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Beets – An Answer to Sue’s Question

Sue, a reader from zone 7a (like me) planted beets last fall and they didn’t form beets although the leaves did very well. She plans to plant beets again this spring, and wants to know what she’s missing to make them produce beets.

Since I’ve heard this dilemma many times and have experienced it in my own garden, I thought it would be helpful to beet lovers to write about it.

I’ll answer Sue’s concern by telling:
1. About my relationship with beets.
2. The variety can make a difference.
3. Things to know to give your beets the best chance to develop.
4. The solution to the beet problem and almost any other garden problem you might have.

#1. My relationship with beets

I don’t plant big rows of beets, but rather plant them wherever I can fit them in.  A few here, a few there.

I’ve grown beets for many years and although I really enjoy the beets I get, I enjoy the beet greens even more.  The minute those little roots produce leaves that are even 2 inches tall in early spring, I start picking.  Primarily I use them for our salads everyday in the early spring.  As the season progresses and the leaves get larger, I use them steamed as a side dish for dinner.  Or as one of my mixed greens when I fix roasted greens. (Makes my mouth water just writing about them!)

I don’t pay too much attention to the fact that for beets to bulb out they need about 2/3 of their leaves.  If I run short of greens I pick them.  At various times during the growing season those poor little roots don’t have any leaves!  Needless to say,  I don’t always get beets.  But — I always get greens!  🙂

#2 – Consider the Variety

Beets not forming could be because of the variety of beet you’re growing.  Some produce great roots, some produce great greens and some produce both.

Last year I grew bull’s blood beet.  The leaves are red and so beautiful it can be grown to compliment flowers in your borders.  It’s also the beet grown for red dye for fabric and food.

I didn’t know it when I planted, but bull’s blood beet is cultivated for the greens and not the root.  Thus, I got very small roots if any.

This year I’m growing Lutz Winter Keeper (also known as Lutz Green Leaf).  I’ve had excellent results from this beet in the past  It’s an old time variety that makes tasty greens all season and nice roots as well.

#3.  Things to know to give your beets the best chance to develop

  • Direct seed in the garden, 1/2 inch deep, rather than transplanting. Sometimes transplanting will keep the root from forming properly. (I’ve had great success with beets winter-sown and transplanted at a young age into the garden.)

In the spring you can plant consecutively starting 3 to 4 weeks before your last frost date up until 2 weeks after the frost date.  In the fall direct seed about 8 weeks before your expected first frost date. This should give them time to form roots.

  • Beets are a cool weather crop and do poorly in the heat of the summer.

(If you’re only interested in the greens, I wouldn’t hesitate to sow anytime you feel there is enough moisture for them to germinate.)

  • Plant in full sun.  A little afternoon shade is fine.
  • They love a well drained sandy loam that is rich in organic matter.
  • If you plant beets after a crop that is a heavy feeder like tomatoes or broccoli, they’ll probably not do well.  They’ll do better after a crop like beans, buckwheat, or peas that fix nitrogen in the soil.

Even though beets need sufficient amounts of nitrogen to produce beets, keep in mind that adding nitrogen in the form of fish meal or alpha meal for example,  is risky. If you put too much in the soil you’ll get only greens. When planting after crops that fix nitrogen in the soil like I mentioned above, it somehow seems to be just the right amount.

  • Beets don’t grow well in hard or dry soil. Loose soil (friable) is essential.
  • Beet growth is usually stunted in acid soil.  If you’ve worked on your garden soil and consistently add organic material you should have a ph that is more towards neutral and perfect for almost all garden vegetables, including beets.
  • A beet seed is actually a cluster of several seeds.  Each can produce many seedlings. Beets won’t bulb out properly if they’re overcrowded. So –  if you want beets rather than greens –  thin to about 3 to 6 inches.
  • Control weeds with mulch as beets don’t compete well.
  • Use mulch (straw, grass clippings or shredded leaves) to keep the moisture in your bed and keep the soil from crusting over. Beets use a lot of water when they’re forming. Thus, if you can’t water (I don’t) you may have less beets bulb up in years when rain is lacking.

#4 The solution to the beet problem and almost any other garden problem we might have

The solution to almost any garden problem we have — including beets not forming — is having soil that is rich in organic matter.  It’s all a question of time — and how patient you’re willing to be.

In the interest of time, simplicity, and the hundreds of other things there are to do in life —- I have always just waited on my organic matter to improve my soil and correct the problem  — whatever it may have been.

It is said that beets need sufficient and correct amounts of boron, potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. If you’ve been improving your soil and adding organic matter consistently — you more than likely will meet their needs.

What if you Don’t Want to Wait?

If you want to find out exactly what the deficiency is and add things to correct that deficiency now— then you’ll need to have a soil test done.  By having a soil test, you’ll  know exactly what you need.  Guessing at what to add without any real knowledge can cause more harm than good.

Final Thoughts

I personally take the easy road and leave it to my organic matter to take care of all my problems. I like to keep it easy and simple. And you can’t get much easier than just adding organic material to become organic matter.

Best of luck with your next planting of beets!

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Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier!

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All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden. com  All Rights Reserved

 

5 comments to Beets – An Answer to Sue’s Question

  • Sue

    Thank you so much for your very detailed explanation. You are so kind to spend so much time answering my questions. I will have to try eating the leaves.
    Thank you,
    Sue

  • Theresa

    Hi Sue,
    I’d be very interested in knowing what parts of the post you think apply to your situation, and what you decide to do.

    Hopefully, you’ll have great beets this year!
    Theresa

  • GardenDmpls

    I never could grow beets in my area until I found out my soil was deficient in boron. I was told to correct it by using a light sprinkling of borax, only once. If you have trouble growing root veggies in sandy soil, a soil test that includes micro-nutrients would be a good idea.

  • don

    I love beets but I can’t grow them. I’ll try again this year and hope for the best. I do add a lot of organic matter to my beds. I think it might be the watering. I may have to mulch a little better. Thanks for the ideas. I’ll let you know how my beets do this year.

  • Theresa

    Hi Danita,
    Beets do drink up a lot of water while they’re growing.
    Since you love beets so much, maybe if they get really dry even with mulch —- a watering can to the garden once a week when there’s no rain might be in order. 🙂
    I’ll look forward to hearing how you do with them this year.
    Theresa

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