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27 January 2021

How to grow beetroot

Once the sole preserve of pickle jars, appearing in sliced form in many a 1970's salad, beetroot are now seen as a modern superfood
Beetroot
CT
Ceri Thomas

Beetroots are easy to grow from seed outdoors. They can even be grown in a patio pot if you don't have a garden.

How to grow beetroot: month by month

January February March April May June


SOWING SOWING SOWING SOWING/HARVESTING SOWING/HARVESTING
July August September October November December
SOWING/HARVESTING HARVESTING HARVESTING HARVESTING HARVESTING HARVESTING

Best beetroot varieties

Best Buy beetroot
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 2m row
Member content
Member content
8.6kg
A Best Buy in a previous trial and recommended in our 2014 trial of baby beetroots, it gave us the biggest yield by some distance, rapidly producing some very large specimens that didn’t turn woody. The largest root we harvested weighed 440g! Although it didn’t score the highest in the Brix test for sweetness, it was described by our tasters as having a sweet, rich earthy flavour with a soft and tender texture.
What it looks like Variety name Yield from a 2m row
Member content
Member content
7.5kg
The deep-purple roots were a hit with our tasters, who described them as having a sweet robust flavour and pleasingly soft texture when roasted. This RHS AGM variety gave us the second-highest yield in our trial and produced lots of baby beets, followed by plenty of excellent-quality mature roots that stood well in the ground and were harvested over several weeks.

How we test beetroot

We grew 18 varieties of beetroot at our Capel Manor trial gardens in north London, including some previous Best Buys, newer varieties and a few unusual non-purple types. In April, we sowed our seeds four per module in trays in the greenhouse. We recorded how well the seed germinated, then grew them on for four weeks until they were large enough to plant out. They were planted around 25cm apart in a 2m row for each variety. We harvested and weighed the first baby beetroot when they were around the size of a golf ball and continued to do so, thinning each row evenly, until there was one plant every 10cm. These were left to grow into mature beetroot, around the size of a cricket ball. The baby beets were assessed for sweetness using a Brix test, which measures the sugar content of juice from the roots. Perception of sweetness can be affected by other flavours when you actually eat something, so the Brix score is a guide rather than an absolute measurement of eating quality. A panel of tasters roasted and ate the beetroot, recording what they thought of the flavour and texture.

When to sow

Late February is a good first sowing time in the south of the UK, and around mid March further north. These sowings are made indoors in module trays, using a Best Buy compost for sowing seeds. If you prefer to sow seeds direct in the soil outside, then wait until mid-April.

A second sowing in early June will give you harvests from September and into winter. The last sowing date in the south is early July.

If you sow direct into the ground, space seeds around 5cm apart in rows 30cm apart and around 2.5cm deep. Alternatively, sow in large modules in the greenhouse, around four seeds per module.

Caring for your plants

Planting

If you’ve started your beetroot in modules, plant out in clumps once the seedlings have several pairs of leaves. They can be as little as 30cm between clumps for small to medium size beetroots. For larger roots and beetroot to store in winter, allow 35 cm between each clump. Beetroot will happily push each other apart as they grow so there’s no need to thin them out – thinning will happen naturally as you start to harvest.

Watering 

Remember to keep the plants well watered during dry spells. Plants growing in well-drained soils will need more frequent watering or the crop will be small.

How and when to harvest

Harvest in: May to December

Beets are ready when at the size you like, even golf ball size as early as May. From multi-sown clumps, twist out the largest one of each clump, leaving the others to grow more. You can return many times and over two months or more, to the same block of beetroots, from one sowing date.

Beets resist slight frost, however there is damage when it’s below -4C, mainly to beets above ground, so you can pull soil and compost around them for protection. Harvest beetroot for winter storage from late November until Christmas. Leave them dirty, allow to dry on the surface, then place in sacks or boxes. They are good to eat until April, especially large beetroots.

Common growing problems

Birds

Birds can attack the beetroot leaves so cover all early-spring plantings with fleece. This can come off by early to mid May, after which no protection should be necessary for those plants. 

Read more about protecting from birds.

Leaf miners

Beetroot leaves are sometimes eaten by leaf miners, resulting in distinctive blotches of pale yellow in the leaves. However when growing conditions are good and the soil is healthy, you should not suffer only minimal damage.

Read more about leaf miners.

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