Beetroot for Beginners

, written by Ann Marie Hendry gb flag

Homegrown beetroot

Beetroot is a great crop for the first-time gardener – resilient, undemanding and unfussy about soil type. What’s more, you can harvest two different, delicious crops from the same plant, making it a really worthwhile vegetable to make space for in your garden.

Here’s our simple five-step guide to growing brilliant beetroot for the first time. You won’t be able to resist growing it again and again!

1. Preparing Soil for Beetroot

Beetroot will grow well in most soil types, but it dislikes excessively alkaline or acid soil (simple do-it-yourself soil pH testing kits are available at good garden centres). Fertile soil is a must, so dig in or mulch with well-rotted compost prior to sowing.

Loose, light soil will make it easy for the roots to swell. If your soil is very compacted you’ll need to churn up the top several inches with a garden fork and rake it well to break up clods of earth.

Growing in raised beds and containers is also an option, but make sure they don’t dry out.

Beetroot seed capsules

2. Sowing Beetroot Seeds

What looks like a single spiky beetroot seed is actually a protective capsule enclosing two or three true seeds. This means that for each seed capsule you plant, you will need to snip off at least one seedling with scissors or a sharp knife, to give the remaining seedling the space to grow on.

A few beetroot varieties are available which produce just one seed per capsule, thereby avoiding the need for thinning. These are known as ‘monogerm’ varieties and will usually be marked as such on the seed packet.

Beetroot seedlings

Sow beetroot in rows 10cm (4in) apart, with a row gap of 20cm (8in), or in blocks 15cm (6in) apart each way. Make a hole about 2cm (1in) deep with a dibber or your finger then drop the seed capsule in. Be patient: beetroot can take a little while to germinate, especially those earliest sowings. Germination can be patchy, so if there are any gaps after germination just pop in new seed capsules.

Pre-warming the soil with a cold frame or horticultural fleece will help you to get the earliest sowings off to a good start, but don’t be tempted to start beetroot seeds too early as this often results in the plant ‘bolting’ (flowering), which means that the vegetable is past its prime. Our Garden Planner can advise you on when to sow beetroot (and lots of other crops) in your area, using climate data from your nearest weather station for maximum accuracy.

For a continuous supply of beetroot sow short rows or small blocks of beetroot at intervals over the summer.

Beetroot mulched with grass clippings

3. Growing Beetroots On

Throughout the growing season, sprinkle thin layers of grass clippings around your beetroots every time you mow your grass (assuming you don’t use any weedkillers on your lawn). The clippings will add small amounts of additional nitrogen to the soil, which your beetroot will love, while also helping to retain moisture and keep weeds down.

Beetroot shouldn’t need any additional watering unless the soil looks like it will dry out completely. In hot climates you may find that shade cloth is necessary to prevent bolting in summer.

4. Harvesting Beetroot

Beetroot can be harvested two ways: for leaves and for roots. Twist off the young leaves as you need them for salads and sandwiches, but only take a few from each plant or the roots will struggle to fatten up.

Harvesting beetroot

The roots can be harvested at any size that suits you, from ‘baby’ beets up to chunky tennis ball size. Don’t leave them in the ground for too long though, as they can become tough and woody.

Harvest the roots by gathering all the leaf stems together in one hand and pulling upwards gently. The root should easily come free from the soil but a hand fork can be used for additional leverage if required, especially with cylindrical varieties. Twist off the leaves, leaving a generous stump of stems on top of the beetroot. Don’t cut the leaves off or trim the roots, or they will ‘bleed’ and make a terrible mess!

5. Cooking and Eating Beetroot

Foodies will tell you that beetroot should taste ‘earthy’, but I have a sweet tooth and prefer a sweeter beetroot (the variety ‘Boltardy’ never disappoints). Roasting beetroot is a trendy way to prepare it, but I find that boiling preserves a sweeter flavour – try both methods though, as your preference may differ to mine.

Beetroot in the kitchen

Fresh, boiled, roasted or pickled – how you prepare your beetroot is up to you! Why not grate the raw roots and pair with the young leaves in a salad, make soup, or even – I kid you not – bake a cake?

