How To Grow Beetroot Deals With  How to Sow, Grow and Harvest Beetroot.  Plus Some Great Beetroot Recipes For Vegetarians & Meat Eaters.

Beetroot are one of the easier vegetables to grow and quickly produce delicious, nutritious, versatile vegetables in most soil. They can be sown in spring and thought the summer to produce crops within weeks. They are also a good storage vegetable and can be kept for many months in storage. Indeed, in mild areas they can be left in the ground and survive well in the garden for late winter and spring harvest. (Remember I garden in East Devon).

Often considered to be best when cropped at about golf ball size I personally prefer bigger roots as they get sweeter with time.

I first learnt How To Grow Beetroot from my father when I was 7-8 years old and I’ve been growing them in the ground and in containers ever since. I love them because they are a flexible crop, easy to pop in between other plantings throughout the spring and summer.

Beetroot are not overly frost sensitive and last far into the autumn Here in the south, I’ve harvested them through most of the winter. People tell me they tend to go woody if left too long. But that’s never been a problem if they are grown correctly. In this article I’ll explain how to grow beetroot in almost any soil.

How to Grow Beetroot

How to Sow Beetroot

Beet come in many shapes, sizes and colours but all varieties can be direct sown in the soil or started in modules. I like module growing myself as it is easy to control and manage seedlings and young plants in modules and they can be successfully started earlier in the year, hence extending the season.

Module Sown Beetroot

Growing beetroot in modules
Growing beetroot in modules

In modules I  normally sow 2-4 seeds per module depending on the time of year and whether I’ll want to thin the crop and take a harvest before the bulk of the crop is ready. Hence earlier in the year I sow thicker and take an early “thinnings” harvest. Later in the year this isnt a priority for me.

Beetroot grown in modules are happy to grow in a clump and will push one another aside to create space for all to grow.

Direct Sowing Beetroot

Adding a bucketful of compost or manure per square yard to the soil a few months before sowing will aid growth. This is easier in the No Dig bed but still achievable in traditional beds.

Then pull out a drill (a shallow channel in the soil or compost) about 1 inch (2.5cm) deep with 8-12 inches (20-30 cms) between rows. Then sow 2-3 seeds per station at 4 inch (10cm) spacings.

Gently cover the seed until the soil is level. Firm the soil but don’t compact it! In dry conditions watering the bottom of the drill before sowing is a good idea.

The reason for growing in rows is that it makes weeding easier. An onion hoe or similar can be used to remove weeds. In No Dig beds (where weeds are less plentiful) I’d do this by hand so as not to disturb the soil.

If in doubt about row markings put a stick as each end of the row. Another good tip is to sow a radish every few feet as they grow very faster than the beet and mark the rows for you. You can then harvest the radish before they interfere with the growth of the beet.

Container Grown Beetroot

I grow a lot of beetroot in containers. The bigger the container the better or otherwise they are prone to dry out and starve.

Module grown plants plants densely works well for me but do need watering more frequently as the plants can’t find moisture from deep in the soil.

Container grown beetroot
Container grown beetroot

With all cultivation methods I suggest you use a bolt resistant variety early in the year. Boltardy is my choice here. It’s a heritage variety and is AGM rated .. in fact I use them most of the season.

To protect early crops you can use cloches or fleece. This will advance growth by a week or more.

Sow in fortnightly batches to ensure succession.

Growing Beetroot

I’ve given a lot of information above but let me add the following. Beet do well without frequent watering. However, if the weather is excessive hot and dry I suggest a good heavy application of water every 2-3 weeks. Little and often is not the best way as it encourages roots to search for water near the surface and the soon encounter drought again. Watering heavily but infrequently encourages roots down to deeper levels and the plants become more resilient.

The compost I recommended to be added before drilling or planting will provide most of the feed needed. If however you plant densely (I do) then a top feed of organic fertiliser is an idea in traditional beds. And if the plants still flag and show nitrogen starvation (it occasionally happens) you can apply nitrogen or nitrogen rich feeds to the surface and water it in. Applying to moist soil followed by a minimum of water to wash it id works best in most cases.

Harvesting Beetroot

Thinnings can be taken from the time they reach golf ball size. The easiest way to harvest them is to hold the root firmly and then twist and pull the plant from the soil. Remember, though the beet is a root most of it is above surface.

Beetroot Varieties

Beetroot is a biennial plant that we grow as an annual (before it goes to seed). But if the conditions are poor they can go to seed in year one. This especially happens if sown too early or if it is too cold after sowing. The plant thinks it is winter and as soon as the sun starts to shine thinks it’s in its second year and needs to flower and seed. My answer to this is to grow the variety Boltardy as it is less prone to bolting (going to seed). It’s a good variety that produces small or large beetroot without going woody provided they are grown in good conditions. 

How to grow beetroot. Chioggia beet.
How to grow beetroot. Chioggia beet

In the main in this article I’ve dealt with standard globe shaped red beet. But others are available. For example Cheltenham beet are a long tapering variety, rather reminiscent of a red coloured parsnip in shape. It goes deep so does well in dry weather and is the best beet I know for winter storage.

Chioggia Beet are from Chioggia in norther Italy They are the ones that have a candy stripe like collared flesh with concentric circles of white and pink/red circles.

Yellow Beet are also available. They roast well with rosemary and garlic plus a little olive oil. Delicious.

Beetroot Pests and Diseases

There are few beetroot pests and diseases. Birds may peck at the leaves and very rarely aphids will colonise the plants. But this is not common.

The only problem I see occasionally is the crop bolting. This is usually because of sowing too early or trying to grow in very poor conditions.

The solution is a bolt resistant variety and to grow them well!

Beetroot Recipes

Beetroot can be boiled or roasted. Then they can be eaten as is or turned into other dishes such as beetroot soup (borsch) which is more popular in Eastern Europe than the UK. That’s a pity as borsch is a nice dish.

I like a nice beetroot salad with fish.

Take boiled beetroot, skin and chop into mouth sized chunks. Add a little salt and pepper, dress with olive oil and lemon, mix well.

Place a mayonnaise or yoghurt dip in the plate and heap the beetroot on it. Drape with cold smoked trout, salmon or whatever you prefer.

Beetroot Mousse is delightful and goes well with a mixed leaf salad and meat of your choice or no meat at all.

Remember beetroot is sweet and earthy so goes well with lemon juice or other acidic flavours in accompaniments.

Pickled beetroot is a delight and countless recipes exist.

Chilled Beetroot soup with goats cheese, yoghurt or feta is a delight I love to keep coming back to.

Beetroot FAQs

How long does beetroot take to grow?

It really depends on the time of year and size you want to harvest at. In mid summer beetroot grow very fast. When conditions are right you can harvest 7-8 weeks after sowing. And if you use modules that can mean harvesting 5-6 weeks after planting.

Add an extra 2-3 weeks if you want to harvest huge beet.

You can however have the best of both worlds and When you grow multisided modules you can harvest some at golf or tennis ball size and the rest once they are much bigger. Did you know the Guinness World record for a beetroot is a whooping 23.995 kg (52 lb 14 oz).

I’m not suggesting you attempt growing to this size as it is definitely going to tend towards being woody!

How long is the longest beetroot grown?

This may sound totally unbelievable but the beetroot holding the record for having the longest length isn’t the height or a man. Or even two men.

It’s an amazing 28 feet  (8.56 m.)

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