Roots 'n' Shoots: Beetroot: How To Grow - Vegetable of the Month

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Beetroot: How To Grow - Vegetable of the Month

Beetroot stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
4/5 – Easy (monthly check-ups)
Water:
3/5 – Moderate (high heat, every second day)
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun, no shade
Training:
1/5 – None
Fertilise/Feeding:
1-3/5 – Moderate (growing, monthly) to Minimal (during root set, none)
Time to Harvest:
3/5 – Moderate (2-3 months)
Frost Hardiness:
3/4 – Mildly Hardy (can’t take severe frost)


Uses
Culinary
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Nutrient deficiencies
Container Plant:
Only ‘short-rooted’ varieties


Beta vulgaris var. rapacea
Flora von Deutschland ├ľsterreich und der Schweiz 1885
Kurt Stubers Online Library

Quick Intro
Beetroot or beet is a well-known root crop. They are available in many shapes (long, short globe and straight rooted) and colours (Purple, golden, white & candy striped). Interestingly beets are mature before carrots, even though they have a larger root mass. Beets are carefree, with good soil they’ll likely grow just about anywhere.


History

Domesticated beetroot evolved from wild sea-beet, which grows along the seashore of Europe and Asia. It is now widely cultivated in Europe and America. Both the root and the leaves are eaten, some even prefer beetroot leaves to spinach J.

Science Stuff

Beetroot (Beta vulgaris) belongs to the beet or goosefoot family (Chenopodidae) This family includes Good King Henry, Orache & Fat Hen vegetables. This includes the spinach and swiss chard vegetables – so watch out! Your beet and spinach can cross-pollinate! J

Beets contain the nitrogen-containing anthocyanin (red pigment), betanin, which is used as a food colouring (this is what traditionally gave red velvet cakes their gorgeous colour J).

Coloured Beets
Photo: Beetman, Wikipedia

Growing Beets

Beet seeds are planted directly into the garden once the soil is warm enough, since they do not transplant well. Beets can be raised all year round in SA and Zone 7 gardens because the ground stays warm enough during winter and we do not get snow. Beets grown in winter will take longer to set, due to the reduced amount of light and shorter day lengths in winter as compared to summer.

Long rooted and large globe beets should be planted in the garden with soil dug over at least 30cm deep. These are designated as your main crop. Short rooted, small globe varieties or baby varieties can be grown in pots that are at least 20cm deep and will supply beets earlier than the main crop.

Beets in my garden take 2-3 months to set a mature root and lots of extra potassium (potash) added to the soil (as I have savannah soil). Else you will have bottle-brushes instead of beet J. Potash is added in a for-nightly (summer) to monthly (winter) basis. Like carrots, beets can be fertilised during their growing stage every second week, but once the roots have set, do not fertilise, as this will create split roots. Potash can be added regardless of root set or not – which makes for really useful stuff!

Succession Planting

I have explained this in my carrot section. Since then the succession planted roots have matured – and they clearly have their own idea about when to mature regardless of my well planned succession planting. So I am going to revise my succession planting for the beets and carrots to see whether this works better.

I am going to increase my square-foot planning space from 1 square foot to a square as large as 4 square foot spaces. I will plant these out according to my initial dimensions (5 beets per square foot, so 4 times larger would be 20 beets in a square). I am also going to plant these out every month and see whether that gives improved succession of the root crops J.
New succession planting, so 20 beets in 4x 1 foot(30x30cm)-squares, 36 carrots.
Alternating with carrots to reduce mono-cropping and pest accumulation.

If your soil is too cold in winter or if you get snow, I would suggest planting in squares (it still maximises space usage), but do not plant them in succession. Rather store the excess for the winter months.

Other Beet Tips

Some people say to be careful when you harvest the beet to minimise bleeding (and everything being red), but I have found that fresh beets do not bleed nearly as much as store-bought beets.
As with carrots, once the beets start to set their roots – cover the exposed root with soil, this prevents ‘brown shoulders’ on the root due to browning on the top of the root when it is subjected to sunlight.

