I first began growing beets – otherwise called beetroot – here in Virginia (gardening zone 6B). After my first year of growing beets, I found them easy to grow and delicious when enjoyed fresh. I’ve put together the ultimate guide to growing beetroot in your home garden so that you too can grow your own beetroot.
Table of contents
What Are Beetroots or Beets?
Beets are the world’s first superfood. Beets (beta vulgaris) as we know them today were first cultivated in either Germany or Italy around the year 1545 A.D. However, they were grown much, much earlier in human history. There were beets grown in ancient Babylon, and the Greeks and Romans grew them, too. In the Elizabethan era, beets were much favored, and Thomas Jefferson added them to his garden at Monticello.
Beets, it seems, have been a favorite in gardens for a long time.
Growing Beets from Seeds
Growing beets from seeds is the best way to grow beetroot as they do not transplant well at all. I’ve tried to transplant seedlings growing too close to other plants in my raised bed vegetable garden and they never thrive.
Choose a spot in your garden that receives full sunlight. This means 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily.
When to Plant Beet Seeds
Spring is the best time to plant beet seeds. Beetroot seeds tolerate a light frost and cooler temperatures, and thrive when daytime temperatures are around 50 -70 degrees F. They can tolerate a light frost.
Prepare the Soil
After choosing a sunny location for your beet plants, get a soil test done if it is a new vegetable garden area. A soil test conducted by your local Cooperative Extension office will tell you exactly what you need to add to the soil to grow the best beets.
Beets prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Prepare the soil by adding compost or manure and turning it in with a pitchfork. Beetroots like a good, fertile soil, but tolerate poorer soils, too.
Planting Distance and Depth for Beet Seeds
Each beet seed actually contains 4-6 seeds, so when you plant beets, don’t be surprised when they seem to grow close together! Even though you’ve spaced them 4 to 6 inches apart, as recommended, the seeds may provide several plants. Thin the plants out by pulling up the seedlings. You can use the green leaves in salads or sauteees. Yes, beet leave are edible!
A hack I saw online and want to try in my garden is to use a muffin tin to space the beets. To do this, turn the pan upside down and press it into the soil. Where there’s a circle, plant a seed. Whoever thought of this is a genius!
Beet seeds should be planted about 1/2 inch deep. We just put the seeds on top of the soil and sprinkle garden soil on top of them. Then, gently press down on the seeds and water them.
Watering Schedule for Beets
In general, beets need about an inch of water per week. That’s a similar watering schedule to other vegetables. If you haven’t had a good rainstorm, use a sprinkler or soaker hose to ensure the plants receive an inch of water per week..
How Long Do Beets Take to Grow?
Each variety takes a slightly different amount of time to grow. Most will be ready for harvest in 45-60 days.
When Do You Pick Beetroots?
When you buy your beet seeds, look for the “matures in” days on the front of the package. This gives you a rough estimate of when the beetroots are ready to harvest. You’ll be able to see the beetroots above the soil. When they look about the size of a billiard ball, they are ready to harvest, although you can always pick them a little earlier.
To pick beetroots, pull the whole beet plant up by the stem. Grasp the stem near the beetroot and pull. Then, shake the excess soil off of the beetroot. I wash mine under the backyard hose to get most of the dirt off. I trim the leaves off but do not cut into the beet. If you do, the pretty color washes out while it’s cooking.
Varieties to Try
The fun of growing beets is that you can try many different varieties. There are golden beets, which are a lovely orange color, as well as many types of purple beets.
Some of my favorites and those varieties of beets that do well in Virginia include:
- Detroit Dark Red – this is our go-to favorite variety here in Virginia for a reliable, steady, tasty beetroot
- Bull’s Blood – another great variety that produces very large beetroots
- Jupiter – a little slower growing but very sweet beet
- Chiogga – some Southern gardeners love Chiogga and it grows well in warmer climates
Beet Leaves – Uses
Did you know that you can also eat beet leaves? Beet leaves are edible and packed with great nutrition! They taste a little like spinach, but I actually prefer beet leaves to spinach.
To use beet leaves, choose small, whole leaves from the plants. Discard any beet leaves that have holes in them. The holes are from insect damage.
Trim the stems off. Then, cut the beet leaves into small pieces. I sauté them in water or olive oil in a sauce pan until they are wilted. Then, I sprinkle garlic powder on them just before serving. Delicious!
Beet kvass is a delicious fermented probiotic drink. I made it this year from my fresh organic beets. Learn why it is beneficial to health and how to make it: beet kvass.
- Canning beets – you can make and can pickled beets at home
- Easy, Simple Beet and Cabbage Soup
- Beet Kvass
The Gardener’s Journal
I never tasted beets until I ate over at my in-laws house. One Sunday, my mother in law service beet salad as a side dish with our cookout hamburgers and hotdogs. It’s a simple salad made with canned beets or my pickled beet recipe and onions sliced into thin strips. The dressing is Italian dressing or a simple splash of olive oil and cider vinegar. It’s a great salad and surprisingly sweet.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.