B is for Beets

Beet coming up from seed.

Beet coming up from seed.

If you read my post on Bok Choy, here’s a quiz for you: Are beets a warm or cool-season vegetable? A cool-season vegetable, right. Why? Because it’s the root and leaves that we eat. If you were to plant beets (direct seeding in the ground) in January or February, your harvest should be ready in Spring. If you plant in August, you should have a harvest in November/December. So go plant some seeds now. Root vegetables actually do better if you put the seed directly in your garden rather than transplant a seedling.

I’ve had mixed luck with beets and I attribute that to several factors. Some years I have excellent yields, others not so good. The picture above, for example, is a beet growing from an old seed I planted last winter. A savvy reader might say, “aha! exactly how old was that seed?” Good question, and I have no idea. Seeds do have a shelf life. I could get into a long talk about the birds and the bees of plant propagation, but I’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say now, seeds get old. Only buy high-quality seeds, and only the amount you think you’ll use in the current season. That will lower the chance of bad seed germination.

Beet seeds are cheap. My best advice on growing beets is to simply try. Follow the directions on the packet, keep the soil moist, and thin with scissors as they germinate. For some reason, beet seeds are actually a seed ball and send out two to four seedlings per “seed.” That means thinning WILL be necessary. Use scissors (rather than pull so that you don’t pull out the one you want to keep) and cut when the seedlings are a couple of inches tall.

Try planting in different parts of the garden. Just because they are cool-season vegetables doesn’t mean they need any less sun. They like full sun.

I love beet greens almost as much as I like the beets themselves. You can actually cut the little leaves off while the beet is growing and add them to salads. (I think it’s obvious to say that the actual beet needs most of its leaves to keep growing?) I also like experimenting with cylindrical, candy cane stripes, and yellow varieties.

Beets are actually a complicated plant. You can store your harvest for a long time, but you must remove the greens. The greens will steal the water content of the beet if left intact in storage. Clean the leaves well, as they get gritty, and saute in olive oil or put in soups. My kid has been eating beets her whole life, and still likes them well enough. In fact, now that her favorite color is purple, she likes them better than ever.

About master kindergardener

Santa Clara County Master Gardener since 2007, Mom since 2009, Gardener since birth.
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