Beets are a type of vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. They are red or golden in color and have a sweet and earthy flavor.
Roots: -Can be cooked by roasting or boiling -Can be used in salads, soups, stews, or as a side dish -Good source of riboflavin as well as folate, manganese, and the antioxidant betaine Greens: -Can be added to salads if harvested as baby greens or cooked like spinach -Source of riboflavin, iron, and vitamins A, C, and K
As I explored different types of beets, I found that some varieties are much milder in flavor. Most need to be harvested small, or they turn fibrous, woody, and have a stronger earthy flavor.
Types of Beets to Consider Growing
Beets come in many different varieties. They are relatively easy to grow and take between 50 and 65 days to mature.
We typically think of red beets when we picture beets, but there are a number of different colors that they can be, including deep red, reddish-purple, gold, light yellow, white, and even banded with candy stripe scarlet and white rings.
The strongest flavor in beets comes from the red varieties, followed by the yellow and white varieties. The softest flavor comes from the white beets.
White beets don’t have betalain pigment, which gives other beets their earthy flavor and color. However, white beets don’t bleed like classic red beets.
Here are some of the most common varieties of beets to consider growing in your vegetable garden:
Red Beet Varieties
Red beets are the classic option when it comes to beets. They are dark red, have a strong earthy flavor, and ooze their scarlet liquid when cut and cooked. Here are a few red beet varieties to consider:
- Detroit Dark Red Beets: A popular deep red, round beet variety that grows up to 3-inches in diameter. It matures 50 to 60 days but can be enjoyed as baby beets as soon as the roots form. Enjoy both roots and greens. Detroit dark red grows well in a wide range of soil and temperature conditions.
- Early Wonder Tall Top Beets: A quick maturing deep red beet that grows rapidly in cool soils, maturing in just 45 days. It produces globe-shaped roots up to 2 to 3 inches. The taproot is small making this beet a great choice for growing in containers. The greens are tall red stalks with deeply red-veined glossy green foliage.
- Boro Beets: A smooth, dark-red beet that grows uniform round baby beets ready to harvest in 50 days. If left to mature longer, roots can grow up to 6-inches in diameter without turning woody. Boro is a great beet variety for winter food storage.
- Ruby Queen Beets: A deep red, round-shaped, and sweet beet variety, with short green tops. It fully matures in 50 to 60 days but can be enjoyed as baby beets as soon as the roots form. Ruby Queen grows well in most soil types.
- Cylindra Beets: Also known as Forono and Formanova. These beets mature in about 55 days. These beets grow smooth cylindrical-shaped roots that are 1 to 2-inches wide and 6-inches long. The long shape makes it easy to slice evenly for canning and baking beet chips.
Stripped Beet Varieties
- Chioggia Beets: Chioggia, also known as Bassano, candy stripe, candy cane beet, and bulls-eye beet, is an Italian heirloom with pretty red and white stripes. It has a mellow sweet beet flavor, and works well for roasting, pickling, or eating raw. Enjoy both the roots and greens. It matures in about 55 days.
- Chioggia Guardsmark Beets: An improved strain of Chioggia beets that has been bred to produce uniform sized beets, with a flattened round root shape, and the classic pink-and-white bull’s eye interior. The flesh is very tender, mild, and slightly sweet.
Gold Beet Varieties
Golden beets are less earthy in flavor than their regular beet counterparts. The great thing about golden beets is that they don’t lose their color when you cut and cook them.
- Boldor Beets: The flesh is rose-gold, but changes to light orange when cooked. It has a mild, sweetness and beet flavor. Boldor is known for good germination and quick growth even in less than ideal growing conditions. It fully matures in about 55 days. The greens are short light green with gold stems and veins.
- Golden Boy Beets: Another mild flavored beet that doesn’t stain as the red beets do. The flesh is golden-orange colored, and the edible leaves are bright green. Harvest beet greens, young baby beets, or fully mature beets in 65 days.
- Touchstone Gold Beets: Bright orange skin with a golden interior. Forms uniformly round roots with deep green, yellow-veined tops. The flavor is mildly beety. Harvest beet greens, baby beets, or fully mature beets in about 55 days.
White Beet Varieties
White beets lack the betalain pigment that gives red and yellow beets their earthy flavor, as well as their color. As a result, white beets have a milder flavor than the red and gold varieties, and won’t bleed like classic ruby-red beets.
- Avalanche Beets: A creamy white, sweet beet with a mild flavor. The round roots mature in about 50 days. White beets combine well with other vegetables without staining. Harvest beetroots small, 1- to 3-inches for more tender beets.
- Blankoma Beets: Similar to Avalanche with white flesh and sweet, mild flavor making them ideal for salads, soups, and pickling. Harvest early for mild, baby beets, within 55 days. Blankoma beets are best enjoyed small, 1- to 3-inches. If allowed to grow too large the texture can become tough and fibrous.
- White Albino Beets: The plant produces high yields of sweet white beets with excellent flavor. White Albino beets can grow quite large without becoming bitter. Good for roasting, pickling, boiling, and freezing, but doesn’t hold up to pressure canning very well.
Where, When & How to Plant Beets
I plant beets around the edge of my leafy vegetable beds to use the space efficiently. If you want to grow a lot of beets, you canplant them more densely, but don’t plant them too close together or they won’t grow as large.
Pick a spot to plant your beets that has rich, loose soil that drains well. Before you plant, mix in some compost to make the soil even more fertile. Beets need direct sunlight for at least six hours each day.
