How to grow beetroot. Beetroot is a very easy to grow vegetable that suffers from very few pests and diseases. The trick to growing the best beetroot is a nice loose, fertile soil with plenty of well rotted organic matter added. Fresh, homegrown beetroot is absolutely delicious roasted in a little olive oil with a sprinkle of sea salt to bring out the flavour. Forget pickled or (worse) boiled beetroot, cut into quarters and roast it, you'll never look back.
Although not one of the more glamorous garden vegetables, beetroot has recently gained in popularity and has even been tagged a 'Super Food' by health experts - one good reason why beetroot is attracting the attention of kitchen gardeners once again. Another is the fact that not much gets wasted when growing beetroot; along with the root - which can be harvested immaturely as tender 'baby beets' - the leaves can be eaten when young, just like spinach. The video version of this article is at the bottom of this page.
Where to grow:
The ideal soil is medium to light which hasn't been recently manured - this can cause misshapen roots. The soil should be neutral or slightly alkaline (PH 6.5 to 7.5) although it is tolerant of most normal conditions.
When to grow:
Sow beetroot seed from March to July. For early crops of small, delicious tender vegetables sow a bolt resistant variety like Pablo under cloches in early March.
Use the corner of a hoe to form a groove (drill) in the prepared bed about 2 cm(1") deep. Sow the beet root seeds 10 cm(4") apart in the drill - less thinning out required. Space rows 30 cm(12") apart. Beetroot seeds are actually clusters of seeds which will produce 3 or 4 separate seedlings. Thin the new seedlings to leave the strongest otherwise the beets will be crowded and remain small.
Prevent a glut when planting beetroot by sowing your seed in stages, a small batch at a time every couple of weeks. When sowing beetroot for Winter storage sow in late May or June - earlier sowing's can become too woody at pulling time in October.
Beet can also be sown as late a early August but will not yield a large root. (Probably no larger than a ping pong ball but very sweet and tasty) You will also get a crop of tasty beet leaves for cooking or salad.
How to sow beetroots in modular trays. Beetroots can be sown in modulatr trays to give them a head start and protection from weather and garden pests. Use a seed compost which has a finer texture and lower nutrients than your standard multipurpose compost. We use a seed module tray with each section being approx 2 inches deep. Fill the seed tray with compost and brush off any excess. When filling the tray rub the compost through your hands to break up any lumps. Give the tray a sharp bang on your table to settle. With your fingers make small depressions in each cell about a fingernail or 2.5cm deep. Sow 1 seed per module which will produce 3-5 little plants. Cover the seeds with another layer of compost then scrape across the top of the tray with a stick to remove excess. Gently water your seeds. A good tip is to use a plastic bottle with small holes punched in the cap. This is less likely to wash the seed around than the heavy spray from a watering can. Place your trays in your greenhouse, polytunnel, cold frame or windowsill to germinate. They should be ready to plant out in about 4 weeks.
Beetroot is one of the few root crops that can be grown from transplants providing the seedlings are planted out before they become constricted. Modular trays are recommended with plants remaining in the cells for a maximum of 3 weeks. Sow 1 seed cluster per module and thin to leave the strongest seedling soon after germination. To 'thin out' the seedlings you need to remove any extra seedlings leaving the strongest looking plant. Don't pull up the plants you are removing or this will cause root damage to the remaining one. Nip the stem with your finger nail or cut with scissors. If you have directly sown into the ground you should thin your line of seedlings to 25cm between rows and 10cm between plants. To plant out your seedling make a hole in the soil the approximate size of the seedling 'plug'. You need to push the soil in around the roots firmly with your fingers to get good contact with the soil. Dont firm down on the top of the soil as this can compact it and prevent moisture getting down to the plants roots. Water the plants after planting but do not soak them.
It's a good idea to keep the area around your plants weed free. Weeds compete with your plants for water, nutrients and light. After all, you will probably have gone to some effort improving the fertility of your soil, why give all the that goodness to the weeds? Fungal disease can be a problem for some crops and weeds can contribute to this by cutting down the air circulation around your plants. Plants with good, clear space between them will be much healthier than congested crops. The best way to deal with weeds in an organic way is to use a hoe, preferably on a dry day. I find an oscillating hoe is a pleasure to use and creates nice loose soil surface which is perfect for letting water and air get down to the roots of your vegetables.
Young direct sown seedlings may well attract the unwanted attention of birds. Clear plastic plastic bottles with the top and bottom cut off and placed over the seedlings when they emerge is a good protection method if you plant only a few seeds, a layer of horticultural fleece is ideal if you have sown a larger area.
Beetroot will definitely appreciate a thorough watering if the conditions become dry. This will encourage them to grow quickly and the roots will be more tender and tasty. Hoe frequently between plants to keep weeds at bay.
Pests and diseases:
This vegetable is usually remarkably free from pests and diseases but there are a few that you should be on the look out for.
Protect from birds at the seedling stage or they will have the young tender leaves for breakfast.
Mangold Leaf or Leaf Miner is a small white grub which burrows inside the leaves creating tunnels which turn into blisters. Most serious in young plants the leaves turn brown and growth is stunted - attack usually occurs from May onwards. Treat by removing affected leaves at first sign of attack and destroy them.
Bolting occurs when plants run to seed before roots have developed. There are a number of reasons why this may occur:
Lack of organic matter
Sowing seed too early
Waiting to long to thin seedlings out
Leaf Spot appears as brown spots on leaves after planting beet root. The paler central area of the spot can drop out. The effect on the crop yield is not serious even though the leaves look badly disfigured. Remove seriously diseased leaves and destroy.
Practicing crop rotation will help prevent this disease, apply a balanced fertilizer a couple of weeks before sowing.
Aphids cause leaves to curl and the new shoots to become distorted possibly resulting in less root yield. Try containing aphid attacks by encouraging other insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds which feed on them
The sweetest beets are no bigger than a tennis ball and can be pulled easily when they have reached the required size. Larger beets can be grown if required but ensure they are always kept well watered or they can become tough and woody.
If you have grown some roots for storage these should be lifted on a dry day at the end of September into October. Pull them by hand if possible, a fork can be used to loosen roots around the plant being careful not to damage the root.
Remove the foliage to about 50 mm(2") above the crown, twist the foliage off rather than cut with a knife as this will cause the stalks to bleed. Reject any damaged roots or any that have been attacked by pests. Damaged beetroot may rot in storage.
Store the beetroot in boxes of moist sand in a cool dark place such as a garage or frost free shed.
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