Beets (Beta vulgaris) belong to the same species as Swiss Chard, so when growing for seed, do not plant both crops at the same time without planning for isolation. Beets are tasty and easy to grow, and both the roots and leaves can be used in cooking.
Plant in early spring, as soon as soil can be worked. You can plant successive plantings until midsummer.
Plant ¾ inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows 12-18 inches apart.
When growing beets for seed, spacing needs to be significantly increased the second year, and staking the plants is recommended for support.
Beets are typically not affected by pests and diseases but may be affected by: black bean aphids, boron deficiency, birds, and slugs.
Harvest beets 60-90 days after planting, before they become woody. Harvest when roots are about the size of a golf ball. Gently pull beets out of the soil by the base of their stem.
Beets are often added to salads or roasted winter vegetable dishes. Try this recipe, “Roasted Beets with Mint Yogurt“.
Beets will store in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Separate varieties of Beta vulgaris by 800 feet to 1/2 mile in their second year of growth.
To ensure viable seeds, save seeds from at least 5 plants. When maintaining a variety over many generations, save seeds from 20-50 plants. If you’re saving seeds for genetic preservation of a rare variety, save seeds from 80 plants or more.
Beets are a biennial crop that requires vernalization to trigger its reproductive phase. In order to flower, plants must be subjected to temperatures below 40 degrees F for at least 10 weeks. Overwinter the beets in your garden if your garden meets this requirement and maintains a minimum temperature of 15 degrees F or above. Mulch or row cover can help protect the temperatures. If overwintering in the garden, sowing should be timed so that the crop will be slightly smaller than full size by winter because young plants are hardier to cold than mature plants. If your garden is too cold for in-ground vernalization, harvest and store beets when the soil is relatively dry, before the first hard frost. Remove soil by brushing, but do not wash. Trim leaves to just above the crown by making 2-3 diagonal cuts upwards from the base of the leaf stems. Store in any ventilated container lined with wood shavings or sand. Remove any diseased beets before storage. Optimal storage is near 35 degrees F and 90% relative humidity.
In the spring as soon as the soil can be worked, plants should be thinned or replanted with proper spacing for seed production: 18 inches between plants in rows 36 inches apart to accommodate the large flowering and fruiting branches that will develop. Staking is recommended.
Seeds at the base of the flower stalks ripen first, and seed maturation continues up the stalks. Seeds change from green to a tannish-brown color as they mature.
Once seeds start ripening, there will almost always be a mixture of mature and immature seeds on plants. Harvesting when approximately ⅔ of the seeds are brown is recommended. Depending on the scale of seed collection, individual seed stalks can be cut or entire plants can be pulled from the garden and moved to a place where they can continue drying. Depending on the percentage of ripe seeds at harvest, 7-14 days should be a sufficient drying period.
The seed stalks can be threshed using one of several methods. Small lots and cut branches can be processed by running a gloved hand along the length of the stalk with a container placed underneath to catch dislodged seeds; stalks should be discarded once they are stripped of seeds. Larger lots and whole plants can be placed in large tubs or on tarps and treaded upon. Threshed seedstalks should be discarded, and the seed lot should then be screened and winnowed.
When stored under cool, dry conditions, beet seeds can be expected to remain viable for 5 years.