Monday, April 23, 2007

How To Grow Beets from Seed & Why You Should

Last spring I experimented and sowed baby beet seeds between rows of onions.

February 2012 Update: You'll find more about growing beets in this new post, Garden Journal 2/25/12: Sorting Through My Seed Stash, Beet Growing Tips, and Planting by the Moon.

I have no idea why I first started growing beets, since I had never eaten one in my life. The only time I had come face to face with any was during childhood, when scary looking, reddish-purple discs would sometimes appear on restaurant salads.

Fortunately my mother was quick to reach over and stab the offending things with her fork, always murmuring "I love beets!" as she popped them into her mouth.


Even if you don't like beets (those scary canned specimens don't count), you should still sow a few rows of beet seeds in your garden this year. Why? Well, just look at this photo of Bull's Blood beet 'greens' overwintered last year in my barely heated Zone 5 homemade greenhouse. Has there been anything so beautiful gracing your salad plate lately? I didn't think so.

Beets are not only very easy to grow but are also extremely good for you. Beets from the garden are like nothing you will find in the supermarket produce aisle. And while I have been known to devour an embarrassingly large plate of Caramelized Beets & Garlic (the only way I ever cook beets), I mainly grow beets for their greens.

Bull's Blood is one of my favorite varieties to grow. Its roots are sweet and tasty, especially when small, and they have lovely pink rings inside. But I recently learned that this popular heirloom is actually grown primarily for its baby leaves, which are ready in as little as 35 days and are, according to my Baker's Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, "all the rage in salads."

The folks at High Mowing Organic Seeds claim that they're organic gardening pioneer "Eliot Coleman's choice for a red leaf in winter harvest salad mixes." I had no idea I was so chic.

Beets come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and even colors. Along with my beloved Bull's Blood, this year I'm growing several different other types, including three new-to-me heirlooms: Golden, Chioggia, and Flat of Egypt. Not quite ready to grow your own beets? (Why on earth not?) You can often find interesting varieties of beets at farmers' markets.

Direct seeding in the garden is the easiest way to grow beets. They can be grown in most types of soil but prefer that it be deep, well-drained, and includes plenty of organic material, such as compost or aged manure. Too much nitrogen will cause beets to produce lots of greens but little roots.

Soak beet seeds in water for 24 hours before planting to aid germination. Beets prefer cool weather. For an early summer crop, sow seeds in a sunny spot, 3 to 4 weeks before your last frost.
Plant seeds 1/2-inch deep, 2 inches apart if growing for greens, 3 to 4 inches apart if growing for the roots (but you can still harvest the greens, too).

Sow seeds again in late summer for a fall crop. In frost free areas, you can do a third planting in September for a February harvest.

If you prefer a smaller, continuous harvest instead of one big one (and if you're more organized than I am), sow some of your seeds every two weeks instead of all at once.

If you're minding the moon signs, sow beet seeds in the third quarter, under the signs of Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces, Libra, and Capricorn. I plant by the moon as best I can because I need all the help I can get. Astrological Gardening The Ancient Wisdom of Successful Planting & Harvesting by the Stars by Louise Riotte is a great book on the subject.

Good companions for beets: bush beans, the cabbage family, corn, leeks, lettuce, lima beans, onions, and radishes.

Bad companions: mustard and pole beans. Want to learn more about using the natural benefits of plants to protect and support each other? Louise Riotte's Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening is a classic guide with over 500,000 copies in print.

Cluster of beet greens, all sprouted from one seed - FarmgirlFare.com

Each beet 'seed' is actually a dried fruit made up of 2 to 6 individual seeds, so seedlings will sprout very close together. Everything in this photo came from one seed cluster.

If you plan to harvest the beet roots as well as the greens, thin the seedlings when they're about 2" high, choosing the best looking one in each cluster. Use scissors to snip the seedlings at soil level so as not to disturb the remaining plant. Be sure to toss the tender young leaves into salads.

Thinning beet greens in the kitchen garden with baby Cary
Thinning beets with Baby Cary back in 2006.

When growing beets for greens, you can thin the plants over time as they grow larger, as pictured above, giving you a bigger harvest.

The weedy raised beet bed supplies goodies for the chickens, me, and the compost bin.

