How to Grow Beetroot
What appears on the outside to be a small, turnip-like vegetable opens up to reveal flesh of deep purple and a flavour like nothing else. Yes, the inimitable beetroot.
Beetroots are the roots of the beet plant, a crop closely related to sugar beets, spinach and quinoa. A freshly pulled beetroot is the earthiest tasting vegetable in the garden. Grate them on salads or burgers, roast them or pickle them in jars. You can even eat the leaves which are very much like spinach.
They are packed full of nutrients too, so much so that Olympic athletes are known to juice them for a rich and colourful liquid breakfast. They contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, improve digestion, and increase the body’s white blood cell count. If you don’t like the taste then you can always use them to tie-dye T-shirts and start your own organic clothing line!
If you learn how to properly store and preserve beetroot you can enjoy them all year. The best bit is that they are extremely easy to grow from seed.
Let’s take a look at some different types of beetroot available for you to grow:
There are many different beetroot types in various colours, most are purple but they also come in yellow, red and even white. There are two main beetroot shapes; globular (round), and tapering (long). Most beetroots are grown for their roots, some for their leaves and others still have been bred so that they store for long periods of time.
Here are some good beetroot cultivars:
Boltardy produces the classic beetroots we are used to eating in the UK. They are globe-shaped and deep purple with purple-stemmed leaves. It is an excellent cultivar for beginners; reliable, bolt and disease resistant.
Another good bomb-shaped variety, this time with bright red skins and flesh. Pablo produces very uniform roots and can stay in the ground for a long time without turning woody.
Albina Verdura (Spanish for ‘albino vegetable’) is a white strain of globular beetroot that won’t stain your hands or your clothing when you handle them. They are easy to cultivate and very flavoursome when boiled or roasted.
Another fun globe-shaped variety with orange roots. Burpees Golden is great for roasting and its leaves are excellent when steamed like spinach.
Cylindra is a deep purple tapering variety, almost like an elongated version of Boltardy. It is also bolt and disease resistant and will store for a long time.
Swiss Chards are grown for their stems and leaves which come in many bright colours. Use them to add a little pizazz to the aesthetics of your vegetable garden.
Beetroots are grown from seed. It is best to sow them straight into the ground following the last frost in springtime. This is usually around April.
Although they enjoy fine, moist soil and a fair amount of sun they are a very tolerant crop and will grow in just about any conditions. But don’t choose a bed that has been recently manured, or one that is full of stones; manure turns the soil too acidic and stones will make the beetroots fork.
When you have chosen a suitable spot, take your beetroot seeds and drop them into a glass of water to soak. While you are waiting, dig over your ground and dig in some compost. Rake over to a fine, level tithe.
Draw a line in the soil with a trowel and sow your seeds into it. You want a seed every 5cm (2”) or so. If you are planting several rows then leave 20cm (8”) between rows. Water your seeds in gently (use a watering can and rose).
If you think it likely that birds will attack your crop then cover them with fleece until they begin to shoot. Birds do like a tasty beetroot seed, so watch out! Once your seedlings have reached 2.5cm (1”) high then thin out the weaker ones so you are left with one per 10cm (4”).
If you lack outside space then you may grow round Beetroot varieties in pots, but make sure the pots are large and deep enough to give the plants ample room to swell. Just fill the pot with compost and sow seeds sparingly across the surface before watering in.
You can keep sowing beetroot seeds every couple of weeks until the end of July for continuous cropping.
Ensure the area around your beetroots is kept free of any weeds that will deprive them of light and water.
Keep your beetroots from drying and cracking by watering the crops regularly and evenly. Do not leave them to dry out for a few days then soak them another, or you will end up with problems.
If you notice any flies burrowing into the leaves then remove them, or remove that particular plant so others are less likely to be affected. Grow radishes near them if flies go on the attack (More on companion planting). Similarly if any beetroots turn black and die they should be pulled and discarded.
Beetroots will be ready for harvesting around 3 months after sowing. They are tastier when they are smaller and most varieties are at their best when between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. For pickling you can allow them to get quite a bit larger.
Harvesting is easiest following light rain when the soil is moist. Just grip the beetroot leaves as near to the tuber as possible and gently pull up the plant.
When you have them out of the ground, cut the tops off the roots. You can compost these or choose to eat them. Brush off any soil and decide whether to store or eat them.
Beetroots don’t freeze but they store very well. If you want to put them in the fridge they will last a few weeks. Otherwise you can put them in boxes with damp sand under the stairs or in some other dark, cool spot and they will keep for months. Just remember to wash them before you eat them.
If you want to pickle your beetroot then you need to cook them first. Cover them in foil and roast in the oven for an hour on a medium heat. Take them out, then peel and slice them. Pack slices into sterilized jars and then fill the jars with white vinegar boiled on the stove. Add a teaspoon of salt and seal the jars. Store in a cool dark place. After 2 weeks your pickled beetroot will be ready for the salad plate.
If you eat too much beetroot you might find that your urine turns pink. Don’t worry, you don’t have some horrendous internal bleeding and it is completely harmless, just cut down your snacking!