What are Beets?
Beets are an annual cool-season crop, half-hardy to frost and light freezes. They thrive in all parts of the country. Beets are closely related to spinach and chard, and once called "blood turnips" because of their bright red juice. Growing beets will provide delicious colorful roots and nutritious greens. Most beets are open-pollinated and multi-germ, where one seed yields a clump of 4-5 plants that need to be thinned.
When to Plant
Beets are hardy and may be sown as soon as the ground can be worked. Beet seeds can germinate in cool soil, but they sprout best when soil temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They should be planted directly in the garden one month before your last spring frost. For succession crop, plantings can be made every 2 weeks to mid-summer. Beets can become tough and stringy if grown in hot weather during droughts; ample water supply is essential to succulent roots.
How to Plant
Sow seed 1/2 inch deep in rows 12-18 inches apart. The beet seed is a compact ball of many tiny seeds. Many plants germinate where each seed is sown, so seed should be placed sparingly. When seedlings are 4-6 inches high, thin plants to stand 1 1/2 inches apart. (They can be used in salad or cooked as spinach.) Then, as these beets grow to about an inch in diameter, pull every other one to allow larger beets to grow.
Beets grow best when temperatures average 65 degrees, so early plantings will grow faster if covered with a row cover. Beet roots naturally push up out of the ground as they mature, and this exposed portion of the beet can cause the shoulders of white or yellow beets to become green and tough and should be mulched to avoid this problem.
Beets will typically produce edible greens in 35 days, followed by cylindrical roots a month later.
How to Harvest
Beets should be ready to harvest within 60 days of planting. Harvesting beets is really a matter of preference when it comes to the right size for harvesting. They are ready any time after you see the shoulder protruding at the soil line. Picking a leaf or two from each plant won't compromise their root growth significantly, but many gardeners prefer to wait until the beet is ready to harvest to pick the inner leaves. Beet leaves taste best when they are about 6 inches long, but baby greens are wonderful in salads and bigger leaves still cook up nicely. Carefully wash harvested beets in cool water, use a sharp knife to cut off all but 1 inch of the beet tops, but leave the taproot intact. Removing the tops will prevent moisture loss while in storage. Store washed, trimmed beets in your refrigerator, or root cellar for several months.