Beetroots are easy to grow and for a small amount of effort you can expect to be rewarded with tight, round, purplish-red roots that can be pickled, roasted or grated raw into salads. We find beetroot fairly quickly in our garden – as long as the chickens don’t bust their way into the veg beds and get at them. If you can allow them to grow un-molested then within about 9 or so weeks of planting a few seedlings you’ll have a kitchen-ready cluster of reddish roots
Companions Carrot, cucumber, lettuce, onion, beans, fennel, cabbage, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi.
Quantity 6 per person.
You can grow beetroot all year round where we live but this is definitely a winter favourite.
Chiggoia Red/White with red and white rings through to the core of its root.
Detroit Dark Red a globe variety with typical rounded roots - good in containers and on shallow soils
Cylindrica forms an elongated root better suited to deeper soils.
Bull's Blood heirloom variety with deep purple leaves that can be harvested when young for salads. Roots are delicious too, with concentric dark and light rings when cut
Mangel Wurzel an orange beet with massive golden roots. Sweet when steamed or braised. A bit of an oddity, can be left in the garden for a long time.
In warmer parts sow between August and May and in cooler, frost-prone gardens sow between September and March.
Soaking your seeds for an hour or so before sowing can improve the chances of good germination.
Just like the rest of us, Beetroot likes to be in the sun but it can also handle partial shade. It can be grown between taller crops such as broad beans or alongside feathery carrots. Beetroot can also be grown in containers with plenty of drainage holes in the bottom.
Being a root vegetable, beetroot likes a fine, well-dug soil that is generally lump-free – at least to a hand’s-depth (So ideal for those with sandy soils). This allows their roots to grow evenly as they penetrate the soil and swell to perfection. Try and provide your beetroot with a soil that you can pretty much run your hand through – with a bit of effort. Soil should have a few goodies dug into it – such as sheep pellets, well-rotted manure or compost – about a spade full per square metre (short stride by short stride). Beetroot often grow well on soil that was composted for a previous crop – such as last season’s cabbages or broccoli.
You can sow beetroot straight into your garden beds as long as the soil is not too cold. Sow seeds about a finger tip deep and try and space them about a thumb knuckle apart. Thin seedlings as they develop so you end up with about a thumb’s length between them.
However, slugs can be a problem – wiping out tiny seedlings overnight in the garden. To get around this and to have seedlings ready for warmer times you can sow your seed into trays or punnets in early spring and protect them under glass or clear polythene as they develop. Pop two or three seeds into each punnet and select the strongest grower once they have sprouted and formed a pair of leaves. Seedlings are ready for planting out when they get to about a thumb’s length in height.
Plant seedlings into the garden about as far apart as they are tall. As they grow you can then harvest every other beetroot and eat them young and small then simply let the remainder grow a little larger before pulling them.
For a well-rounded root your plants will need regular watering - especially in dry spells. Best is to check soil moisture on dry days – should be cool and damp when you push your finger tip beneath the surface. Adjust watering accordingly until it rains again. Mulch surrounding soil as seedlings start to swell at their base and use a hoe or Niwashi to keep weeds down.
Leaves can be picked during the growing period, just pinch one or two from each plant to add to salads. Careful you don’t pull on the roots when you do this – best use a knife.
As soon as the sight of those swollen roots starts you thinking about borscht, salads, pickles and the like then they are ready for harvest. Size-wise, we are talking about halfway between a golf ball and a tennis ball – unless they are cylindrical in which case the size of a medium to large carrot should do. Don’t let roots get too big or they will be tough and fibrous.
Sow or plant a batch of beetroot every three weeks and you’ll have a steady supply for the kitchen.