Exposed beets
Dead and damaged leaves can be removed. Sometimes when it is very hot and the beets are exposed to a lot of sunlight their leaves will get red blotches – this is a defence mechanism of the plant to decrease sunlight and ‘sunburn’ – so do not worry if you see this J.
Red beet leaves to prevent sun damage

If seedlings are grown next to larger crops – just look out for the larger crop leaves not smacking the seedlings on the head! - especially when the wind blows or during rain. Since I’ll be planting in larger squares, I hope this problem will be minimised as well J. Remove any leaves that are in danger of hitting seedlings or is already lying atop seedlings, since this smothers, damages and sometimes kills seedlings.


Harvesting & Storing

Beets are stored the same way as carrots.

Beets are pulled from the ground by grabbing the leaves close to the root and turning the root while you pull it out. Usually beetroots are easier to lift than carrot roots, since the taproot is a lot smaller. But, if the root is being suborn, do not pull too hard or the root will break in half! Rather dig out or loosen some of the soil around the root and then remove.

In mild winter areas the beets can be left in the ground and use as needed.

Long term storage: If you can, beets can be stored in trays/boxes containing sand for winter usage. After washing the beets, the leaves are trimmed to 1cm from the root, then place them next to one another (not touching) in a tray filled with dampened sterile/clean river sand. Layer the sand and beets singly. The tray is sealed and stored in a cool, frost-free (and I suppose dark) place.

More practically, you can blanch the beets. After blanching dry the beets - make sure they are dry (leave for a few hours to dry) and then store in the refrigerator – or else you’ll have mushy beets when you cook them from not-properly-dried-before-frozen beets J.

Sort term storage: Fresh beets can be kept at room temperature for 3-4 days, after 3 days at room temperature or just a day in the fridge, they start to shrivel. Vacuum packing beets with a few drops of water, allows them to keep for up to a week in the fridge. The best place for short term storage of beets, is to just leave it in the ground until needed, especially if you have mild winters. Large beets (and carrots), contrary to popular belief, are not tough – I have had beets larger than a tennis ball (350g) that were still sweet and tender. They become tough from standing on the market shelf for too long J.

Seed Collection & Storage

Beets also flower in their second ‘summer’ in the ground. Now this can be in the same season/year (As our year in SA is flanked by summer and spring – Summer in Jan-Mar and Spring in Sep-Dec). Beets flower after they were exposed to a cold period.  The beets stored in sand can be replanted in spring and will flower J. Flowers are wind-pollinated.

Beet varieties will cross pollinate (such as yellow x purple, straight x globe ect). They can also cross-pollinate with some other members of the Chenopodiaceae family, such as spinach and swiss-chard.  So cover the flowers with netting/fleece and hand pollinate those you desire or just let the wind do that for you J. The seeds are ready for collection after they have dried and the flower stem has become brittle. The seeds should be harvested in the protective netting or bag used to isolate them from other Chenopodiaceae members, as the seeds easily scatter.

Before planting, the seeds are soaked in water overnight and the maximum germination soil temperature is 29oC (85oF) and the minimum is 4oC (40oF).

My beets:

Starke Ayres Detroit Dark Red: Large globe (purple) rooted beets. This is a good variety for hot and dry climates.

Detroit Dark Red

Franchi Candy Striped Beets (Chioggia): These are smaller globe rooted varieties with white and pink stripes. The Detroit Dark Red has superior flavour to these, but they make gardening interesting J. These set about a month quicker than the Detroit ones.

Candy Striped Beet







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2 comments:

  1. You are back. Great :-). Hope your eyes are doing well. What's the meaning of this, "Most Problematic Nemesis:
    Nutrient deficiencies?"
    Again lots of good info, but what's this, "This family includes Good King Henry, Orache & Fat Hen vegetables.?"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beetroot is generally carefree, so the biggest problem is nutrient deficiencies in the soil (such as potassium shortage that leads to very hairy beetroots - similar to carrots, or magnesium defeficiency that leads to leaf yellowing -chlorosis- that's the technical term if I remember correctly. I have no idea what good king henries, or orache or fat hen vegetables are- I think their uncommon vegetable that may have been more widely used in medieval times or such :) It is the list of common relatives in the beetroot family that my one reference book gave, with no pictures/other info. ... quick wikipedia search ... ok good king henry is a type of goosefoot and is used like asparagus, orache is also known as saltbush and used like spinach, and fat hen vegetables are -?- nothing on wiki, lets try google, they are another type of goosefoot (its iron rich) and seems to be used like spinach as well. So basically the family consists of spinach-like vegetables :)

    ReplyDelete

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