I Finally Grew Some Nice Beets! Here Are The Gardening Tips I Tried
Oh beets! Here’s the thing: I think every gardener has an elusive crop, or nemesis, that year after year intimidates us. For me, that was beets. I could grow radishes, turnips, and carrots, but my beet growing game was always terrible. This year I tried some tips for growing beets, and I’m happy to share what worked for me if it can help other gardeners grow them too!
Friendly reminder that I’m in Southern California zine 10b, so these tips might not be applicable to your growing zone.
The trickiest part of growing beets for me was figuring out timing. Surprisingly a lot of planting schedules listed beets almost year round for mild climates, but all my attempts never really took off. It really came down to getting to know my microclimate combined with learning the preferences of beets. For some insight on microclimates and gardening zones check out What Is Your Gardening Zone?
Overall, I do consider beets to be a cool season garden crop, so they are part of my Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern California and the Early Spring Garden. Definitely check my guides if you are curious what I grow during the cooler months here.
Beet Growing Requirements & Preferences
Here are some things I’ve learned after making many mistakes:
♦ Beets like it not too hot but still sunny. Talk about picky! In zone 10b, our Summers hit 112 degrees F which just gets too hot. On the flipside, Winter days just don’t seem to be long enough to provide adequate sun exposure for optimum growth. I observed that the best bulbs I got were from my full sun planted beets in the milder parts of the season.
♦ Try growing in the “shoulder” seasons. For example, transplant in Spring (May) right before it starts to get super hot or at the end of Summer (October) before the days become short (or so that they mature as the days get short). If you are a subscriber, I’ve listed beets in my current seed schedule for the months that I will aim for.
♦ Nutrient rich soil, but not too much fertilizing. I prepped my garden beds using the same process for amending my soil organically (linked here). The reason I say “not too much fertilizing” is because an excess of nitrogen typically promotes green foliage, but not bulb formation.
Soak Your Beet Seeds
Before sowing my seeds, I would soak each variety in a cup of water for about 4-8 hours. . I took this tip from what I learned from growing sweet pea flowers. If you know me, I don’t typically take extra steps (like soaking seeds) if I don’t have to. In the case with beets, I had the best luck when soaking my seeds. This really seemed to speed up germination.
The Multi-Cell Sowing Method
This might surprise you, but I start my beet seeds in cells and then transplant. There are many benefits to doing this with seeds that typically have a reputation for preferring direct sowing in the garden, but you can read more about that in Direct Sowing Versus Transplanting.
I learned the multi-cell sowing (aka multi sowing) method from one of the gardeners that is constantly inspiring me, Charles Dowding. In fact, Dowding uses multi sowing for other vegetables too. Here’s a breakdown of the multi sowing method:
multi sowing involves sowing seeds in clumps, which then becomes a clump of seedlings to be transplanted into the garden—no separating.
You will need to thin out the seedlings in each clump to about 4 for beets (Dowding has suggestions for each specific vegetable).
Your plants will mature in clumps (pictured below) and you can harvest the largest ones from each bunch as the season goes.
Sowing the Seeds
As you can see in the photo above, that is the end result of the multi sowing method. To sow my seeds I use a seed starting mix (like my DIY one) that is specifically light and fluffy for seeds.
After soaking, I put about 3-4 beet seeds per cell and wait for them to germinate. For more detail you can check out the Basics of Growing From Seed.
Once your seeds have sprouted and grown a bit, thin each cell to 4 baby seedlings. I do this using a small pair of scissors.
Transplant your beets out in the garden when they are large enough to be safe from insects and when the weather is ideal.
This year I decided to stay up on my watering. We installed drip lines in some beds and garden grids in another. However you decide to water, beets still benefit from consistent water. I noticed their root system wasn’t really deep, so they did require more frequent watering in our hot climate (plus mulch!) to stay happy.
If you are looking for an easy, no-fuss way to water your raised beds consistently, I highly recommend checking out these garden grids. They provide coverage in a square pattern from all sides, so it’s easier to plan your crop layout and have even water coverage.
For a full breakdown of all the different ways we water our backyard garden, you can read Watering & Irrigation Basics ~ Insights From Our Garden.
