When to harvest beets?

By: Joseph Masabni

Beets are a cool-season crop and grow well in the cool temperatures of spring and fall. They do poorly in hot weather. Beets are well suited to large or small home gardens since they require little room. They are grown for both the roots which usually are pickled and the young tops which are used as greens. About 10 feet of row per person will provide enough beets to use fresh or for canning.

Site selection

Beets can be planted in partial shade and grow best in deep, well drained soils. Beets have deep roots that can reach depths of 36 to 48 inches, so do not plant them where tree roots will compete (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Avoid areas where there may be tree roots.

Soil preparation

Before planting, make sure the soil is free of rocks, trash and large sticks. Mix fine pieces of plant material such as grass, leaves and small sticks into the soil to enrich it. Spade the soil 8 to 10 inches deep (Fig. 2). Be sure all plant material is covered with soil so it will break down quickly.

Figure 2. Turn the soil over to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Use a spade or rototiller.

Beets do best in sandy soil in the spring and heavier soil in the fall because sandy soil warms faster than heavier clay soil. They do not grow well in tight clay. In poorly drained areas, make ridges 4 to 6 inches tall to allow water to drain (Fig. 3). The soil should have adequate organic matter to prevent it from crusting because crusty soil causes beet roots to be tough.

Beets are also sensitive to soils deficient in boron. Have your soil tested or ask your county Extension agent about boron deficiencies in your area.

Figure 3. Ridges are very important in low, poorly drained areas. They allow the soil to drain and air to enter.

Varieties

Beets are grown for both the root and top. The tops of any variety can be used for greens when prepared properly.

  • Chioggia
  • Detroit Dark Red
  • Pacemaker II
  • Red Ace
  • Ruby Queen

Planting

Beets can be grown all winter in many South Texas areas. Farther north they should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. Soil temperature must be at least 40F for beet seeds to sprout.

Using a hoe handle, stick or similar object, make a furrow ½ inch deep down the center of the ridge (Fig. 4). Each beet seed produces 2 to 6 plants. Space the seeds 1 to 2 inches apart in the row. Cover seeds lightly with loose soil and sprinkle with water. Use seed treated with a fungicide to prevent the young plants from rotting. Plants should be up in 7 to 14 days. In hot weather, cover seed with sand or light-colored mulch.

For continuous supply of beets, make several plantings 3 weeks apart.

Figure 4. Make a furrow ½ inch deep down the center of the ridge.

Fertilizing

Scatter 1 cup of a complete fertilizer such as 10-20-10 for each 10 feet of row. If the garden soil has a lot of clay, add compost. Mix the fertilizer 4 inches into the soil with a rake and work into beds as shown in Figure 2. Scatter 1 tablespoon of fertilizer for each 10 feet of row beside the plants when they are 4 to 6 inches tall.

Watering

Water the plants well weekly if it does not rain. Beet root systems can reach 36 inches or more if adequate soil moisture is available.

Care during the season

Keep the beet plants free of weeds which use nutrients and moisture. Scratch the soil next to the plants with a rake or hand tool to prevent crusting. Do not work the soil more than 1 inch deep or the root systems may be injured. Begin thinning the beets as soon as they get crowded in the row. Young tops make excellent greens. After thinning, the plants should be 2 to 3 inches apart.

Harvesting

Beets should be ready to harvest 7 to 8 weeks after they are planted.

Young, tender tops often have a mild quality, but the greens can be used until they get large and strong flavored. Young plants can be cooked with the root and top together, or you can use the root alone when it is the size of a golf ball or larger.

Pull the plants and cut off the root. If the tops are to be used, wash and place them in plastic bags in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days. Roots will keep 1 to 2 weeks in plastic bags in the refrigerator.

If all the beets are not used, pull them and place in a compost pile or spade them into the soil.

Insects

Many insecticides are available at garden centers for homeowner use. Sevin® is a synthetic insecticide, while Bt-based insecticides and sulfur are organic options. Sulfur also has fungicidal properties and helps control many diseases. Before using a pesticide, read the label and always follow cautions, warnings and directions.

Diseases

Diseases on beets are most severe in cloudy, damp weather. Check plants daily and treat them with an approved fungicide if diseases appear. Neem oil, sulfur, and other fungicides are available for use. Always follow label directions.

Serving

Beets can be served fresh, or they can be preserved plain or pickled. Beet roots contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals, while beet greens are an excellent source of Vitamin A and calcium.

Harvard beets is a popular, sweet and sour side dish to go with meat and poultry.

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Choosing the Best Time to Pick Beets

Varieties Matter

Several factors make the difference in choosing varieties. One is days to maturity, which can vary considerably. Some beets are flavorful at all ages, while others are better young. Another is whether the beet is bred for long storage. A third is whether you are more interested in greens, beet roots or both.

