Striped beetroot: growing, harvesting & preparing

Verena
Verena
Verena
Verena

I grew up on a small, organic family farm and after a gap year spent working on an American ranch, I started studying agricultural science. Soil, organic farming practices, and plant science are what I am most drawn to. At home, when I'm not in our garden, you can find me in the kitchen, cooking and baking with our harvested fruits and vegetables.

Favorite fruit: Even if a bit boring - apples
Favorite vegetables: Bell peppers, red beets, zucchini, white cabbage

Striped beetroot not only gives salads that certain something. If they come fresh from your own garden, they guarantee a true feast for the palate.

Rings inside the beetroot chioggia
Chioggia beets taste good, are relatively easy to grow and look very special [Photo: Stephen Barnes/ Shutterstock.com]

Strolling through the weekly market, you increasingly come across slightly unusual vegetables. Striped beetroot (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris) look inconspicuous from the outside – only when cut open does the individual, striped pattern emerge. But don’t worry, striped beetroot is not a hard-to-cultivate exotic, but an heirloom vegetable, well suited for our gardens. In our article we explain what striped beetroot is, introduce varieties and go into more detail about growing, caring for and preparing striped beets.

Striped beetroot: origins and characteristics

From a botanical point of view, the striped beetroot is a variant of the red beet. All three varieties red beetroot, yellow beetroot, and striped beetroot – emerged from the breeding of wild beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima). The wild turnip originates from the Mediterranean region, where it was previously cultivated by the Romans. Incidentally, chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris) originates from the wild turnip, something you would hardly suspect at first glance.

To understand what a striped beetroot is and how the rings get into the beet, you need to look at the structure of beets in general. Beetroots consist of root and shoot, which develop into a storage organ through thickness growth. During this process, also known as “secondary thickness growth”, so-called phloem cells are normally formed on the outside, which are responsible for the transport of nutrients. Towards the inside there are the xylem cells, in which mainly water is transported. Beta beets show abnormal secondary thickness growth as they alternate between xylem and phloem. Therefore, if you look closely, you can see the stripes even in the classic, plain beet varieties.

Red ringed beetroot
The striped pattern in beta beets is created by different layers of tissue [Photo: CLICKMANIS/ Shutterstock.com]

Striped beets are therefore varieties of beet in which importance was attached to the different colour expression of xylem and phloem. Basically, therefore, there are many similarities between striped beetroot and red beets – for example, in terms of growth, taste and care. It is also a biennial plant that forms a rosette of leaves and a root in the first year and does not flower until the second year. Except to obtain seed, however, one usually does not let it get that far and so probably few have ever seen the approximately 1.5 m high flowerhead with the five-petaled flowers, which are pollinated by wind.

Since the beet consists of shoot and root, it grows partly above ground. Nevertheless, to ensure an adequate supply of nutrients and water, beets form a taproot with many lateral roots. The flavour of striped beetroot is very similar to that of red beetroot – but some beet varieties are described as sweeter and less earthy tasting.

Beetroot planted in a bed
It is normal for part of the beet to grow above ground [Photo: demm28/ Shutterstock.com]

The best varieties

As mentioned above, the root of all beet varieties is structured in strips, it’s just that they are more pronounced in some varieties than in others. Varieties with clearly defined rings include, for example:

  • ‘Tonda di Chioggia’: The ancient Italian Chioggia beetroot is perhaps the variety with the most pronounced rings, which appear in pink and white under the red skin.
  • ‘Crapaudine’: This red beetroot is an old French variety. It forms extremely long beets with a red and white striped flesh. In terms of raw food this striped beetroot is less suitable, but by cooking it becomes sweet and tasty.
The white and red rings inside the chioggia beetroot
The cultivar ‘Tonda di Chioggia’ has a very distinctive stripe pattern [Photo: Jarvna/ Shutterstock.com]
  • ‘Avalanche’: ‘Avalanche’ is a white variety, but the change of rings can be clearly seen.
  • ‘Burpees Golden’: A yellow striped beet where the stripes appear in different shades of yellow. Like many beet, ‘Burpees Golden’ tastes slightly sweeter than classic beet.
The burpees golden beet has yellow rings
There are also some yellow varieties where the stripe pattern is easily recognisable [Photo: julie deshaies/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: In the past, the question of where to find striped beetroot and how to get seeds was still relatively difficult to answer. Nowadays, many well-stocked seed dealers have them for sale.

Growing striped beetroot

Striped beets are moderate feeders, but do not have high demands on their location. They do best in a loose, moderately nutrient-rich and deep soil in a sunny position, but will tolerate partial shade.
The seeds of the striped beetroot can be sown directly in the open ground from mid-April to June. We will explain how to do this in a few steps.

  1. Prepare the bed by removing weeds from the soil and loosening it, for example, with a digging fork. If your subsoil is very loamy and clayey, our Plantura Organic Enriched Compost can be incorporated into the soil to improve the structure. The high humus content in it ensures a better soil structure in the long term. It is also 100% peat-free, which protects peatlands from further degradation and is associated with significantly lower CO2 emissions.
  2. For example, use the back of a rake to draw straight grooves in the ground 25 to 30 cm apart.
  3. In these grooves, place the seeds, keeping a distance of 10 cm. Then everything is covered with soil about 2 fingers high.
  4. Lightly press down the soil and water well.
  5. The germination time depends on the temperature, because the seeds begin to germinate only at about 8 °C. Once this temperature is reached, it takes about 10 to 14 days for the seeds to germinate.
  6. Keep the soil constantly moist in the period leading up to germination and in the weeks following. Drying out at such a young stage happens quickly and can lead to the death of the young plant.