Full sun hours, but some shade
Confused? Haha. I tried beets in two areas, and the area that received full sun was the only one where the beets matured and formed nice bulbs—but there was a caveat! They REALLY flourished when shaded by fabric row cover during the hottest point of the day. If you see the photo below, you can see my fabric row cover, clipped up on the edges. I use agribon-19, which lets in 90% of light. The beets LOVED being under the agribon. You can also view the full tutorial on how to install DIY fabric row covers HERE.
Beet Greens Are Delicious
As my beets grew, I snipped some greens to eat. I tend to use them in stir fries or any recipes that call for spinach. One year my beets never formed bulbs, but the greens were delicious!
Even though beets are kind of a “shoulder season” crop, I did include them in my Fall & Winter Gardening Guide because they really don’t like the heat of Summer and many mild climates guides list October-May as possible windows for growing beets—-as I mentioned before, I really think understanding your microclimate will help you figure out when beets will perform best for you.
The coolest thing about multi sowing is that you can harvest the largest beet from each cluster and leave the rest to continue to grow. This really is useful for small space gardening (like mine) and extending your harvest window. Beets get more woody, fibrous, and earthy as they grow larger, so I prefer to harvest mine at 3-4″ for eating.
How I Store Beets in the Fridge
The best way I have found to keep my beets fresh in the fridge, is to store the green tops separately from the bulbs. After harvesting, I do a quick rinse with the hose to get the dirt mostly off. Next, I actually just rip the beet bulbs from the greens by gripping the bulb in one hand and the greens in the other…..and twist! While I don’t love using plastic bags, I do reuse them in my kitchen for things like greens and vegetables. The large beet greens go in a plastic proving bag (like what some bakers use for bread/sourdough baking) and the beet bulbs go into a ziploc bag. They store really well for at least a week (the beet bulbs longer) in the crisper drawer. PS: I don’t dry my beets after rinsing, so there is already enough moisture in the bag to keep everything fresh. Just don’t let them be sopping wet! Always check for mold when going to use food anyway!
Does variety matter?
I don’t know for sure. This past round of beets was the best I’ve grown, and I grew 2 varieties: golden beets and avalanche. Both grew to be the same size, with no notable differences in my climate. I can say that I’ve tasted and fell in LOVE with ‘avalanche’ in the past, so if you are looking for a truly deliciously sweet beet, try it! Hands down, my favorite beet ever! Chioggia is also a fun beet to grow because of its beautiful striped, almost candy cane coloration.
Related Article: What Type of Garden is Right For You?
Touchstone Gold Beet Seeds - $3.49
Not only does the color of this beet make it stand apart, but so does the flavor. Golden beets are known for being extra sweet and less "earthy" than their red counterparts. Grown alongside red, white, and candy-striped beets, your harvest will create a playful plate of color at the table. Improved germination and performance over other golden cultivars. Best at 1"–3" round.
Chioggia Beet Seeds - $2.69
This Italian heirloom from the mid-1800s got its name from a fishing village near Venice, Italy. 'Chiogga' has delicious green tops and tasty roots. Each seed produces multiple plants and the thinnings are a delightful addition to your salad. Packed with nutrition, beets are high in fiber, potassium, folic acid, and the antioxidant, betacyanin. Delicious roasted, steamed, and pickled.
Avalanche Beet Seeds - $2.49
These sweet beets have a mild flavor that can make a beet lover out of anyone! A 2015 All-America Selections winner with 2"-3" creamy white, round roots. An added bonus—white beets don't stain your hands, cutting board, soups, or stews red! Keep roots covered with soil or mulch for best color and flavor. Disease resistant to Cercospora and leaf spot.
A Garden to Table Recipe for Beets
Last but not least, I wanted to share a quick beet side dish that was scrumptious and had Sam going back for seconds! This Beet & Feta Salad from Bowl of Delicious is refreshing and beautiful. Again, I highly recommend growing golden beets and white ‘avalanche beets’ because they have less of an earthy flavor, more sweetness, and won’t leave your kitchen stained with color. Haha!
That recipe does include how to prepare your beets, but I prefer to cook them in larger batches in a baking dish. I now have a YouTube video that demonstrates this process for preparing beets (see below). This technique for cooking beets is called “steam baking” and it allows you to easily peel the skin off the beets while cooking them at the same time.
With it being July at moment, I am SUPER thrilled to be planning my cool season garden soon and experimenting with growing more beets. How about you? I hope my many failed attempts, recent success, and observations help you out. Keep me posted!