Two Wests & Elliott's Gardening Guide To Growing Beetroot
Growing beetroot is fairly straightforward and along with the relatively short growing period it is a nice crop to start out with. Follow our common sense approach to growing and you’ll be enjoying beautifully fresh, sweet beetroot almost all year round.
Selecting The Seeds
There are three main types of beetroot: ·
Globe – the best known, these should be sown in early Spring (late February to early March) ready for harvesting from June onwards. ·
Long-rooted – these can grow up to 12” long and are best sown from May through to early June. Although long-rooted varieties tend not to be as sweet as globe ones, they are ideal for winter storage, lifting from the ground in the autumn. ·
Intermediate – also called ‘tankard’ as the roots of these varieties have a squat shape.
Beetroot is a fast growing crop, with seedlings appearing just 15 days after sowing, depending on the weather.
You can make this period even shorter by soaking the seeds for several hours or overnight before sowing – this removes any chemicals from the seeds which will have been preventing them from germinating so far. It takes approximately 11 weeks from sowing for you to have a crop ready to harvest. Globe varieties tend to grow faster and will be ready to eat between 8-10 weeks, whilst the long rooted varieties can take between 16 to 20 weeks to mature.
When To Sow
You can start sowing beetroot from as early as February as long as you can keep them above 10*C. To do this, sow seeds in pots, or trays and keep them in a cold frame, greenhouse or polytunnel.
Once the plants are around 4” high harden them off for around two weeks and they will be ready for planting out. Plant 2” apart, in rows 12” apart – this leaves sufficient space to get a hoe down to keep them weed free. If you’re sowing early in the year choose a bolt-resistant variety – bolting occurs when seeds have been sown too early, seedlings haven’t been thinned out quickly enough or lack of nutrients.
From mid April onwards – once the danger of harsh frosts has past - you can sow beetroot seeds directly into the ground. Pre-prepare the ground by covering with a cloche about two weeks before you intend to sow – this will help to increase the soil temperature.
When sowing directly into the ground use a hoe to form a groove – called a ‘drill’ - about 1” deep. Space the seeds out to be about 2” apart and in rows 12” apart. After sowing rake the soil back over the drill and water. Once the seedlings have produced their first leaves and are about 1” tall thin them out, discarding any of the weaker plants.
When sowing beetroot for winter storage sow in late May through to June – if you don’t harvest earlier crops before October they will become woody. As beetroot is such a fast growing crop you can enjoy fresh beetroot throughout the summer by sowing batches of seeds every month, from February onwards.
Where To Sow
Beetroot can be grown in large containers, raised beds or directly into the ground. ·
Containers – these need to be a minimum of 12” in diameter. You can sow directly into the pot, thinning out seedlings so that you end up with about 8 plants per pot. ·
Raised Beds – beetroot likes a free draining, medium to light soil with a ph of 6.5 – 7.5. If your soil doesn’t meet these needs then using a raised bed will make it easier for you to prepare a contained area with the correct growing media for healthy growth.
In The Ground – beetroot grows best in an un-shaded spot, in light to medium, well drained soil which is neutral or slightly alkaline (if you have an acid soil you’ll need to add some lime). Prepare the area by removing any perennial weeds or large stone which would get in the way of the roots. A few weeks before planting rake in some general fertiliser (this will help prevent plants from getting Leaf Spot, a disease caused by lack of nutrients.)
Looking After Beetroot
Beetroot likes to be kept well watered – this encourages them to grow quickly and will result in more tasty and tender crops. If the plants become too dry this can result in the beetroot having woody roots, yields being low or the plants may go to seed or bolt prematurely. Intermittent watering can cause the roots to split. Over-watering will result in lots of leaf growth whilst the roots don’t develop.
To make watering easy you can apply mulch around the plants which will help to retain moisture. Or use a watering system designed to supply water at a slow, constant rate – such as weeping hose or a drip watering system.
As beetroot has dense leaf growth this helps to keep weeds at bay, so it’s only when the plants are young that you’ll need to hoe between them to keep weeds down.
Protecting Your Crops
Crop protection is relatively simply as beetroot is affected by very few pests or diseases. You just need to watch out for the following:
Birds – they like the young seedlings, so provide some protection by covering plants with net or keep them under cover – for example with a cloche or vegetable cage – until they have grown stronger.
Aphids – if your beetroot is attacked by aphids the leaves will curl and any new shoots will be distorted, resulting in lower yields. Control organically by encouraging other insects – such as ladybirds – which will feed on the aphids or cover with very fine mesh, such as Enviromesh.
Marigold Leaf / Leaf Miner – these are small white grubs which burrow inside the leaves, resulting in blisters forming. To treat simply destroy any of the affected leaves.
Harvesting beetroot is easy. Simply lift the plants as you require them – with globe varieties the smaller they are the sweeter they will taste. When harvesting ideally lift alternate plants as this provides more room for growth to the plants still in the ground.
Once it gets to October you should think about lifting any remaining beetroot in the ground, ready for winter storage. Remove the beetroot from the ground on a dry day, so that you can leave them out on the surface of the ground to dry out. Once dry, remove the leaves to about 2” from the crown of the beetroot – you should do this by twisting rather than cutting, as cutting through the leaves will cause them to bleed, which will affect both the flavour and colour of the beetroot.
Why Grow Beetroot?
Declared by health experts as a ‘superfood’ beetroot is:
Virtually fat free – there are only 36 calories per 100g
Rich in iron – good for tiredness and anaemia
Rich in folic acid - (otherwise known as vitamin B9) excellent for expectant mums
A good source of vitamins - (A, B and C) and minerals (calcium, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium)
High in fibre
It also has antioxidant properties and recent research has also declared beetroot a ‘mood’ food – betaine found in beetroot is known to help us relax and make us feel good.