Growing beetroot at home: expert tips
Beetroot is a popular and easy root vegetable to grow that comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colours. They are healthy, tasty and can be eaten both raw and cooked. Learn how to grow beetroot and harvest this delicious homegrown vegetable.
Beetroot (Beta vulgaris) is a hardy biennial that is grown primarily for its roots. There are numerous beetroot varieties that come in different shapes and colours. Beetroot can be round or cylindrical, and can be red, white, yellow, or red with white rings inside.
The beetroot roots are usually harvested and used fresh. They can be eaten raw in salads, roasted, boiled, made into burgers and they can even be used to make the moistest chocolate cakes imaginable.
This root vegetable is also commonly preserved, traditionally pickled in vinegar. It is often the longer-rooted and slower-maturing varieties that are grown for preserving. Young beetroot leaves are also edible and are regularly used as a tasty and nutritious addition to salads. Sprouted beetroot seeds are also a popular delicacy.
Beetroot is highly nutritious and contains vitamins B and C, as well as potassium, iron and fibre. The root vegetable is thought to help reduce blood pressure, improve digestive health, and help improve blood flow. Red beets contain the compound betacyanin, which is thought to inhibit the growth of some cancers.
Where to grow beetroot?
Growing beetroot is very simple, and it is popular among vegetable growers as it is a versatile and fairly trouble-free crop.
There are a few different methods for growing beetroot to choose from, depending on the size of your plot or garden. Beetroot are usually grown in the ground, but they can also be grown in containers and raised beds.
The crop grows well in any fertile soil, but the ideal growing conditions for beetroot are light and sandy soil, which allows the roots to penetrate easily through the ground. Beetroot love a sunny spot in the garden, ideally with a soil pH of 6.5 to neutral.
If you want to grow beetroot in a container, choose one that is at least 20 cm wide and 20 cm deep. Be sure to pick round-shaped varieties rather than cylindrical ones when growing beetroot in containers.
When to plant beetroot?
If you are growing beetroot from seed, sow seeds directly in the ground from mid-spring when the soil has warmed up. For an earlier crop, start the seeds indoors in late February. Here it is important to choose round and bolt-resistant cultivars to allow for easy planting out.
Beetroot can be harvested as baby roots after around seven or eight weeks or left to grow to full size and harvested 60-90 days after sowing.
Smaller salad beetroot can be harvested from late spring to the middle of autumn. Maincrop mature beetroot will be ready to be pulled from the middle of summer.
Sowing beetroot seeds
Each beetroot seed is commonly a multi-germ cluster of seeds, roughly two to five seeds. The seeds will germinate as a clump. Make sure not to sow too thickly as thinning out will be required. Some varieties have ‘monogerm’ seeds that produce just one seedling.
If sowing undercover in early spring, fill module trays with seed compost, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Compost, and make a 2 cm hole in each module. Drop one seed into the hole, water lightly and place the tray somewhere warm. At a temperature of 18 – 20°C, the seeds should germinate in about a week. Beetroot seed germination begins at around seven to nine degrees Celsius; anything less results in poor germination.
Choosing when to sow beetroot outside is dictated by the temperature of the soil. Only sow seeds directly outdoors when the soil is warm enough, usually from mid-April onwards. Remove any weeds and work the ground to remove large stones and create a fine tilth. Make 2.5 cm deep drills, leaving 20 cm between rows. Water the base of the drill and sow the seeds 10 cm apart.
Sow small batches once a month to ensure a steady supply of beetroot throughout the season.
To grow beetroot in pots: fill a container with a peat-free vegetable compost like our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost. Sow seeds thinly over the compost and with another 2 cm of compost. Pat down and water well.
Once sprouted, thin out the beetroot seedlings so that they are 10 – 12 cm apart. When thinning beetroot seedlings, the leaves of the pulled-out seedlings need not be wasted; they taste great in salads and sandwiches.
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Planting out beetroot
When planting out beetroot started indoors, it is best to plant them outside from May onwards. Wait until the risk of frost has passed and harden them off for a week before planting outside. A fleece blanket can be used to protect the seedlings from the cold and also UV rays and sunburn. Plant the beetroot seedlings 20 to 30 cm apart, leaving 20 cm between rows.
Water the beetroot in well and continue to water regularly throughout the growing season. Water enough to prevent the soil from drying out, but do not over water. This will encourage leaf growth at the expense of root growth.
Weed your beetroot patch regularly since weeds compete for moisture and nutrients. Mulch around the plants after planting to maintain moisture in the soil, reduce transpiration and stop weeds from growing.
To harvest beetroot, simply lift it from the ground and twist off the leaves. Make sure to twist off the stems rather than cutting them off, as cutting the leaves causes bleeding.
Store healthy roots in wooden boxes, or other containers, covered with sand. Store the box in a cool, dry, frost-free location like a cellar.
The best beetroot companion plants
Growing beetroot near plants in the allium family, such as onions (Allium cepa), leeks (Allium porrum), chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and garlic (Allium sativum) is recommended. The smell from these alliums deters pests that could otherwise harm your beetroot crop.
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is one of the best beetroot companion plants as the two do not compete for nutrients. Lettuce has a shallow root system compared to the deeper roots of the beetroot. Lettuce will take up the nutrients near the surface, allowing the beets’ tap-roots to draw the nutrients from deeper in the soil.
Other good companion plants for beets are crops in the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) including cabbage (Brassica oleracea), cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis), brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera) and kale (Brassica oleracea). Beetroot improve the soil as their deep roots draw water and nutrients closer to the surface, boosting the crops around them.
However, there are some crops that should not be planted near beetroot. This includes runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), as the legume puts nitrogen into the soil and that extra nitrogen will promote leaf growth. Planting beetroot near runner beans will result in a plant with lots of leaf and little root. Other crops that should not be next to beetroot include potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris) and spinach (Spinacia oleracea).
Beetroot is one plant that thrives in shade. Want to find out about more plants that succeed in a shady area? Read our article on the best vegetables to grow in shade.