Beet Variety Choices

Beets come in a variety of colors and shapes, which may affect when they’re ready to harvest.

  • Detroit Dark Red – 60 days. Dark red and well adapted. Good for greens and roots.
  • Chioggia – 50 days. Red and white striped, sweet taste.
  • Formonova – 55 days. Dark red, shaped like a thick carrot and can be 8 inches long; Cylindra is very similar.
  • Golden – 55 days. They taste just like red beets; greens are delicious.
  • Lutz Green Leaf – 60 days. Tastes best when harvested small.

Harvesting Greens

Unlike other vegetables, beets provide two crops. Beet greens are simply leaves; they can be used in salads or cooked. Greens can be harvested at any time, but are most tender when young. Greens can be harvested any time after they are six inches long. Don’t take all the greens, as the plant needs some to keep growing. Greens are even more nutritious than roots.

Harvesting Beet Roots

Although maturity varies from roughly 50 to 70 days (and sometimes longer), beets will be at their most tender when harvested young. You may be able to start harvesting as early as 45 days with some varieties. Although you can continue to harvest for a month or more, older beets tend to be tough and have a woody core.

Pull or Dig

You can pull smaller beets – say about 2 inches in diameter. It’s easier if the soil is damp. Grasp the beet by the leaves as close to the root as you can. You may want to dig larger beets. A bulb planting trowel is a good choice as its narrow blade can easily get between the closely spaced beet plants without damaging others nearby.

Winter Storage

Beets will winter over in most climates, although they may need a mulch in really cold areas. They’ll be less tender, however – discard the woody core and julienne or dice to cook. Plant about one month prior to the first fall frost so they have adequate growing time but don’t get too big.

Picking Beets – Learn The Steps To Harvest Beets

Learning when to harvest beets takes a little knowledge of the crop and understanding the use you have planned for the beets. Harvesting beets is possible as soon as 45 days after planting seeds of some varieties. Some say the smaller the beet, the more flavorful, while other allow them to reach a medium size before picking beets.

Beet Harvesting Info

Picking the leaves for use in various culinary endeavors is also a part of harvesting beets. The attractive leaves are packed with nutrition and may be eaten raw, cooked or used as a garnish. Making juice may be a part of your plan when harvesting beets.

Picking beets is easy once you know what to look for. Shoulders of the beets will protrude from the soil. When to harvest beets depends on the size of beet you desire. The best beets are dark in color, with a smooth surface. Smaller beets are most flavorful. Larger beets may become fibrous, soft or wrinkled.

The time table for harvesting beets will depend

on when the beets were planted, temperatures where the beets are growing and what you are looking for in your beet crop. Beets are best grown as acool season crop, in spring and fall in most areas.

How to Harvest Beets

Depending on soil and recent rainfall, you may want to water the beet crop a day or two before picking beets to make them slip from the soil more easily. This is particularly true if you will be picking beets by hand. To harvest beets by hand, firmly grasp the area where the leaves meet the beet root and give a firm and steady pull until the beet root comes out of the ground.

Digging is an alternative way of harvesting beets. Carefully dig around and below the growing beet, being careful not to slice through and then lift them out of the ground.

After picking beets, wash them if they will soon be used. If beets will be stored for a length of time, place them in a dry, shady place until the soil on them has dried, then gently brush the dried soil off. Wash the beets right before using.

Beet greens can be sparingly and individually trimmed from the root while the roots are still in the ground, or can be cut off the beet root in a bunch after the beet has been harvested.

These simple steps to harvest beets are all that is required to take this vegetable from the garden to the table, stove or storage area.

Have a plan for the beet harvest, as beet greens will last only a few days when refrigerated and beet roots only a few weeks unless stored in sand or sawdust in a cool place, such as a root cellar. When picking beets, try to eat some of them fresh for the best flavor and highest nutritional content.

Beet

Table beet (also known as garden beet, blood turnip or red beet) is a popular garden vegetable throughout the United States. Beet tops are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of vitamin C. The tops are cooked or served fresh as greens and the roots may be pickled for salads or cooked whole, then sliced or diced. Beet juice is a basic ingredient of Russian borscht. The garden beet is closely related to Swiss chard, sugar beet and mangel. Mangels (also known as stock beets) are considered too coarse for human consumption but are grown for stock feed.

