Known also as beetroot or table beet, this vegetable is a member of the Amaranthaceae family and is believed to have descended from “sea beets,” which did not possess a taproot and could be found all along the coastlines of Great Britain, Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Middle East. Unlike its ancestor, this popular garden staple produces large taproots in addition to its edible leafy greens. These roots come in a variety of colors such as white, orange, yellow and the more commonly recognized deep purple to red. Beets can be harvested at any size, but remember that allowing them to grow more than a few inches in diameter can result in the root becoming woody and unpalatable.
This beet may seem like your average root veggie but, as with most things in life, true beauty’s found on the inside. The Chioggia Guardsmark beet—like the heirloom Chioggia beet from which it was developed—possesses all the standard trappings of a “normal” beet (i.e., long greens and red bulbous root) but cut this baby open and prepare to be wowed! This beet possesses alternating red and white concentric rings that give it the appearance of a peppermint or bulls eye. Developed to be more resilient than its parent plant, the Chioggia Guardsmark can be grown in the spring, summer, and fall in most regions with high yields and low instances of bolting.
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: Thin to 4″
Space Between Rows: 1–2′
Germination Soil Temperature: at least 50°F, with an optimum range of 65–80°F.
Days for Germination: 7–14
Sow Indoors: 6 weeks before average last frost date. Be sure to transplant them to their final location while still young for best results.
Sow Outdoors: 2–4 weeks before average last frost date. 10–12 weeks before average first frost date for a fall crop.
In zones with low moisture and rainfall, early crops should be planted in March/April and late crops anytime from June through September. Successive plantings are also possible as long as the weather doesn’t exceed 75°F. Beets may be grown as a winter crop in USDA Zones 9 and higher due to their preference for cooler weather.
Natural: Full sun to partial shade.
Artificial: Fluorescent and LED lamps will help your indoor beet plants grow. Exposing your plants to at least 6–8 hours of light per day will help them reach optimal growth levels.
Soil: Prefers well-drained loamy or sandy soil. A pH of 5.5 to 6.0 is best for keeping plants healthy and nourished. If soil has too much clay, mixing in organic material or well-rotted manure can help create a better beet-growing environment.
Soilless: Germinate seeds in a soilless mix of vermiculite, well-rotted manure, and compost.
Hydroponic: Will grow well in a hydroponics system using sand as a growing media.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Aim for 1″ of water per week, increasing as necessary based on natural precipitation and temperature.
Nutrients: While beets are not generally nutrient-hungry, a light compost or fertilizer can help foster growth. Be careful not to overload your plants with nitrogen as this can cause the leaves to grow expansively and can stunt bulb growth.
Foliar: Aside from the more conventional foliar sprays of compost tea or fish emulsion, certain studies have shown that applications of amino acids and yeast can also improve beet plant health.
Pruning: When plants reach about 2″, be sure to thin them to their final spacing by pulling shoots from the ground. Thinnings may be replanted if desired or eaten as baby greens.
Rotation: A 3- to 4-year rotation away from all plants in the goosefoot family is recommended. Plant beets after deep-rooted crops like peppers, tomato, or squash, or after heavy feeding plants like members of the brassica family. Do not plant beets after corn. Follow beets with legumes to replenish soil nitrogen.
Companions: Grows well with bush beans, most members of the cabbage family, corn, leek, lettuce, lima bean, onion, and radish. Avoid mustard greens and pole beans.
Harvest: Can be harvested at any time for baby greens, large greens, or beet roots, but tend to reach full maturity between 50 to 75 days. Pick leaves when needed; otherwise, dig up whole plant after maturity. Don’t allow mature beets to experience a deep frost, as this will reduce their storage time.
Storage: While the greens may only least for a few days stored in the refrigerator, the bulbs may be kept up to a week in the refrigerator once the tops have been cut off. If you have the option to store them in a root cellar with consistently cool temperatures, they can last for several months, though be sure to check in frequently. Pack them in sand or sawdust, or store in clean boxes in a single layer.
Fun Fact: This vegetable is not just the color of love, it is also a catalyst for love. The Romans used to eat beets as an aphrodisiac and, although this may seem a bit odd, they may have been onto something! Beets contain the element boron which actually raises the level of estrogen and testosterone in a person’s body and can increase one’s sex drive. Upping these hormones has also been linked to reducing the occurrences of hot flashes as well as increasing the sex drive of menopausal women. Talk about the power of plants!
Preserve: Can be preserved a variety of ways, from freezing to pickling. If freezing beets, first cook them until a fork slides through easily. Cut the beets into cubes and pack them into freezer bags. Follow any standard beet pickling recipe to keep beets for a tasty mid-winter treat. Beets may also be kept fresh in a root cellar if available by using clean dry sand and a wooden crate or box. Pack trimmed, unwashed beets in boxes, placing a layer of sand in between beet layers.
Prepare: All beets can be prepared by roasting, steaming, boiling, or grating raw into salads.
Nutritional: Both the root and greens of beets are packed with nutrients and healthy compounds such as vitamin C, glycine betaine, and folates. The root in particular is also a great source of vitamin B, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
Medicinal: Based on all the exciting nutrients and minerals in beets, it’s no surprise that they have been cited as helpful in lowering blood pressure, improving overall cardiac health, and treating liver diseases.
Sometimes things just go together that one would never expect, like in this Watermelon Gazpacho recipe with beets and jalapeños. We know it sounds strange, but we bet once you taste this refreshing summer soup you’ll join us in saying “who’d have thunk!?”