter them from settling on your beetroot plants.

Aphid management may require a combination of all these methods. Monitor your beet plants regularly and take action as soon as you notice an aphid problem to prevent significant damage.

A ladybug on a leaf
A ladybug serves as a natural predator, preying on a wide variety of pests that can affect beetroot plants.

Furthermore, implementing good garden hygiene practices, such as cleaning up old leaves and plants, making use of crop rotation, and providing proper air circulation can help prevent these issues. I found a very detailed blog post about all sorts of pests that can occur on your beetroot plants, check it out here!

HARVESTING YOUR HOMEGROWN BEETROOTS

Beetroots are ready for harvest when they reach the desired size, usually around 1.5 to 3 inches (4 – 7 cm) in diameter, depending on the variety. You can harvest the beets by gently loosening the soil around the roots and carefully lifting them out. Be cautious not to damage the tops. Trim off the tops, leaving about an inch (2.5 cm) of stem attached, and store the beetroots in a cool, dark place, or use them immediately in your favorite beetroot dish!

​It’s best not to let the beets grow too big. The flavor of your homegrown beetroots is the sweetest when the plants are still on the smaller side. When the beets are harvested too late they will turn woody.

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