Beets prefer warm days and cool nights. They do best in milder climates, but with careful timing, they can be grown almost anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. Succession planting (planting at intervals throughout the season) will give you a few opportunities to get the timing right.
To grow beets in the fall, plant the seeds 10-12 weeks before the first frost is expected. You can continue planting new seeds every week until 4 weeks before the frost date. The seeds should start germinating within 5 days. For spring planting, sow the seeds 3 weeks before the last frost date, or as soon as the soil can be worked. Beets can germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees, although it may take longer than 5 days. Soaking the seeds in warm water (not hot!) for an hour or overnight before planting can help speed up the germination process. Continue planting new seeds every week until the temperature outside reaches 80 degrees.
The seeds of beets are quite large compared to other seeds because they are multigerms. Each seed is actually a cluster that contains between two and five seeds. You don’t need to break the cluster apart to plant them, but you will need to thin the seedlings.
If you want to grow your own beets, plant the seeds a half-inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart. Once they germinate and grow to 3 or 4 inches tall, thin the seedlings to one plant every 3 to 4 inches. (You can use the thinned plants as beet greens.) When the plants reach 5 inches tall, apply a layer of 2 to 3 inches of light, organic mulch (such as shredded leaves or straw) to suppress weeds and improve moisture retention. The mulch will also keep the sun off the tops of the beetroots so they don’t turn green, which would negatively affect the flavor. And as the organic mulch breaks down, it will improve the soil.
You could also start beet seeds indoors in a greenhouse if your garden doesn’t have much space. This way, you can fill in gaps with seedlings that are ready to go when you’re finished harvesting other crops. Use sterile seed starting mix and plant one seed cluster per cell, then thin out seedlings to one per cell when the time comes. If you’re growing them indoors, use a seedling heat mat to warm the soil to between 60° and 85° to make them germinate more quickly. Use a grow light to keep the seedlings from stretching out in search of the sun. When transplanting them into the garden, try not to disturb the roots.
A good rule of thumb for watering beets is to give them an inch of water per week. This is ideally done through rainfall, but if you live in an area with little rainfall, you can supplement the water with a garden hose. Beets have taproots that grow high and stick out of the ground, so it is important to water them gently to avoid washing the soil away. A good way to tell if your beets need more water is to do the finger test. Stick your finger straight down into the soil next to the plant. If the soil is dry and comes off on your finger, then the plant needs more water. However, if there is still moisture in the soil, then wait a couple of days before testing again.
If your beets are planted in soil that is rich in organic matter and well amended with compost, they are off to a great start. For supplemental fertilizer, avoid high-nitrogen chemical fertilizers that will result in more leaf growth but smaller taproots. The leaves are important because they capture solar energy through photosynthesis and help the roots grow. But if there is an abundance of nitrogen, the leaves will grow large at the expense of theroots.
Choose an organic fertilizer that is either granular or liquid, has a low nitrogen content, or is well balanced. Look at the NPK ratio (N for nitrogen, P for phosphorus, K for potassium) and make sure that the first number is less than or equal to the other two numbers.
The first time you should fertilizer your beets is when they start to sprout, and then again a month later. Make sure to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying fertilizer, because using too much can actually be harmful.
Troubleshooting Pests, Diseases, and Nutrition
Although beets are not difficult to cultivate, and infrequently experience problems, there are a number of hurdles you may encounter.
- Insects: Aphids, flea beetles, leaf miners, caterpillars, slugs, grasshoppers, and other insects may munch on the foliage. These usually resolve themselves over time. Cover plants with a floating row cover to protect them from insects. Cut and destroy affected foliage. Control weeds to keep the population down.
- Diseases: Cercospera leaf spot, scab, and root rot are the most common diseases affecting beets. These usually explode in high moisture conditions. Increase airflow, thin plants to prevent overcrowding, weed frequently, and water early in the day so the foliage can dry.
- Nutrition Deficiencies: If you prepared the garden beds before planting, they should have the proper nutrition to grow healthy plants. However, nutrient deficiencies may occur. If your beets have lots of healthy greens, but no roots, this is a telltale sign of too much nitrogen. If beets have black cankers in the roots, the soil may need more boron. Add fertilizer as needed to balance what is missing.
When to Harvest Your Beets
Beets that are a little older have a slightly sweeter flavor, and can be roasted, steamed, or used in soups and stews. The size of the beet does not necessarily indicate how old it is. You can pick beets at different stages of growth, depending on their intended use. Baby beets are tender with a mild flavor, making them good for salads, raw veggie platters, or canning. Beets that are a little older have a slightly sweeter flavor and can be roasted, steamed, or used in soups and stews. The size of the beet does not necessarily indicate its age.
Beets that are more mature have a stronger flavor, and are best boiled or roasted. Beets that are well-developed also can be preserved by canning, pickling, or storing in a root cellar.
Beet greens are ready to pick when they are 5 inches tall. Snipping a stalk or two from each beet plant will not impact root growth. Beetroot should be harvested when it is 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Larger beets can become tough and woody.
The best time to harvest beets is on a dry day in the morning while the ground is still cool. To avoid damaging the greens, use a digging fork to loosen the soil under the roots, and then gently pull the beets out of the ground by the roots.
After harvesting the greens, it is best to remove them right away to prevent them from sapping moisture from the roots. Cut the roots from the greens, leaving about 1 inch of stem attached.
Rinse the roots and greens of the beets well under clean running water. Let them air dry on a kitchen towel. Store the roots and greens separately in the refrigerator for about a week.