If you grow beetroot at home, you’ll find they’re sweeter and more tender than most of what you find in the shops. You can choose to pick them young, to eat whole (and raw) in salads or let them get bigger and steam them or even turn them into soup. Beetroot is one of the most environmentally friendly crops, rarely needing treatment with pesticides. Beetroots need a lot of sunshine to get the sweet taste they are renowned for.
Beetroot needs high soil temperatures for good germination and often fails if the ground is too cold and wet. They prefer moist, fertile soil in a sunny spot, but will also thrive in raised beds or pots. To make a seed bed, remove weeds and dig over the site with a spade, removing any particular large stones. Level roughly and then work over the area with a rake to leave a fine finish. If you can, two or three weeks before sowing, spread a general granular fertiliser across the site and rake into the soil.
How to Plant
The crops are grown from seed that is sown in May and the beetroot is ready to harvest from early July onwards. Beetroot likes an open sunny position in light, fertile soil. It is not sown until April or May in good weather. Too early sowings leads to bolting. Repeat sowing can be carried out into July for an autumn and winter supply. Beetroot can be potted (described in further details here) or sown thinly in rows about 30cm apart as the plants are thinned out in two stages, first to about 5cm apart and then to 10cm apart. But the seedlings can be left crowded to produce a larger number of small beets if preferred. Water during dry spells of more than a few days.
In September, beetroot sown in May should be lifted before the roots get old and coarse. Beetroots do not improve by getting very big. The little beets can be used as soon as they are big enough, even ping-pong ball size. Twist off the tops without injuring the injuring the skin of the beetroot in any way (bleeding is very easily caused and, if severe, may spoil the colour of the roots) and store them in a cool room. Don’t throw away the tops, they have a lot of taste and can be cooked and eaten like spinach.
- succession growing (planting a small number of seeds every month or so) is the key to having fresh, young beetroot to enjoy all summer
- early in the year, sow beetroot seeds in module trays in your greenhouse or hot warm kitchen window to give them a head start (from April, plant them directly into the ground)
Bolting: while plants do not ‘run away’ physically, their growth may run rapidly, and this is basically what this phrase means in the gardening world. Plants, mostly vegetable or herds, are said to bolt when their growth goes rapidly from being mostly leafy based to being mostly flower and seed based. Plants bolt due to hot weather – a survival mechanism in the plant.
Thinning: most gardeners sow at least 3 seeds per hole to ensure germination – so once the plants have begun to grow, they must be thinned, removing plants that are too close together to avoid harming the rest of the seedlings.