Recommended Varieties

Garden (open pollinated)

Crosby’s Egyptian (56 days to harvest; uniform, sweet, dark red roots; semi-globe to heart shaped; glossy, bright green tops, excellent for greens)

Detroit Dark Red (58 days; tender, round, dark red roots)

Early Wonder (52 days; flattened globe shape; dark red, sweet and tender)

Lutz Green Leaf (70 days; an heirloom winter-keeper type; purplish red exterior, deep red interior; large, glossy green tops, excellent for greens; roots stay tender even when large; stores extremely well)

Ruby Queen (60 days; AAS winner; excellent quality; early; round, tender, sweet, fine-grained, attractive, uniform roots)

Sangria (56 days; ideal globe shape, even in crowded rows; deep red; good greens when young)

Sweetheart (58 days; extra-sweet, round, tasty roots; tops good for greens)

Garden (hybrid)

Avenger (57 days; uniform, vigorous; smooth, medium, globe- shaped red roots; glossy tops, good for greens)

Big Red (55 days, best late-season producer, excellent flavor and yield)

Gladiator (48 days; juicy, fine-grained flesh, deep red throughout; holds color without fading when cooked; uniform shape, size and flavor; excellent for canning)

Pacemaker (50 days; early; short tops, excellent-quality roots)

Red Ace (53 days; early; sweet, red roots; resists zoning in hot weather; vigorous grower)

Warrior (57 days; highly uniform, globe shape develops quickly, holds quality as roots grow large; dark red color inside and out; tops fringed with red)

Mini

Little Ball (50 days; very uniform, small size; good shape; very tender; grows quickly to form smooth roots)

Little Mini Ball (54 days; roots the size of a silver dollar at maturity; round; canned whole; short tops good for greens)

Specialty

Cylindra (60 days; long, cylindrical; all slices of equal diameter)

di Chioggia (50 days; Italian heirloom; rounded, candy red exterior; raw interior banded red and white; sweet, mellow flavor; bright green tops, mild and tasty; germinates strongly and matures quickly; does not get woody with age)

Golden (55 days; buttery color, sweet mild flavor)

Green Top Bunching (65 days; round, bright red roots, good internal color in cool weather; tops superior for greens).

When To Plant

Beets are fairly frost hardy and can be planted in the garden 30 days before the frost-free date for your area. Although beets grow well during warm weather, the seedlings are established more easily under cool, moist conditions. Start successive plantings at 3 to 4 week intervals until midsummer for a continuous supply of fresh, tender, young beets. Irrigation assures germination and establishment of the later plantings.

Spacing & Depth

The beet “seed” is actually a cluster of seeds in a dried fruit. Several seedlings may grow from each fruit. Some seed companies are now singulating the seed for precision planting, by dividing the fruit. Plant seeds about 1/2 inch deep and one inch apart. Allow 12 to 18 inches between rows. Poor stands are often the result of planting too deeply or the soil’s crusting after a heavy rain. The seedlings may emerge over a relatively long period of time, making a stand of different sizes and ages of seedlings. Some gardeners find that placing a board over the row after planting preserves the soil moisture and eliminates crusting from hard rains. The board must be removed as soon as the first seedling starts to emerge.

Hand thinning is almost always necessary. The seedlings should be thinned to 1 to 3 inches apart. If thinning is delayed until the plants are 3 inches tall, those removed may be cooked greens, similar to spinach. Some cooks leave the small root (usually about the size of a marble) attached to the greens.

Though it is seldom done, beets actually may be transplanted. Some care must be taken to get the roots oriented vertically so that the beets can develop properly.

Care

Frequent shallow cultivation is important because beets compete poorly with weeds, especially when small. Because beets have extremely shallow roots, hand weeding and early, frequent and shallow cultivation are the most effective methods of controlling weeds in the rows. Deep cultivation after the weeds are large damages the beet roots. Like most root crops, beets need a fertile soil (especially high in potassium) for vigorous growth. Keep your beet plants uniformly supplied with moisture for best performance.

Beets can be harvested whenever they grow to the desired size. About 60 days are required for beets to reach 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the size often used for cooking, pickling or canning as whole beets. Beets enlarge rapidly to 3 inches with adequate moisture and space. With most varieties, beets larger than 3 inches may become tough and fibrous. Beets may be stored in a polyethylene bag in a refrigerator for several weeks. Beets also may be stored in outdoor pits if the beets are dug before the ground freezes in the fall. Cut off the tops of the beets one inch above the roots. Beets store best at 32°F and 95 percent humidity. Do not allow them to freeze.

Questions & Answers

Q. What causes the beets in my garden to develop tops but no roots?

A. The most frequent cause for beet plants failing to develop roots is overcrowding from improper thinning.

Q. What varieties should I grow for beet greens?

A. A special vigorously growing variety, Green Top Bunching, is excellent for producing greens. Crosby Egyptian and Early Wonder also can be used for greens. Planting the seeds 1/2 inch apart without thinning produces an abundance of greens. Swiss chard is a heavy producer of greens very similar to beet greens.