It’s worth mentioning that as well as the traditional red beetroot, yellow and white varieties are available which won’t stain your fingers.

If you have a favourite beetroot recipe or a variety that does exceptionally well for you, please share it in the comments below – we’d love to hear about it!

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Comments

 
"Great article, thanks for the info! One thing tip I'd like to add for preparing beets: we usually roast them (but now I'll try boiling them per your suggestion!), and if you let them cool a bit and then wear some food-safe gloves (nitrile gloves, for example) and use paper towels to peel off the skins, it works really well and prevents your hands from being stained red!"
Curtis Ellzey on Friday 20 May 2016
"I too will have to try boiling as I've only ever roasted. I've found that mixing water and baking soda into a paste will clean off the stain from fingers as well as cuttings boards, if done immediately after cutting."
Shelby on Friday 20 May 2016
"Great idea about the paper towel Curtis - I must try that! And thanks for your tip about mixing water and baking soda to clean off the tell-tale red stains Shelby. I almost always boil beet roots rather than roasting - my partner agrees with me that they taste sweeter that way (not that he gets the chance to sample many, as I usually scoff the lion's share!). Biggish beets usually take about 40-50mins to boil."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 21 May 2016
"Young beet greens go great in a wok when making beef dishes such as beef lo mein. "
Jeanne Roll on Sunday 22 May 2016
"My all time favorite beet is cylindra. I have grown it for many years and do some others but always grow it also."
Virginia Smith on Monday 23 May 2016
"Sounds good Jeanne, I will have to whip up a veggie version of beef lo mein with beet greens (I tend not to eat meat). The leaves make an excellent alternative to spinach or chard in cooking.Hi Virginia. I haven't yet grown 'Cylindra', but it is on my list of varieties to try - great to hear that you value it so highly! "
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 24 May 2016
"I find the pressure cooker to be a fine way to cook beets. Fast and sweet. The skins come off more easily too."
Jody Kinney on Monday 30 May 2016
"I have made BORSCHT - for years with the beets that I harvest from the garden. My family loves it. I've refined the recipe to suit the people I would be serving. It works well. This year, however, my beet greens were BEAUTIFUL, but the root itself, was very, very small. I managed to get only one pint of pickled beets made. How disappointing, but the greens in my borscht was wonderful. (I had to buy the beets at the farmers' market in order to make the borscht!) Perhaps I picked some leaves too early whilst the beet was growing. I would only pick a few leaves from each plant. I don't understand what happened? The tomatoes didn't yield much fruit either, but the plants was huge, lush and handsome. Too much heat this summer???? (BTW: the plants were on a self-watering system which my son designed. Worked well!) "
Polly Gill on Wednesday 12 October 2016
"Grammar mistake: "but the plants was huge,...." should read, "but the plants WERE huge, ....." Sorry!"
Polly Gill on Wednesday 12 October 2016
"Hi Polly. An overproduction of leaves can often mean that the plants are receiving too much nitrogen. Beets don't normally require any fertilisers, but if you're using them make sure they don't have a high ratio of nitrogen (the N in the NPK on the back of the pack). Cow and horse manure are also high in nitrogen. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 18 October 2016
"I make a handmade pasta using beets. I boil the beets and mash them and then add them to eggs and flour to make a pasta dough. The color is amazing and the flavor is there as well. "
Diane Turner on Saturday 24 December 2016
"Sounds delicious Diane. My favourite way to eat beet root is with shallots, goat's cheese, balsamic vinegar and thyme (I'm slightly obsessed with this combination!) and one day when I had little time but a lot of cooked beets I discovered that it works well mixed into pasta too. And, like you say, the colour is amazing!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 24 December 2016
"Anything critters that would eat the tops? Rabbits ? "
pat on Tuesday 2 May 2017
"Hi Pat, rabbits and other rodents, such as voles, might eat the tops - although personally I've only ever had problems with slugs nibbling the leaves."
Ann Marie Hendry on Thursday 11 May 2017

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