|Official Plant Name||Beta Vulgaris|
|Common Name(s)||Beetroot, Beets|
|Foliage||Edible, green leaves|
|When To Sow||March (Indoors), April, May, June, July|
|Harvesting Months||June, July, August, September, October|
Full Sun or Light Dappled Shade
0.1 – 0.5M
0.1 – 0.5M
Most Soil Types
Moist but well drained
Beetroot is a common garden crop, and a great choice both for beginners and expert home growers.
In this article, we will explore this common garden crop in a little more depth, and tell you everything you need to know to sow, grow and harvest it in your garden. By the end of this guide you should have a much better idea of how you can grow it successfully at home.
Beetroot is one of my favourite garden crops. I grow it every year, and recommend it to you wholeheartedly if you are trying to work out what to grow in an edible garden this spring.
Background & Origins
Beetroot, or beets as they are known elsewhere, are edible taproots of Beta vulgaris. There are one a number of cultivated varieties of this species which are grown for their edible taproots. They are classified as B. vulgaris subsp. Vulgaris Conditiva Group. While the bulbous taproot is the main part of the plant used for culinary purposes, the leaves and stems (beetroot greens or beet greens) of the plants are also edible.
These plants were first domesticated in the Middle east, where they were first grown for their edible greens. They were commonly eaten by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. By Roman times, they are believed to have been cultivated for their roots as well.
Why Grow Beetroot?
Beetroot is a versatile crop that makes a great addition to a home grown diet. This root vegetable can be eaten raw, boiled, roasted, etc. in many different ways. It can also be preserved through pickling, and used to make a range of condiments. The young leaves are great in salads, and larger, older leaves can be used as a cooked green akin to chard or spinach.
Beetroot is a good source of folate, and a moderate source of manganese. Beetroot juice may reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients, and may have other health benefits too. Red beets also produce a natural dye, which can have a range of uses.
Some people think that they do not like beetroot – until they try it fresh from their garden. If your only introduction has been to the boiled or pickled beetroots, then try them baked, or grated raw into a coleslaw or salad, and you may change your mind.
One of the great things about beetroot is that you can grow it relatively easily in traditional vegetable plots, raised beds or containers. So it is a great choice even for beginners. And it works well even in smaller gardens, since this is a crop that will not take up too much space.
Choosing Beetroot Seeds
Before you start growing beetroot at home, you will need to decide which variety or varieties to grow. There are plenty of great heritage seeds and commercial varieties to choose from.
Good typical reddish beetroots to choose from include:
- Bull’s Blood
- Detroit Globe
- Early Wonder
- Red Ace
Chioggia are interesting because they have pink and white concentric rings inside. Cylindra have elongated roots. And there are also Blankoma, unusual green and white roots.
When making your choices, be sure to think about taste, appearance, and whether you need roots to store or just to eat when young and fresh. Consider, too, whether you want to choose a heritage type and save your own seeds. (If you do plan to save your own seeds, remember that chard can cross easily with beetroot, so you’ll have to keep them apart if you do not want them too.)
Beetroot is one seed that it is often best to sow direct into your garden. Though they can also be sown indoors a little earlier in the year. Beetroot seeds can be sown from March indoors, or outside in your garden from around mid-April to late June or even July in most parts of the UK.
If you do decide to sow indoors, do note that beetroot will not tend to like having its roots disturbed. So you will have to carefully sow in modules, soil blocks, or biodegradable pots which can be transplanted entire into your garden. You can also select a variety less prone to bolting and sow under cloches or other protection from early March.
It is a good idea to sow two seeds together at 10 cm intervals along a bed or planter or in a container, to ensure a good crop. Sow them 1-2.5cm deep. You will later thin to one seedling, and eat the thinned seedlings raw in a salad. It is a good idea to succession sow every couple of weeks so that you can harvest and enjoy beetroot from June through to October, and perhaps even over winter with a polytunnel or some form of protection.
One handy hint is to sow radish seeds at the same time as beetroot seeds. The radishes will appear much faster than the beetroot, marking the rows, and can be ready to pull by the time the beetroot needs the space.
Beetroot requires a fertile, well-drained soil or growing medium to grow well. Choose a suitable potting mix to fill your containers, and amend the soil if growing outdoors by top dressing with a good quality garden compost or well-rotted manure before sowing or planting.
Beetroot works very well in mixed polycultures, and will grow happily alongside a wide range of other common garden crops.
One option that can work well is including beetroot in rotation with carrots and onions. Carrots and beetroots are both root crops, of course, and yet carrots are typically deeper rooted and so they are not overly competitive with one another for water and nutrients. Onions work well with both carrots and beetroot, and their strong smell can help in repelling pests.
Planting beetroots alongside other alliums, such as garlic, shallots or leeks can work well too.
Beetroot is also excellent for growing alongside Brassicas. It can work well in rotation with these cabbage family crops. Plant beetroots alongside these crops and it can help improve the quality and growth of your brassicas. Quick growing lettuce and radishes can also be included in polycultures with beetroots and brassicas, to fill gaps and make the most of the space.
Planting beetroots among catnip, summer savoury, and certain other aromatic herbs can also help in controlling pests that may nibble on your beetroot leaves.
Avoid planting beetroot next to pole beans as they can stunt each other’s growth.
Caring For Beetroot
Beetroot is generally a relatively trouble-free crop. It rarely requires additional fertilization as long as the potting mix or soil is nutrient rich. However, where the plants are not growing strongly, you can consider adding a nitrogen-rich organic fertiliser or liquid plant feed.
During dry spells, it is typical to water beetroot every 10-14 days. Though beetroot grown under cover or in containers will often need to be watered more frequently. Make sure that you keep the medium consistently moist or bolting (premature flowering and setting of seed) is more likely to become an issue. Roots that do not receive enough water are also more likely to split and become woody.
Remember to thin beetroot to a spacing of around 10cm – but do not throw away the seedlings. Then, once the beetroot are around the size of a golf ball, pull every second one, leaving the rest, if you wish, to reach maturity.
When harvesting beetroot, remember that bigger is not always better. Beetroot tends to taste best and have the best texture when the roots are between golf ball and cricket ball size. Any larger, and they can tend to be woodier and won’t taste as good. Sow successionally and harvest when the roots are smaller for the best tasting crop.
Most globe types of beetroot are ready to harvest around 8-10 weeks, while longer cylindrical types can take almost twice as long. Beetroot sown later can also be left in the soil to overwinter (with protection).
When harvesting, remember that you can eat the leaves too. Pull these off and eat them if they are still in good shape. One thing to note, if you do not eat the leaves, is that they are rich in magnesium, and make great additions to your compost heap.
Leave just short stalks attached to beetroot for storage. Brush off the dirt, and wash the roots only when they are to be used. Use any blemished roots right away, and keep only perfectly undamaged examples to keep in store.
If you are peeling the beetroots for the recipe you are making, keep the peelings to one side and these can be used to yield a useful plant-based dye.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.