How to Grow the Best Organic Beets from Pre-Planting to Harvest
Have you grown beets before? Maybe they haven’t been on your radar, or you think they’re difficult or complicated to grow organically.
I’m going to give you lots of help with that, from before you actually put them in the ground until you harvest them, so you’ll feel confident tackling beets this year. I’ll even give you a few tips on storing and using those beautiful purple orbs once they’re harvested!
All About Beets
Beets are a root vegetable closely related to Swiss chard and spinach (who knew?) Both the root and the leaves can be eaten, so growing some for beets and some for greens is a good idea, if you happen to like beet greens.
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I would definitely suggest soaking your beet seeds for 24 hours before planting. They’re hard little buggers, and most seeds like them have higher germination rates when soaked first.
Beets can grow VERY deep roots (up to 3 feet!), so making sure your garden soil is nice and loose and relatively rock-free is a great idea. Another option is to grow beets in a hill or raised bed so they have the depth they need to stretch out and do their thing.
Beets are similar to many other vegetables in that they prefer soil pH of between 6.5 and 7.5. For gardeners in the eastern US, that shouldn’t be a problem as our soils are naturally acidic. Out west, you should definitely test your pH and add soil acidifiers if necessary.
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A note that you should ALWAYS test your soil before attempting to alter its pH. You can find pH testers at most garden centers or here. If you do discover you need to acidify your soil, this one is an organic option.
Beets, like peas, can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring (or about 4 weeks before your last frost date). I’m hoping to get both my beets and peas in either the end of this week or the beginning of next, weather permitting. Because they produce best at temps in the 60’s, you want to get them in as early as possible.
As with most veggies, beets like full sun. You can plant them about 1/2″ deep and only 2 to 4 inches apart.
Keep in mind that, as I mentioned above, beets are in the same family as spinach and Swiss chard, so if you’re practicing crop rotation (and you should be!!), you don’t want to plant beets where either of the other two were grown the year before.
Beets have one weird quirk you should know about
Once your plants have come up and produced a rosette of leaves, if you have really cold days (less than 50F) for 2 weeks or more, the beets will bolt (produce a flower stalk). Whereas lettuce and spinach bolt when temps get too HOT, beets do the opposite (weird, huh?)
You need to prevent this from happening if you actually want to end up with beets! The easiest way to deal with this is to add a row cover to warm your plants if temps are going to get and stay cold.
Thinning….and Thinning again
I know, thinning your plants is painful, but in the case of beets, it’s essential.
The kind of weird thing about beets is that the “seed” is actually a packet of up to 8 individual seeds, so when they start to grow, you can get up to 8 little plants all in one tiny space. If you’re just growing for greens, don’t bother to thin the plants, they’ll grow fine.
However, if you want actual beets, thinning is absolutely required. Once they come up and are large enough to differentiate and handle, just cut all but the strongest one off at ground level.
Some say you can pull the other plants and transplant them, but beets have VERY delicate roots and you can damage them if you do that. You’re better off cutting them and eating the tiny tender greens in your salads.
You’re actually going to thin your beets twice. You’ll thin them right when they come up as discussed above, but when the beets themselves are about an inch in diameter, you want to pull every other plant out of the ground.
At this point, the roots and leaves will be edible, so you won’t waste the ones you thin out. This will, however, allow the remaining plants to produce nice, large beets.
Water, Mulch and Feeding
Be sure your beets are receiving at least 1″ of water per week, whether that’s via Mother Nature or your watering can (or drip irrigation!). A lack of water will turn the beets tough and bitter.
Mulch is, of course, important to retain all that water you’re giving them, so mulch just as you would your other crops.
Beets do NOT benefit from excessive nitrogen, unless you’re growing them for greens only. Excess nitrogen will give you lovely greens, but no beets!
What they DO like is lots of phosphorus, potassium and boron. It’s easier to take care of that than you might think. A nice application of compost tea or liquid seaweed every two weeks will give your beets the nutrients they need. You see, you want the roots to grow rapidly so they stay tender, and this accomplishes that.
Beets are relatively pest-free, which is nice since so many other veggies aren’t!
Leaf miners may bother your beets, but they really just cause a bit of damage to the leaves. You’ll see little “trails” winding their way through the leaves if you have miners.
The best way to deal with miners is to cut off the affected leaves and dispose of them. See? Nice and easy.
Flea beetles may also bother your beets on occasion. The easiest remedy for this is to plant a crop of radishes close to your beets. They’re considered a trap crop for flea beetles, meaning the pests will congregate on the radishes and you can destroy the little buggers easily. You can also plant catnip or mint close to your beets as these repel flea beetles.
If you practice companion planting (and if you don’t, why not?), beets like to grow with bush beans, cabbage family plants, lettuce, lima beans, onions and radishes. Again, radishes may help with any flea beetle problems you have, so why not?
You should not plant beets with pole beans or mustard family plants as they can inhibit each other.
If you need more help with companion planting (and crop rotation), you can find a simple guide in my Printable Garden Journal as well.
Beets are best when the roots are approximately 1 1/2 to 3″ in diameter.
When you do harvest, don’t cut the tops off the beets. This causes them to bleed that famous dark red, impossible-to-get-rid-of dye on everything they touch! Instead, hold the beet in one hand and greens in the other and twist the greens off.
Leaving 1″ of greens attached also helps prevent bleeding.
Believe it or not, you can also buy white beets! They’re still organic, open-pollinated and non-GMO. If you’re interested, you can find the picture below. Clicking on the picture will bring you to the page where they can be ordered.
Note: You might want to consider NOT harvesting some of your beets. If you leave them in the ground through the winter and they survive (they may or may not, but it might be worth a shot), they’ll send up flower stalks in the spring (bolt), and the leaves on this stalk are supposed to be quite tasty.
If you’ll be eating your beets fairly soon after harvest, you can just place them in a plastic produce bag and store them in the fridge. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you might know that I’m a serious fan of the Debbie Meyer’s Green Bags. They last FOREVER (mine are close to 10 years old!), eliminating a lot of plastic bag usage in my house. Seriously, these things are awesome! Check them out!
If you want to store your beets long-term, they’ll keep for about 6 months. You should store them in a box in layers of either sand, peat or sawdust in a cool place.
Yummy Beet Recipes
It’s funny. It seems like pickled beets are a love ’em or hate ’em kind of thing. I like them and I’ve been surprised at the strong negative reactions some people have to them. I firmly believe that it totally depends on the recipe, though, as I’ve had pickled beets I really didn’t like, and others that I just loved. To that end, I’m including links to several pickled beet recipes so you have a choice. Hey, maybe you’ll even want to try them all and see which is your favorite!
- This one from Allrecipes.com looks pretty good, and probably isn’t too spicy since it only uses cloves (although it uses quite a bit of cloves, so don’t hold me to this, I haven’t personally tried it!)
- This recipe from myrecipes.com is quite different, using bay leaves and peppercorns.
- And yet another take on pickled beets from simplyrecipes.com.
- One last recipe. This is closest to the beets I made last summer (the recipe for which I appear to have lost!). Hubby LOVED them, I was kind of meh about them. I think the allspice was a bit too much for me. But just in case you’re more like hubby, here you go.
Other ways to prepare beets
- Roasted beets
- Taste of Home beet recipe collection (20 recipes)
- Not to be outdone by Taste of Home and their 20 recipes, Bon Appetit has a full 45 recipes here! Have fun!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my foray into all things beets! As I mentioned, you can pick up your FREE printable cheat sheet of everything here (minus the recipes) by signing up for my email list. I promise never to spam you, but you WILL get lots of freebies in my Resource Library, so why not sign up?
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