Selection & Storage

Beets can be harvested at any stage of development, from the thinning to the fully mature stage at about 2 inches in diameter. The “thinnings” are beets that have been pulled from the ground prematurely to make room for others when rows are overcrowded. Thinnings can be eaten raw, tops included, in salads or roasted. Beets are high in natural sugar and roasting brings out the natural sweetness.

Beets vary in color and shape based on variety. The most common is the deep maroon globe-shaped beet. There is an Italian variety which has pink and white rings upon slicing. The golden globe is globe-shaped and orange in color then it turns golden yellow when cooked. Another variety is white and still another is pink.

When harvesting beets, separate the green tops from the roots leaving an inch of stem on the beet. Beets larger than 3 inches in diameter are often fibrous and woody. Beet greens are packed with nutritional value but must be prepared separately. Upon storage the greens will quickly draw the moisture from the root greatly reducing flavor and the beets will become shriveled. Leave one inch stem and the taproot intact to retain moisture and nutrients. After separating, beets store well for about a week in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. Use beets while they are still firm and fresh.

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Beets are particularly rich in folate. Folate and folic acid have been found to prevent neural-tube birth defects and aid in the fight against heart disease and anemia. Beets are also high in fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber helps to keep your intestinal track running smoothly and soluble fiber helps to keep your blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels on track.

Nutrition Facts (1 cup cooked, sliced)

Calories 31
Protein 1.5 grams
Carbohydrate 8.5 grams
Dietary Fiber 1.5 grams
Potassium 259 mg
Phosphorus 32 mg
Folate 53.2 mcg
Vitamin A 58.5 IU

Preparation & Serving

Wash beets carefully without breaking the skin. Breaks and tears allow color and nutritional value to escape. After cooking the skin can be easy rubbed away when the beets have cooled. Beets are known for their powerful red pigment which stains dish towels, wooden cutting boards and sinks. Don’t worry about your hands. Salt easily removes stains from skin.

There are many schools of thought on cooking beets. They can be microwaved, steamed, boiled, pickled, roasted or eaten raw. Because beets contain more natural sugar than starch, they are particularly delicious roasted in a hot oven. Roasting concentrates the sugar rather than leaching them out into cooking liquid.

Beets of different size and color cook at different rates. Select beets uniform in size to prevent overcooking. They are done when easily pricked with a fork. Raw beets need only to be scrubbed and grated or sliced as thinly as possible. Borscht is a popular beet soup which can be served hot in winter and cold in summer.

Home Preservation

Beets can be frozen, canned or pickled and dried beets yield fairly good results.

To Freeze — Freezing does not improve the quality of beets, it only preserves the quality you begin with. Freezing magnifies imperfections and woodiness in over mature beets. Select deep, uniformly-red, tender, young beets for freezing.

  1. Wash gently and sort according to size. Trim tops, leaving _ inch of stem and tap root intact to prevent bleeding of color during cooking.

  2. Cook in boiling water until tender — for small beets (1 inch in diameter) 25 to 30 minutes; for medium beets (2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter) 45 to 50 minutes.

  3. Cool promptly in cold water or ice water. Carefully rub peel away and trim the stem and root.

  4. Cut into slices or cubes. Package, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal and freeze for up to one year at zero degrees.

To Can — Beets with a diameter of 1 to 2 inches are preferred for whole packs. Avoid canning beets more than 3 inches in diameter as they are often tough and fibrous.

  1. Remove leafy tops, leaving an inch of stem and tap root to reduce color loss. Scrub well. Cover with boiling water. Boil until skins slip off easily, about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on size. Cool.

  2. Remove skins, trim root and stem. Leave baby beets whole. Cut medium or large beets into 1/2 inch cubes or slices. Cut larger beets in half then slice.
  3. Pack into clean, hot jars, leaving 1 – inch head space. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to pints; 1 teaspoon to quarts, if desired.
  4. Fill jars to 1 inch from top with boiling water. Use a rubber spatula or plastic knife to remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process.

  5. Process in a Dial Gauge Pressure Canner at 11 pounds pressure or in a Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner at 10 pounds pressure. Process pints for 30 minutes and quarts for 35 minutes.

Recipes

Roasted Beets with Dijon Dressing

3 pounds beets, uniform in size (about 2 inches)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
juice of one orange
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash, trim and dry beets. Leave 1/2 inch stem and root intact.

  2. Place beets in a large bowl, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Using clean hands, toss to coat beets with seasoning.

  3. Place beets in a roasting pan in a single layer. Roast 45 minutes or until beets are tender.

  4. Remove from oven and cool enough to handle but still warm. While beets are cooling, make dressing.

  5. In a large serving bowl, whisk together mustard, orange juice, sugar, and vinegar. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and add rosemary. Set aside.
  6. Rub skins from beets and cut into quarters. Place warm beets in bowl and toss with dressing to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes while beets absorb dressing. Serves 6.

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