Like kale, I think beets are long overdue for a primetime makeover. As a plant-based athlete, I love beets. Beets are a rich source of antioxidants, like vitamin C, carotenoids,and nitrate. Nitrate is a chemical naturally occurring in certain foods and is converted into nitric oxide when consumed. Beets can raise your nitrate oxide levels which studies have shown can increase blood flow and improve lung function. In short, beyond just being nutritious, they can make you a better athlete!
So they are tasty and a natural athletic supplement, but what about growing your own? Another reason to like beets. They are a quickly growing, fast-maturing and easy vegetable to grow in a home garden. They are fairly hardy in frost and cold tolerant and can be grown throughout the spring, summer, and fall in colder climates like New England.
So how do you grow better garden beets? Here are my top 7 home gardening tips for better beets.
What are the varieties?
The one you are probably most familiar with is the Detroit Red but there are other newer hybrids like the Red Ace or the Winter Keeper or those bred to be picked quick and fast like the Pronto or Little Ball. The Chioggia is growing in popularity for the beautiful and striking rings that show up when cut.
Where to plant?
Unlike some other finicky crops that need full sun or a lot of room to spread out (I’m looking at you zucchini), it shouldn’t be hard to find a place to grow beets. They are okay with some shade and do not take up much room. You can even squeeze them in between taller plants. If your garden is pressed for space, they can be grown as an early or late season crop like peas.
What about pests?
You shouldn’t have too much trouble with traditional garden pests feasting on beets. You might have to fight off a few beetles, cutworms or fungus, especially with early seedlings. What you do need to watch for in certain climates is voles (think a chubby mouse). They love to snack on the beet’s sugary roots.
Type of soil?
Two things to consider when planting beets in the ground. Beets really do not like acidic soil so make sure you add enough lime to get the pH up close to seven (aim for at least above 6.5). Second, make sure the soil is on the light and sandy side (harder to get a single, round beet in clay-ish soil) with plenty of trace minerals from good compost.
When to plant?
The one thing beets hate is high heat. If you start your crop too late, the beets will be tough and tasteless. Beets can handle a little cold so if in doubt start your crop earlier or later. Nothing special with planting the seeds themselves. Aim for a 1/2 inch deep in rows about a foot apart. Water and wait.
Grow ’em fast
Thin the seedlings when they reach 3 inches high. Don’t throw out those microgreens. Add them to your salad! Don’t be afraid to thin the seedlings. You must be ruthless. The key to tender beets is to get them to grow quick and fast. To do that, you need to make sure they are consistently watered and don’t have to compete with weeds or other beets for soil nutrients. Growing fast takes energy so be sure to sidedress every couple weeks with your fertilizer of choice.
Beets can be harvested at almost any time. Baby beets can be picked and eaten fresh like a radish. Or you can let them grown bigger for winter storage. Don’t forget the greens on top. Beet greens can be selectively harvested while the beets grown for salads or sauteed when larger ones are picked.