Want to harvest fresh bunches of crimson red or golden beets? Now’s the time to get those beet seeds in the ground.
Earthy and sweet, beets are a cool weather crop that are planted directly into the soil as early as two weeks or so before the last frost free day in your zone. And, because they’re a fast growing crop, maturing between 50-60 days, you can keep seeding them into early summer to get multiple harvests. For us in Winnipeg, that means we can plant them anytime between mid May and early July, although they will grow slower in high heat.
I like to plant several varieties over several weeks so I can enjoy as many flavors, colours and patterns as possible all summer long.
This photo has the Bull’s Blood, Touchstone Gold, and Detroit Dark Red beets (left to right). The Bull’s Blood beets have great color on the root but they also feature dark red leaves providing a nice contrast to most other beets which have green leaves with deep red or gold veins. Of course, those greens can be harvested and eaten as well.
But first, things first, the seeds. Here’s a look at beet seeds, described by one of my gardening friends as tiny human vertebrae. These little vertebrae, or beet seeds are actually capsules that each contain 2-4 individual seeds. When they’re planted, the capsules break down allowing the individual seeds to grow. The entire process of germination takes about 10-14 days. This explains why, even though you may be diligent about spacing your beet seeds properly, you still end up with tight clusters of beets.
Once the beets have sprouted and started forming, you’ll need to cull or thin the seedlings as they come up. If you don’t mind small, squished or odd sized beets, don’t worry about thinning them. I thin out a few greens, but usually I wait until there is a small beet to harvest, then I’ll let the bigger one continue to grow.
Creating a beet out of one of these seeds is pretty much a miracle, luckily our part is pretty simple. Just follow these general guidelines for planting beets (check your seed package for details about your specific variety).
When to Plant: Beets can be planted 2 weeks before last frost free day (mid May in Winnipeg). You can continue to seed them into early July so you have a continuous supply all summer.
Days to Germination (when will they poke out of the ground): 10 -14 days
Days to Maturity: 50 to 60 days depending on type of beets, greens can be harvested much by 20 to 25 days and onward
Where to Plant: Full sun is best but beets will tolerate some shade
How: Direct seed into the garden, do not start indoors and try to transplant beets, root crops like beets don’t transplant well
Seed Spacing: 3-4″ (8 cm) apart – can you see the seeds in the photo below?
Sometimes I seed them closer knowing the cutworms (see below) will destroy a few along the way.
Spacing Between Rows:12-16″ (30-40 cm) By the way, your row doesn’t have to be perfectly straight. Just sayin’!
Depth of Seed: 1/2″ (2 cm) Gently tap soil covering the seeds.
Special Tips for Beets:
- Work the soil where you will plant the beets deeper and wider than necessary. This will loosen the soil so the tender beetroots can easily push there way through. This photo shows how I used a rake to rough up a deep trench for the beets. Remember the seeds should only be covered in 1/2″ (2 cm) of soil, so I’ll fill most of this trench with soil before I place in the seeds, but the soil is loosened and ready for the roots to grow.
- Water the seeds and young seedlings consistently for optimum growth – or hope for spring rains.
- Compost mixed into the soil is always a bonus, although beets tolerate just about anything except acidic soil and drought.
- Beets, like most vegetables, don’t like competing for water and nutrients with weeds, so keep your beet crop weed free all season long.
- To help break down the seed capsule soak seeds in water or lay them between two wet sheets of paper towel the night before planting. It’s not necessary, but will speed up germination.
- Good companions for beets include leeks, onions, radishes, lettuce, bush beans, garlic, cabbage family, mint.
- Avoid planting next to pole beans.
- Beets will take a while to show themselves, so remember to mark your rows!
In about 12 to 14 days you should see little beet greens poking out of the ground.
Did you know…
- Beets have among the highest sugar content of all veggies, but are relatively low in calories and packed with valuable nutrients and antioxidants. (Nutrition Data)
- The earthy flavor comes from an organic compound produced by microbes in the soil. (Wisconsin College of Agriculture)
- The powerful pigments in beets give them gorgeous colours but also great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (Leslie Beck)
- Beets can help with hangovers thanks to one of its pigments. (Love Beetroot UK)
- You can make your own beet root powder to add to various dishes. (GettyStewart)
- Beets dye just about everything red- including your urine or BM – don’t be alarmed! (Compound Interest)
Are you growing beets this year? What variety are you going growing?
Here are a few other How To’s to get your gardening going:
Need help planning or getting your vegetable garden going? Get Getty to help you figure things out. Getty Stewart is a freelance Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and avid veggie gardener. She loves growing food and has been doing so forever. Need a workshop or a little one-on-one, Get Getty!