Nobody is neutral about beets. You either hate them or you love them. I’m the latter. Their rich, dark red roots are loaded up with nutrients and flavor. Some even say that beets have to do with longevity. They’re easy to keep and good eating all year. And you can grow them well in the cool temperatures of spring OR fall.
Beets don’t mind a bit of frost so they are one of the crops that goes into the ground early in the spring—as soon as the ground can be worked—and can also be planted in the late summer for a fall harvest. In some areas, like South Texas, beets can be grown all winter. The only time that beets do poorly is during the hot weather of summer. See the Almanac Planting Calendar for your location.
Any home gardener should try beets because they require very little room and they are ready to harvest 7 to 8 weeks after they are planted. Not only can you eat the red roots, but the beet leaves are excellent and can be used similar to spinach or similar greens.
Preparing the Bed
Beets like to have some good, organic matter to feed them so I always work aged manure compost in the spring as well as kelp meal, azomite powder and alfalfa meal into the soil before I plant them. In the fall, just add some more compost.
When ready to plant, loosen up the soil with a shovel or space to about 8 to 10 inches deep; beets have very deep roots. Make sure you break up the soil and that it’s free of rocks and hard dried pieces of dirt. They do not grow well in tight clay. In poorly drained areas, make ridges 4 to 6 inches tall to allow water to drain (Fig. 3).
I generally plant beets in rows about 6 to 7 inches apart and cover them with ¼ inch of soil or compost. Like carrots, this upper part of the bed needs to be kept moist until they emerge, as crusty soil causes beets to get tougher. However, beet seeds will germinate quicker and are more forgiving of dry crust than carrots are.
Don’t forget to thin to the right spacing to avoid crowding. A beet seed is actually not a seed at all, but a fruit. Each “seed” will produce many seedlings so it is essential to keep an eye on them early to thin out all but the strongest babies.
As they grow, their roots dig down deep into the soil so that they can go for a few days without water. When you do water them, water them well. Their bright green leaves and red stems are a joy to watch become larger and stronger.
It’s necessary to watch them in order to make sure that everybody has room to grow.
If you keep them properly thinned, by the fall you will have some beautiful, big beets to eat or put into your root cellar (see my post on proper preparation and storing tips for the root cellar).
The greens are delicious steamed (even when they are fairly small). I wash them, rip them into small pieces and steam them for several minutes tossing several times with tongs (until limp). Then, I put them into a bowl with butter and grated cheddar cheese and stir. While it takes a bit of effort, this is one of my all-time favorite things to eat.
My beet kvaas (see related blog) is something that I enjoy every day for health.