Growing Beets: Amazing 3-Season Superfoods

growing beets
growing beets

It’s not too late in spring to start for a post on growing beets, cool-weather root veggies that can lift your athletic or mental performance to new heights!

Earlier this week, published a post on the very impressive health benefits of beets. It focused on their nitrates, but beets are also good sources of:

  • vitamin A
  • vitamins B1, B2, and B6
  • folate
  • folic acid
  • vitamin C
  • fiber
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • manganese

and potassium.

Have you’ve noticed a marked resemblance between beet greens and chard (one of the super-beneficial leafy greens)? They’re practically kissing cousins in the Amaranthaceae.  plant family!

Growing Beets Veganically

When to Plant

Beets love cool weather, preferably between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If your winters are cold, sow your first round of beets in spring two weeks before your area’s last average frost date.

Follow up with additional rounds every ten days until your daytime temperatures hit 80 degrees. Then, as summer wanes and the days cool down, the conditions for growing beets may be the best of the year.

Preparing Your Site

Beets perform well on a site with six or more hours of daily sun. However, four to six hours is better once temperatures start climbing above 70 F.

When growing beets, household borax can save you from disaster.
When growing beets, household borax can save you from disaster.

Before planting, clear your site of rocks, weeds, debris, or anything that might keep the beetroots from developing properly.

For the best harvest, cover the site with a 2- to 3-inch layer of well-rotted vegan compost. Or apply dried seaweed at the label’s recommended rate.

Growing beets with high-nitrogen fertilizer isn’t advisable. You could end up with lots of greens and minuscule small roots.

As veggies native to Mediterranean soils, beets naturally need the micronutrient boron. Signs of boron deficiency include anemic growth and internal black spots.

To avoid both, sprinkle a very tiny amount (only 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons per 100 feet!) of household borax along your planting rows and work it lightly into the soil. More will be toxic.

Planting Your Seeds

If you’ve never seen beets seed, don’t let their appearance fool you. Resembling chunky cereal grains, they’re protective capsules holding at least two (and up to six) viable seeds.

You’ll be responsible for culling at least one baby seedling from each capsule. Otherwise, the survivors won’t have the room they need.

When growing beets, I’ve found it helpful to soak the hard-coated capsules in a bowl of room temperature water overnight.  Or you could run them over a cheese grater or rub them with sandpaper.

Both methods open the capsule casing slightly, making it easier for the germinating seeds to break through.

growing beets - Most beet seeds are actually capsules of two or more actual seeds.
Most beet seeds are actually capsules of two or more actual seeds.
sarae CC BY-ND 2.0

Plant the prepared capsules 4 inches apart and 1 inch deep. Keep your rows shorter than 10 feet, with 12 inches between them.

When your seedlings are about 5 inches high, snip all but the strongest one from each capsule back to the soil. Pulling them up may disturb the keepers’ roots.

Add the culled baby beet leaves to a salad or smoothie.

                     Watering Growing Beets

Water your seed rows daily for the first week. Then water often enough to prevent the soil from crusting over, or the seedlings may have a hard time breaking through.

As an added precaution against crusting, mulch the soil with a thin layer of grass clippings. In addition to holding the soil moisture in, they’ll replenish its nitrogen as they break down.

Consistent water (from rain or your hose) is essential if you want to grow beets successfully. Fluctuating soil moisture leads to cracked or woody, tough roots. The goal is moderate, evenly moist soil – neither dry nor saturated.

               When to Harvest Beets

The easiest way to know when to harvest your beets is to record the seed packet’s days-to-harvest number and lift them on whatever date that is.

They’ll keep growing if you leave them in the ground, but the longer you wait, the woodier they’ll become.

Growing Beets - Cutting beets' stems or trimming their roots can create a "bloody " mess!
Cutting beets’ stems or trimming their roots can create a “bloody ” mess!

Harvesting the growing beets before the days-to-harvest date is fine, if you’re satisfied with smaller ones.

And you can harvest fully-grown greens at any time, as long as you leave at least three on each plant to support its growth. Leave the smaller center leaves intact.

To spare yourself a serious mess, twist the leaves off by hand at least an inch above the soil. Don’t cut them!

To lift an entire plant, simply gather the leaf stems in one hand and gently tug them upward. If the root is especially large or deep, you may need to loosen it with a hand fork before lifting it.

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