By Cindy Haynes
Iowa State University Extension
Beets are often an overlooked, unappreciated vegetable. Yet, they are a nutritious and versatile vegetable. The brightly colored roots are rich in several vitamins and nutrients including folate, iron and fiber. Beets require little space and are relatively easy to grow.
All parts of a beet plant are edible. The tops, or greens, can be cooked and enjoyed like spinach or turnip greens. But it is the root, the pretty part, that we prefer. While the bulbous roots are most often dark red, they can also be yellow, white and striped like a candy cane. Don't let the color fool you - even the white ones are as sweet and tasty as the red ones! Their shape can vary as well. They can be round, flat or cylindrical.
Beets perform best in loose, well-drained soils in sunny locations. Heavy clay and/or poorly-drained soils should be amended with large quantities of compost, well-rotted manure or other forms of organic matter.
Gardeners can begin sowing beet seeds in early April. Successive sowings every two to three weeks ensures continued harvest into fall. The last practical planting date for a fall crop is early August. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep. Rows should be spaced 1 to 1.5 feet apart.
Seeds should be watered gently after planting. Poor germination is a common problem with beets. This typically happens in dry soils where an impenetrable crust has formed on the soil surface. A light layer of mulch, applied after sowing, will prevent washing during rainy periods and prevent crusting of the soil during dry periods. Regular watering during dry periods is also advisable.
Overcrowded seedlings are another common problem when growing beets. Seedlings should be thinned to 3 to 4 inches apart to ensure good root development. Each "seed" that is sown is actually a fruit that contains several seeds. So, even if you sow the "seeds" several inches apart, you may still have to thin the seedlings. When thinning, remove the smaller, weaker seedlings and leave the more vigorous ones. Remember, you can eat the cooked greens from those that you remove during thinning.
Weeding and weekly watering during dry weather are the only necessary maintenance chores after the beets have been thinned. Little or no fertilizer is needed in fertile soils.
Begin harvesting beets when the roots are 1 inch in diameter. For best quality, harvest the roots before they reach 3 inches in diameter. Beets larger than this can be tough, fibrous, and may require long cooking times to be edible. Generally, beets are ready to harvest 50-70 days after planting.
Jean McGuire, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-7033,
Editors: Three color photos, suitable for publication, are available:
beetchioggia.jpg (352K): Beet roots are most often dark red, they can also be yellow, white and striped like a candy cane, such as the Chioggia variety shown here.
beetdtdarkred.jpg (400K): Begin harvesting beets when the roots are 1 inch in diameter and stop harvesting when the root reaches 3 inches in diameter.
beetgolden.jpg (352K): Beet roots are most often dark red, they can also be yellow, such as the golden beet shown here, white or striped like a candy cane.