Beets require even moisture, so don't let the soil dry out. Mulch will help keep the soil moist and the beets cool, as well as discourage weeds; I like to use grass clippings. I also sprinkle compost over the newly planted seeds and around the sprouted plants. You can sow your beets next to taller companion plants that will shade the soil, but be sure you don't end up blocking out all the sun (been there, done that).

Harvest beet roots when they're 1½ inches to 3 inches in diameter for optimum flavor, tenderness, and texture. According to The Vegetable Gardener's Bible
(my favorite gardening book for the past 12 years that still teaches me something new every time I open it), to minimize 'bleeding' when removing the greens, which can reduce moisture content in the root, avoid cutting them off. Instead, hold the root in one hand and twist the tops off with the other hand. (I read this tip after cutting the greens off the beets in the photo below.)


A tiny but tasty beet harvest.

One of the best things about homegrown beets is that even if you abuse them, they will still taste delicious. The hardy plants will put up with frosty mornings as well as hot and humid summer days. The beets you see here were planted late and thinned too late. They were also left in the ground until July 31st, so some of them ended up much too big—and looking a little strange.

I then stuffed my poor harvest in a plastic bag and stashed it in the refrigerator for two months because I wanted to save it for my mother's upcoming visit. I was sure the beets would be tough and woody (not to mention half rotten), but I should have known better—beets from the garden do not hold a grudge. They were wonderful.

More posts about some of my favorite things to grow:
Favorite Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow—Mine and Yours
Growing Onions in the Garden
Growing Short Day Onion Varieties from Purchased Plants
Harvesting Spring Onions Grown from Purchased Plants
Endive and Escarole in the Kitchen and Garden
Growing Lemon Cucumbers from Seed
Growing Miniature White Cucumbers from Seed
My Favorite Heirloom Carrots (so far) to Grow from Seed: Parisienne

How to Grow Swiss Chard from Seed
How To Grow Nero di Toscana Cabbage (also called Dinosaur Kale, Lacinato Kale, Tuscan Kale, Cavalo Nero) and What to do with It
How To Grow Your Own Gourmet Lettuce from Seed (It's easy!)
How To Grow Arugula from Seed in Less than a Month
Tips for Growing & Using Rosemary Year Round

Recommended Reading: The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Ed Smith. This has been my favorite gardening book since it was published in 2000, and I highly recommend it for kitchen gardeners of all levels.

© FarmgirlFare.com, the sprouting foodie farm blog where you know the beet goes on.

41 comments:

  1. we love beets around here. we lost half our crop to the recent freeze but still have plenty 5 rows 35 feet long--all i could cover. the thinning will begin very soon. we carefully pull our thinned plants. the little tiny roots are tasty in salads too.

    k-)

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  2. You forgot to link to the recipe!

    I love beets and I'm doing a large planting this year. I'll be sowing them this weekend!

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  3. My hubby didn't like beets til I grew the Chioggia one year, now that is all he wants. I love all beets, all ways, would love to see your recipe,
    Bobbi

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  4. Caramelized Beets & Garlic - COULDN'T FIND THE RECIPE.

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  5. How much space in your garden did you dedicate to the beets? I have a little room left here and there around the cukes and toms, but don't want to set myself up for disappointment.

    I love beets SO long time, but Bubba loathes them.

    "They taste like dirt", he says.

    "YOU taste like dirt!", I say.

    It's all very mature in our house. Either way, I want to make carmelized beets the Farmgirl way from my own crop. He'll just have to eat all those friggen snap peas he loves so much.

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  6. My first attempt at beets is underway. I figure a crop you can eat the tops of for salad, and the bottoms in a roasty style? Giddy up.

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  7. I was surprised at how yummy the Bull's Blood beet greens were. I'd eat a salad of them all by themselves!

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  8. I love beets. I started mine about a month or so ago directly in the garden. They're only just sprouting now, so I might wind up harvesting only the greens, if that. Will have to try that recipe though. Thanks for the tips.

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  9. Very informative. I have always loved fresh beets from the garden. They really are very versatile. Now I need to find that carmalized beet recipe.

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  10. interesting to read about your garden. I'm just getting started on mine.

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  11. We grew beets growing up. But then again we grew everything we ate, almost. Love them, thanks for the reminder of how great beets are.