Tip: Suitable partners for mixed cultivation with striped beetroot include kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes L.), cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), and leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. crispa). In crop rotation, avoid growing beet after other amaranthaceous plants (Amaranthaceae) such as chard or spinach (Spinacia oleracea).

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Organic Enriched Compost, 40L
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Growing striped beetroot in a pot: Growing striped beetroot is also possible in a pot. Be sure to use a sufficiently deep container with a volume of at least 5 litres, where the beet will have room for its roots. In addition, it should have good water drainage. As a substrate, you can use, for example, our Plantura Organic Enriched Compost when planting. Choose the planting distance depending on how big you want to harvest the beetroot later. It can therefore range from about 5 to 10 cm. The risk of drying out is greater in the pot, so with this method you need to pay even more attention to regular watering.

Beetroot seedlings in pots
You can grow the beetroot in a pot [Photo: BBA Photography/ Shutterstock.com]

The most important care measures

The first step in care comes immediately after germination. This is because the seeds of the striped beetroot are naturally formed in several so-called clusters. This means that when sowing, in most cases, you do not plant individual seeds, but several together. So do not be surprised if several beetroot plants begin to grow in exactly the same place. However, these need to be separated once they reach about 4 cm in height. Carefully tear out all but the strongest and largest plantlets. When doing this, try not to damage the roots as much as possible.

Alternatively, you can let the striped beetroot grow a little longer until small beets have formed. Then you harvest every other one and use it as a baby beet in the kitchen. The remaining specimens in the bed will then have enough space to continue growing.

Tip: You can try to put the uprooted plants back into the soil and continue cultivation. However, usually these striped beets develop more slowly and remain smaller. You have the best chance of success if you perform thinning on a humid, overcast day.

Young beetroot plants growing in the ground
Beets should not be planted too close together, otherwise the beets cannot develop properly [Photo: RaspberryStudio/ Shutterstock.com]

You should pay attention to a continuous water supply throughout the growing season. While striped beetroot are not as sensitive as, for example, carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) or radish (Raphanus sativus) to drought. But even here, in summer it may well be necessary to reach for the watering can every day.

Often striped beetroot produce rich yield even without fertilisation. Especially if your bed had green manure on it before, or if you’ve already worked some compost into the soil in the autumn. If you feel that your beetroot needs a little support, be careful when choosing fertiliser and do not apply too much nitrogen — because this can lead to the undesirable accumulation of nitrate in the beets and leaves. This is particularly relevant for further processing into baby food: In the first months of life, infants cannot metabolize nitrate, which can lead to oxygen deficiency. So avoid nitrate accumulation in the beet if you want to use it as a baby food. In addition, ringed beetroots have an increased potassium requirement. A fertiliser such as our Plantura Tomato Food is therefore ideal. It has a nitrogen to potassium ratio of 4 to 8 and is also plant-based. This means nutrients are released over a longer period of time and there is no sudden accumulation of nitrogen in the soil.

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As is true almost everywhere in the vegetable garden: striped beetroots develop better when the soil is kept as free of weeds as possible. Kill two birds with one stone by spreading mulch around the beetroots when the plants are about 10 to 15 inches tall. By mulching, firstly, the soil dries out less quickly, and on the other hand, the growth of weeds is inhibited.

Harvesting and preparing striped beets

When you can harvest striped beetroot depends on many factors. These include, for example, variety, sowing time, weather and desired size. For Chioggia beetroot, a cultivation period of 60 days is given – but you can also harvest the beets at a smaller stage or leave them in the bed until autumn. The season for beetroot is therefore relatively long. Fresh produce is available from the beginning of July until November. They can be stored in a cool cellar at a temperature of 3 to 4 °C in a box with moist sand until February. To do this, remove the foliage, but without damaging the leaf base, otherwise plant sap can escape.

Varieties of beetroot sliced to show the rings inside
Beetroot fresh from the garden is available from July to November [Photo: Olga Bondarenko/ Shutterstock.com]

There are many ways to prepare striped beets. Thanks to their eye-catching pattern, they are particularly suitable as a splash of colour in salads. In order to show off the different coloured circles to their full advantage, there are two points to bear in mind when preparing rye beet:

  • Slice the beetroot crosswise, i.e. parallel between the root and the base of the leaf.
  • Cook the beetroot only briefly at the most, otherwise the colour pattern will start to run.
Chioggia beetroot sliced in a salad
In recipes, chioggia beets are usually used raw, but even in the oven the pattern is usually preserved [Photo: Jarvna/ Shutterstock.com]

Example recipes with striped beetroot include carpaccio, mixed salad with striped beetroot or pickled striped beets. This is because when pickled or in the oven, the patterning is usually preserved.

Can you eat striped beets raw? It is safe to eat beetroot raw. Since cooking would cause the colours to run, even most ringlets recipes work with raw ringlets.

Are you still looking for a succession crop for your ringlets? Early harvested ringlets can still be well followed by tatsoi (Brassica rapa convar. narinosa). This somewhat unusual Asian vegetable has a short cultivation time of only 42 days and can also tolerate cooler temperatures.

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