Traditionally used for feeding livestock in the winter, this heirloom beet produces lush edible leaves and a root up to 20 pounds in weight! Average: 100 days
Detailed planting instructions:
Plant in early spring, as soon as you can work the soil, ¾ inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. For continuous harvest, make successive plantings every three weeks until midsummer. For winter storage, sow crop about 10 weeks before heavy freeze.
The wrinkled "seedball" usually contains two to four viable seeds, making it necessary to thin to 3- to 4-inch spacings if you plan to harvest young, small or cylindrical-shaped roots, or 6-inch spacings for larger roots for winter storage.
Begin thinning when seedlings are about 4 to 5 inches tall, and eat the thinnings. Cut rather than pull plants when thinning to avoid disturbing roots of other plants.
Unlike most root crops, beets can be started inside or in cold frames and transplanted into the garden.
Use floating row covers to discourage insects early in the season.
Keep well-weeded. Competition and uneven watering can make beets stringy and tough.
Beets are closely related to Swiss chard and spinach. Avoid following these crops in rotation.
Beets tolerate average to low fertility. Too much nitrogen will encourage top growth at the expense of root development.
Best color and flavor develop under cool conditions and bright sun. When beets mature in warm weather, they are lighter colored, have less sugar and have more pronounced color zoning in the roots. Fluctuating weather conditions produce white zone rings in roots.
Beets are biennials. Normally, they produce an enlarged root during their first season. Then after overwintering they produce a flower stalk. If they experience two to three weeks of temperatures below 45 F after they have formed several true leaves during their first season, a flower stalk may grow prematurely. Many newer varieties are less sensitive to this problem.
Beets can be harvested whenever they grow to the desired size. About 60 days are required for beets to reach 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the size often used for cooking, pickling or canning as whole beets. Beets enlarge rapidly to 3 inches with adequate moisture and space. With most varieties, beets larger than 3 inches may become tough and fibrous. Beets may be stored in a polyethylene bag in a refrigerator for several weeks. Beets also may be stored in outdoor pits if the beets are dug before the ground freezes in the fall. Cut off the tops of the beets one inch above the roots. Beets store best at 32°F and 95 percent humidity. Do not allow them to freeze.
When harvesting beets, separate the green tops from the roots leaving an inch of stem on the beet. Beets larger than 3 inches in diameter are often fibrous and woody. Beet greens are packed with nutritional value but must be prepared separately. Upon storage the greens will quickly draw the moisture from the root greatly reducing flavor and the beets will become shriveled. Leave one inch stem and the taproot intact to retain moisture and nutrients. After separating, beets store well for about a week in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. Use beets while they are still firm and fresh.
Saving beet seeds is a two-year project because this biennial doesn't flower and produce its seed clusters until the next growing season. Tie up the stalks to stakes when they become floppy, look for blossoms in June and July, and harvest the seeds in August. Cut off the tops and allow them to dry under cover, then strip off the seeds. Restrict yourself to a single variety each year if you will be saving seeds, beet seeds have a talent for cross-pollination over distances of a mile or more.