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  12. But i *do* like beets, and i *did* try to grow them from seed! It just didn't work out. I've spotted only 4 plants from a long sowed line. I'll try your trick of soaking the seeds first, next time.

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  13. Mmm, I love that they taste like dirt! I had a huge harvest of beets this year, and after getting sick of eating them in salads and just plain roasted, I experimented with beet cake: http://eatingthegarden.wordpress.com/2007/05/08/next-stop-beet-ice-cream/

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  14. elarael@hotmail.comMay 11, 2007 5:09 AM

    It was eating a freshly picked beet that gave me the massive epiphany about why fresh is better and led me to intern on an organic farm and an entirely new lifestyle. Yep, it was radical, the freshness of that beet.

    My favorites now are golden beets with fennel and red Lutz beets; both for the beet itself, which has a gentler mild beet flavor that I prefer raw, and because it's greens are more tender than other beet greens, which is again, better for raw salads.

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  15. how wonderful to find your blog. you are living the life we can only dream about. meanwhile, i tend to my backyard vegetable garden:

    http://frugalme.blogspot.com/2006/10/growing-our-own-food.html

    but we moved to another place--with a rose garden and a strawberry patch. i will have to find a creative way to compost around them. i will also start some vegetables in pots. so far, i have tomatoes and beans.

    i found out that the beautiful-looking fruit and vegies are not tasty. the imperfect ones, specially my organic strawberries are sweeter and jucier.

    more power to your farm!

    minotte

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  16. I have been growing beetroot for the past couple of year and we love to boil it up still with the skin on, then peel the skin off, slice it and bottle the beet in vinegar. Homemade pickled beetroot goes down a treat in our household, so my crop of beetroot this year will be even bigger!
    Sara from farmingfriends in the UK

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  17. I love beets and I love growing from seed. I'm just far too unfortunate that my garden is so small :(

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  18. So glad to find your blog (thanks to www.farmingfriends.com)

    Caramelized Beets With Garlic
    is the next recipe on my list, sounds good!
    Thanks
    www.topveg.com

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  19. How lovely to find some other beet lovers - actually we call them beetroot in the UK. I love the sound of your garlic recepie. The way I sometimes enjoy them is to cook them and grate them with a spoonful of horseradish sauce. Those two flavours were born for each other. This way is also popular in Poland and Eastern Europe.

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  20. When you are all beeted up and ready to eat - pop over to our site where we have tried a number of delicious beetroot recipes out.
    http://www.greatbigvegchallenge.blogspot.com

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  21. Good to know your beets recipe. I've never grown one before but the sound of your post makes me wanna try.

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  22. Not sure how I ended up at your blog, but enjoyed the browse! I have a combination Kitchen/Cottage garden where I grow flowers and organic veggies. I love cooked beet tops! Also have a favorite salad recipe with cooked, sliced beets marinated in a little balsamic vinegar,olive oil and garlic over baby greens and arugula, a little feta or goat cheese, red onion slices and some roasted slivered almonds or pine nuts. YUM!

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  23. Beautiful blog. I'm glad I happened to come across it. I love to grow things, but I grow mostly flowers. I have always dreamed of having a veggie garden. Maybe when we get moved we can plant one.

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  24. We are growing beets this year and we just love them! We have never grown them by seed though?

    Great Blog!

    Renee

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  25. Excellent post....i love beets and have sown loads for this year.

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  26. Beets are the boom! Okay, I'm really not that cheesy but had to express how much I'm enjoying the beets that have been harvested from the urban farm on which I volunteer. Try roasting beets for an unexpectedly sweet treat! I have a recipe at http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com/2007/06/20/roasted-vegetable-medley/.

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  27. Can someone tell me if a deer has eaten off the tops of my beets, will the roots continue to grow? They currently average a 1" diameter.

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  28. Thanks for all the comments everybody. It's great to hear from so many beet lovers!

    Anonymous,
    Unless you really need the garden space, I would go ahead and leave your beets in the ground. It's amazing what will grow back after being munched on by deer.

    Your plants should still be alive as long as the deer didn't pull them up and really disturb the roots. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that the greens will start sprouting back right away and the bulbs will continue to grow. Do keep us posted!

