Beetroot growing - Beetroot how to grow, tips, varieties, cooking.

Beetroots…round, cylindrical or tapered swollen roots that are way more versatile than many give them credit for. Fairly pest free, they are also a good crop for the organic gardener. Find out for yourself as we detail amongst other things the varieties suitable to grow in Ireland, and how to plant or sow them.

First beetroot!

Crimson beetroot, photo / pic / image.

Common names: beet, beetroot

Botanical name:
Beta vulgaris

Area of origin:
Southern Europe/Mediterranean.

Brief description:
Beet can have a round, cylindrical or tapered swollen root, coloured red, yellow, or white. Beet leaves sprout in rosettes.

Are they easy or hard to grow?:

Varieties suitable to grow in Ireland:
Boltardy (Red beet, bolt-resistant, smooth skin)

Detroit (Red beet, good for flavour and storage)

Burpee’s Golden (Yellow beet, orange skin, does not bleed when cut, leaves also suitable for cooking)

Cylindra (Red beet, cylindrical roots good for flavour disease resistance and storage)

Albina Vereduna/Snowhite (White beet, good for flavour, leaves also suitable for cooking)

Irish stock.

UK stock.

When to grow:
Normally Mid-March to the end of July. You can even sow in early March provided it is under cloches or frames. It is possible to sow seeds every fortnight for successional harvesting.

Where to grow, and soil conditions required:
Although beet can tolerate shade they will do much better in a sunny spot.
Shelter is also beneficial. Avoid soil that waterlogs or conversely dries out rapidly

Beet doesn’t grow very well in a strongly acid soil preferring instead neutral to slightly alkaline soils (6.0 - 7.5 approx). If the pH (relative acidity or alkalinity) of your soil is not suited to the vegetable, then soil nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, iron, boron, copper, manganese and zinc start to become unavailable, leading to poor crops.

You can use a home soil test available in most garden centres to determine your soils ph. By taking account of the test results you can then decide how much if any amendments are required to bring the to pH of your vegetable garden soil in line.

The application of ground lime will be helpful in countering the acidity. As a rough rule of thumb an application of 250g of ground lime per metre squared the autumn before planting/sowing will commonly increase your ph by about one point. However as lime is available in different formulations, I advise also consulting the rates set out on the pack.

Food reserves required:
For long term feeding of your crop, every 10m2 of growing area should have one wheelbarrow load of homemade compost or farmyard animal manure spread over its surface sometime during the autumn/early winter before planting/sowing. Dig this in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area to enrich it for your crop. Whilst digging, remove any stones and other obstacles that might cause the beet roots to become malformed.

A week or two before planting/sowing you should also lightly rake into your growing area a well-balanced fertilizer. Growmore or fish blood and bone (organic option) are both suitable for this purpose. Apply according to the rates on the pack.

How to plant or sow:
The night before you intend to sow you should soak your beet seeds in room temperature water for several hours. This will “soften” the seed and hasten germination. Any seed not required for sowing that year should not be soaked, if kept dry it has a life expectancy of 3 years.

In your weed-free and lightly raked growing area you must create a 1inch (2.5cm) deep drill/trench with the tip of your trowel. Every 4 inches (10cm) along the drill place two seeds 1inch (2.5cm) apart. Close the drill with soil, then water well and label.

Create as many drills as you like at 12-inch (30cm) intervals. As a rough rule of thumb you can expect 1 to 1.5 kg of crop per metre of row, which may help you make a decision on how much to grow.

The expected seed germination time approx 10-14 days. When your seedlings are about 1in (2.5cm) high, thin them to leave a single plant at each 4-inch interval. Remove the thinnings from site.

Caring for your crop:
Keep the soil around the beets weed-free. Take care when weeding because the roots of beet are shallow and easily damaged.

During a prolonged spell without rain (week or more) you should water gently but deeply once a week. As a rough rule of thumb apply approx 10 litres per metre squared of soil area. Carry out this watering in the morning and try to avoid splashing the leaves, watering the soil instead.

At about the fifth or sixth week after seed germination and while plants are growing strongly you can apply a second application of a well balanced fertiliser. Although not essential, a further scattering of Growmore or fish blood and bone can increase the vegetables vigour and make the less susceptible to plant ills. Once scattered the fertiliser should be lightly scratched into the soils surface followed by gentle but deep watering of the soil.

Pests and Diseases:
Beetroot has no real serious pest or disease problems, however Boron deficiency is sometimes seen in the crop. This exhibits itself as leaf yellowing and scorching, leading to decreased root size. You should not encounter this though if you follow the soil preparation, feeding and pH rules mentioned earlier.
Other troubles of beetroot include…
Black bean aphid
Mangold Fly (Leaf Miner)
Heart Rot
Black Leg
Speckled Yellows
Leaf Spot

Harvesting, when and how:
Time from planting to harvest is from 12 to 16 weeks. Anything between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball is fit, but realise the bigger the beet the less palatable it will be.

Grasp the leaves and carefully lever out the root from beneath with a hand fork, shake off the soil then twist the leaves off rather than cutting them off; thus preventing “bleeding”. No loss of “blood” ensures the beet retains its intense colour and, as claimed by some gardeners its flavour. The leaves or “greens” as they are known can be cooked and eaten like spinach.

For short-term storage (one to three weeks), place beets in the refrigerator. The leaves (greens) can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Longer-term, the beet roots themselves will keep for five to six months in a area which is cool (2-4 degrees centigrade), dark and away from strong flavours or scents. Place individual layers of beets in slatted boxes, surrounding each individual fruit with dry peat, paper or hay, with two more layers of beets allowed to follow on top provided you ensure that buffer of dry peat, paper or hay.

Another option is to boil the roots whole for one to two hours, allow to cool, cut the roots into slices, and then freeze. This will allow you to store them for approx six months.
Of course you can also preserve the boiled roots by pickling, leaving you with a product similar to the beetroot you can buy in glass jars in the supermarket. Making chutney is yet another preservation method.

Before cooking your beets, cut off the tops within a couple of inches of the top. This helps lock in the nutrients during cooking. When the tops are attached to any root vegetable, they leech the nutrients from the root.

They should be cooked whole and then peeled; otherwise, they bleed all their colour and nutrients into the water. Beets are excellent raw in salads or cooked in various dishes, including soups.

More debate about this topic on our forum,
click The Irish gardeners forum.

Creative Commons License photo credit 1: Mala Gabrielle

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