How To Grow - Beetroot

Beetroot

Beetroot are versatile vegetables with a succulent, distinctive flavour. Cold slices add a deep red zing to a plate of salad, though they can also be served as a hot vegetable - or used in chutney and home-made wine. It can be stored for long periods of time, so you can feast on your beetroots for half of the year. 'Beet' that! Here's our handy growing guide.

When and Where

Beetroot are remarkably easy to grow from seed. You can start to sow in late winter, depending on the climate in your particular garden. Sow later in mid-spring if earlier seedlings will be at risk of harsh weather conditions. The soil conditions should be fertile and moist, though not recently manured. Ideally, the soil should be neutral or slightly alkaline, with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. The location should be in full sun. You can also grow your beetroot in containers or in raised beds.

How to Plant

Sow your beetroot seeds either under cloches in February or unprotected from April to June. The previous autumn, dig over the soil well, removing stones - frost over the winter will also break up the soil further. Before seeding, weed the site thoroughly and dig it over once more, before levelling it off and raking over. Rake in a spread of general granular fertiliser around two or three weeks before seeding. Using the end of a cane or similar stick, create a trench with a depth of 2 cm. Place two seeds next to each other, at a distance of 10 cm between pairs, and water in. Thin out the seedlings once they are established, with a height of around 2 cm, thin out the weaker seedling in each pair. To grow in succession, plant out a new row every 4 weeks.

To grow your beetroot in a container, loosely fill a pot with a diameter of 20 cm and a depth of 25 cm with multi-purpose compost. Sow the seeds in a thin scattering across the surface, then cover with a further 2 cm layer of compost. Once established, thin out the seedlings to leave a 10 cm gap between plants.

Harvesting

After three months, the beetroots will be ready for picking - depending on the variety you have planted, the roots should be approaching the size of a tennis ball. Uproot the beetroots gently - pulling the tops, and using a hand fork to lever out the root. Once out of the ground, remove the foliage by twisting off the tops with your hands. These tops are not waste to be thrown away - they can be cooked as a tasty vegetable and used in a similar way to spinach. The harvest period is usually between July and the end of September.

Through the Year

Beetroot are remarkably easy to care for through the year. Simply weed well and keep the plants moist. Drying out will stunt the growth of the plants. Regular watering will produce tastier and more tender roots. Keep birds away from your young vulnerable seedlings either with netting or by using the middle of a plastic bottle (with each end cut off) placed over each seedling, though this may be impractical if you have planted many rows!

Handy Tips

As beetroot evolved from varieties of sea beet, the plants still grow and thrive in conditions near the sea - apply a very light scattering of rock or common salt around the plants as a proxy for these conditions.


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