Beets are fantastically worth growing—good value for space taken in the garden.
Choose a site in full sun and sow when the soil has warmed a little. To do this, you can put your hand on the soil around noon and feel it; if it’s still very cold, it’s too early to plant beets. This is usually around the end of April on the coast, and probably two weeks later in cooler zones of B.C.
If you plant beets when soil is too cold, they will usually “bolt” (shoot up and form seed) rather than making a beet under the ground.
So, don’t be in a rush.
Beets, like carrots and some other root veggies, prefer soil that has not been recently manured or composted. Forked roots can result.
Beets are compound seeds: if you look closely at a beet seed you will see a number of seedlets fastened together into one “seed.” (Chard is the same.) This means you will often get more than one beet from a seed.
HOW TO GROW BEETS
1. I like to soak the seed in hot water (bath temperature) for about an hour before planting.
2. Space seeds a little farther apart than you’d think—2 inches is fine—because you will usually get two to four (or even more) “seedlings” from each seed.
3. Cover with about 1 centimetre of soil, then tamp down very lightly with your palm.
4. To keep cats and other critters from digging, crisscross nasty rose prunings (from your roses or the neighbour’s) or any other twiggy things over top. Or, use an upside down black plastic tray—nursery centres are full of them—which they have holes, so light and water can get through.
Cats do not like to dig in moist soil, so keep the area lightly moist, but not overwatered.
5. Beets will emerge in about 10 days depending on sun and warmth.
Especially if you are new to beets, plant a short row, like 2 feet. You can see how you feel about the process, then plant some more mid-June—and/or every two weeks until July or early August, depending on your climate zone.
When beets are about 1.5 inches high, carefully thin them out. This is best done in the morning or in the early evening, when the sun is not shining brightly.
Toss thinnings into salads or you can transplant them (yes, you can), as long as they are handled delicately. This must be done on a cloudy day, as sun will shock them. Eventual thinning space can be anywhere from three to six inches for large beets; this depends on how big you want the beets to get, or if you are growing them for greens or beets or whatever.
When I worked for West Coast Seeds, we had a “beet tasting” event. We must have tasted 16 varieties—the beets as well as the greens. What a production! I don’t think I ate beets or beet greens for about two years after that.
Our favourite beet green, hands down, was chioggia. Softer tasting, very pleasant and mild. It’s also a slightly different colour—almost yellow-chartreuse. I am not crazy about chioggia unless it’s served raw; when you cook it the colour seems to bleed.
We also loved the Bull’s Blood greens. As for the white beets—not my cup of tea—they turn unappetizingly grey when cooked.
Beets are wonderful—try growing some!