Grow and Use Beetroot

The name 'beetroot' actually refers to the root of the beet plant. No surprises there. Unless you've grown them though you may not realise that the swollen taproot sits proud of the soil surface. This is helpful because the root is less likely to be marked by stones in the soil if you have a stony vegetable plot. 

Beetroots are sometimes distinguished as globe or long-rooted types. The globe types are usually the ones people prefer to grow because there is less risk of them bolting. All beetroots have a more tender flesh and taste at their best if they are grown quickly.  

Growing Beetroot

Beetroot is usually treated as an annual and seeds are sown anytime from midwinter through to mid autumn in temperate regions. They don't like really cold temperatures so in cold temperate areas it's best to grow between early spring and late summer.  They may be grown throughout the year in subtropical to tropical regions but they can be prone to fungal problems in hot, humid conditions associated with the summer wet season. Some types may run to seed if they are grown out of season. 

They fare best in part to full sun. Any soil will do - they'll grow in light, sandy, heavy or even salty soils. However, for best results grow them in a light, fertile, well-cultivated soil which has been enriched with well-rotted manure. By digging over the soil to loosen it, you can encourage the roots to grow quickly. An ideal soil pH is about 6-6.5.

Well-cultivated soil allows beetroots to grow quickly. The faster they grow, the more tender the roots will be.

Culture

The seeds need to be kept moist until they have germinated. A sprinkling of vermiculite may help to stop them from drying out.  
Seedlings require sufficient water so as to prevent them from becoming woody. Adequate watering will also help to stop the early cropping types from bolting.  

Beetroots need a good supply of potassium and calcium. Manganese deficiency sometimes occurs, showing as a yellowing of leaves. Boron deficiency can cause a hollow inside the root and sometimes blackened roots. Magnesium deficiency an cause yellowing and then browning or plant tissues. All of these can be overcome by ensuring that the soil is well-prepared and by feeding with a liquid fertiliser once established. Don't use fertilisers with high nitrogen content because these will promote bushy growth at the expense of roots. 

Planting

The seeds can be very slow to germinate and are actually a solid cluster of several seeds. It's best to soak them for 24 hours before sowing to speed up germination. Add a top dressing of general purpose fertiliser before planting. You can also dust the seeds with a fungicide prior to planting. 

Plant the seeds to a depth of 1-1.5cm in rows. Plant rows of globe types about 30cm apart. For long-rooted types allow about 45cm between rows. Seedlings should emerge after 10-14 days. When seeds emerge thin them out to one every 5-8cm. You can also try transplanting greenhouse grown seedlings into rows but the success rate of transplants is not always high.
To make the most of your beetroot supply, try sowing new rows of seeds every four to six weeks.   

Problems

Pest and disease problems are usually minimal but sometimes different problems exist. Aside from the mineral deficiencies already mentioned, the main diseases are leaf spot which is caused by fungi. Areas of the leaf become discoloured and fall out. Damping off can kill off seedlings before they get established and if this happens the seedling withers and falls over. Crown gall may cause lumpy growths on the roots. Root rots can cause decay on the inside of the root like in heart rot, or on the outside as in violet root rot which is seen as a velvety purple layer. 

Pests can include leaf miners which leave behind squiggly tunnels in the leaves. The caterpillars of some moths can also be problematic, particularly on older plants. 

Harvest

The time to harvest can vary considerably depending on variety and time of year. As a general rule of thumb you can expect to be lifting beetroots from 10-16 weeks after sowing. They should be smaller than a tennis ball. Be careful not to damage the roots when lifting them because they will bleed profusely. If picking some early and leaving others it's a good idea to lift alternate plants so that those remaining in the rows have more room to grow.   

If you plan to have plants continue into the colder months in cold temperate regions then put a layer of pea straw down to protect the roots from frost and cold weather damage.    
Beetroot lasts for several months if stored in the fridge. In cold storage it will last for several weeks. 
Leave a centimetre or two of stalk on your beetroots when harvesting otherwise they may bleed. >>>>

Varieties
The most popular varieties have red flesh in the root; but there are also varieties with yellow and other coloured roots. Some crop earlier. Those with round, ball like roots are generally easier to grow than those with elongated, cylindrical roots. There are subtle differences in the way different varieties taste. Red varieties do tend to stain though when you cook them or put them on a plate alongside other vegetables; where the yellow varieties don’t.

Ways to Eat Beetroot

Beetroot is a rich source of vitamin C, fibre, iron, calcium, and potassium. The leaves when consumed as salad greens are a source of beta-carotene and have high vitamin A content. Beetroot may be eaten fresh or cooked as follows:

  • Grated in salads
  • Young tender leaves as a salad green
  • Sliced and added to burgers or patties
  • Baked or boiled and served with a white sauce
  • Grated, mixed with egg, a dash of flour and other grated vegetables; then fried as a vegetable patty.
  • Pickled and served as an accompaniment to stews, soups or roast dinners
  • As the main ingredient on borscht (beetroot soup) served with a dollop of sour cream