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  29. I have just observed some beet leaves growing out of my compost heap. Do you know if the beetroot will grow or if there is something I could do to make it grow back fully. Just out of curiosity. Thanks.

    kusiki

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  30. I ran across a couple of recipes using beets.

    http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Honey-Beet-Bread

    And:

    Christmas Red Bread

    3 eggs

    1 cup oil

    2 1/4 cups sugar

    3 teaspoons vanilla

    3 cups flour

    3 teaspoons cinnamon

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 teaspoon soda

    1 cup nuts

    2 cups cooked or canned beets, drained, mashed

    Red food coloring



    Mix oil and sugar and add eggs one at a time. Add the other ingredients. Use food color if needed. Place in two 9x5 loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes.

    I always say I'm going to do something with mine besides eat with a little butter - and make beet jelly! I may have to try these this year.

    JeannaMO

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  31. Hi! I grew my first beets when I was about 12 years old- learned a great deal about spacing, watering etc.

    I am actually sending some beets to Tanzania, in fact any seeds I can get my hands on- squash, etc. I have a friend there named Kate, she volunteers in the peace corps and is stationed there for 2.3 years. Kate is asking for seeds to plant in a garden for the orphans in her village, so they can sell them as a means for financial support and for nutritional benefit as she has found that her orphans only eat protein once a week and leafy greens MAYBE once a day. kateinthewild.blogspot.com is her amazing blog if you want to enquire.

    If there is anyone on here that have seeds that you can send to Kate that would be amazing. Just a little envelope with seeds will make a huge difference to these children.

    If there is anyone who is interested in helping Kate you can mail it to this address for her:

    Kate Glantz (Peace Corp Volunteer)
    PO 749
    Njombe
    Tanzania

    Remeber to write peace corp volunteer that part is very important for customs. And just write household goods on it.

    Thank you thank you so much. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or would like to send seeds to me to send to her instead.

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  32. I have just read your article on your friend Kate, I would love to send seeds for her orphan children. What would you suggest? We do have many different Vegetables that we could send. We have grandchildren (ages, 2,3,5,6) that do not eat what they should, so we had a garden again this year, and they do have the right food available to them. Unlike Kates children that do not. Just let me know what to send. We have Bean, Tomatoes, Broccoli, Corn, all most all.
    Garden Nana

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  33. Hi Garden Nana,
    I think it's great that you want to send some seeds to Kate and her orphans. I don't actually know Kate - her friend Janet English left that comment above. I can't find an email address for Janet, but you can click here to visit her blog and leave her a comment letting her know you're interested in sending seeds to Kate. : )

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  34. I am loving reading about your gardening adventures! You make me want to start my own kitchen garden. By the way, in Lebanon, we love beets and eat them with a tahineh sauce (with garlic and lemon juice) and in other ways as well

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  35. I love beets and hate paying $1.00+ per beet in the grocery store. A few months ago I decided to try growing some beets from seeds here in south florida. I'm growing them in plastic one-gallon milk bottles because of the possibility of residual pesticide in the soil in my yard. the greens have exploded beautifully in the last 2 weeks. I'm not sure when the roots will be ready or if they will form properly. A few of them seem to be climbing out of the soil and look carrot-shaped rather than round. Please advise. (btw-I emailed this to you also)

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  36. I am thinking of growing beets for the first time this year. I am an avid gardener and look forward to bookmarking your site!

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  37. The raised beet bed supplies goodies for the chickens, me, and the compost bin.

    When you say this, who got what?

    Silly Q but my compost is horrible, my chickens won't eat anything that "I" offer them, and I am growing beets for the first time this year. LOL I can use all the help I can get! : )

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  38. Hi Jazkabor,
    In the second photo from the bottom, the bounty was dispersed like this: the beet greens on the left went to the chickens, the colander of beets went to us, and all those weeds went into the compost bin - though on leaner 'scrap' days, the chickens would have been given some of them, too.

    I hope this helps. Best of luck with your beets! :)

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  39. Anyone know if you can grow beetroot by chopping off the top and putting it back in the soil???!

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  40. I have some beets in my yard that have stayed in ftbe ground for 6 months, can the roots or leaves be used?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Richard,
      If the leaves look okay, they're probably fine to eat. If the plants formed roots a while ago, they might be woody and inedible by now. You can just dig one up and cut into it and see.

      Delete

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