If you’ve been put off by the idea of growing beetroot because of memories of vinegary slices in salads, think again.
Try growing a few and roasting them: you’ll be converted! And a homegrown beetroot is so much better than anything you can buy in a shop.
In this article I will teach you step by step all you need to know about growing beetroot from seed.
Varieties To We Recommend
As well as the well-known red beetroots, you can also buy golden varieties. These have the advantage of not bleeding when you cut them, and the leaves can also be cooked like spinach.
This is why I love growing beetroot from seed, because you have such a great choice in terms of varieties to grow. And while I tend to try the most popular ones, I do also like to try some more obscure varieties.
Here are some beetroot varieties you should try.
Rubidus: this fast-growing variety will be ready to harvest in no time, quicker than many other varieties. You get a deep red root with tender flesh. You will love these beets, I promise.
Boltardy: this is a popular variety to grow because it has a good resistance to bolting (setting seed prematurely). It produces beautiful deep red beets and has a sweet flavour. They are ideal for freezing and using all winter.
Chioggia: this is an Italian heirloom variety that produces long slim cylindrical beetroots. The beets are dark red and taste very sweet. I like growing unusual varieties, because it’s something you can never buy in a supermarket.
Burpees Golden: I love this golden variety. Not only does it look beautiful, but it also has a great flavour. And the best thing is, even after cooking, the beetroots are still marvellously golden. And you can also eat the leaves. Just use them like you would spinach. I love to add them to pasta dishes.
Rainbow Mix: if you want to grow different coloured varieties, but are not sure which ones, try this rainbow mix. It contains Subeto F1, Boldor (golden beets), Chioggia, Albina Vereduna (which has a white root) and Bull’s Blood Scarletta (dark burgundy roots). They are all very different, but healthy and tasty. I love this mix. It’s exciting to pull them out and find out which colour they had.
Growing Beetroot From Seeds
Like carrots, beetroots can be sown directly into the ground, which is great news, because it means no transplanting seedlings.
When growing beetroot from seed, soil preparation is important. Remove stones from the soil and rake through well to get rid of any soil clumps. Because ill-prepared and stony ground can cause fanging (forks in the root). Choose a round variety (rather than the other long or cylindrical varieties) to help combat this if you live in an area with heavy soil.
Mix in a good amount of organic matter, such as well-rotted manure. Beetroot plants will benefit from fertile soil. To give your beets the best chance give them rich, well-drained soil.
Choose a sunny spot for your beetroot plants, with well-draining soil. Beets can tolerate some shade, but the more sun they get, the better.
The earliest you can start sowing beetroot seeds is early March. However, you will need to protect them by sowing them under a cloche. Ideally, when you want to sow early for an early crop, choose a variety that is resistant to bolting, such as Boltardy.
There are two methods out there how to sow beetroot seeds. The first is sowing thinly and thinning out. Make 1-2cm (1/2 – 1in) deep holes and sow two seeds in each hole. Sow them 10cm (4in) apart. Then thin out the beetroot seedlings and only leave the strongest seedling.
This method will give you big beetroots.
If you do want to thin out your seedlings, then don’t throw away the weakest seedlings. You can add them to your salads. They are delicious.
The other method is to sow in clusters and don’t thin out the seedlings. You can use the same method as described above, but you don’t thin out the seedlings.
This will give you a cluster of beetroots. And although they will be smaller, you will have more.
From mid-April, you can sow beetroot seeds without the need for a cloche.
Give the soil a good soak after you have sown your seeds.
You can start off your beetroots indoors as well to get ahead, so we also show you how to do this in our guide about growing beetroot from seed.
Start sowing indoors in late February. Modular trays work well. Fill the tray with fine seed compost. Then put two seeds or a cluster of seeds (whichever of the two methods described above you prefer) in each module and add a layer of compost.
Water the tray well and keep it in a greenhouse, cold frame or sunny windowsill.
Don’t be impatient – the seedlings can take up to three weeks to come through. After three to four weeks, you can plant out your beetroot seedlings. And give them a good soak.
Caring For Your Crop
Growing beetroot from seed means you get healthy, strong plants, but there are still some things you should do to keep them in good condition and produce a good root crop.
A consistent amount of water is what you should aim to provide. Dryness will make your beetroots woody, but a sudden deluge of water will make them split, or encourage leaf growth rather than root growth. A little and often is best.
Keep the area around your beets weed free by weeding regularly by hand. You can use a hoe, but be careful not to damage the roots. Light hoeing between the drills is fine if you are very careful and steer clear of the beetroots themselves.
Now we are coming to the best bit about growing beetroot from seed, harvesting our beets.
Depending on the variety, you could harvest this tasty root in anything from 8 to 20 weeks. The round varieties will be ready to harvest faster than cylindrical varieties.
If you want to have a continuous supply of beetroots, sow new plants every few weeks. That way, you can harvest them over a longer period of time.
You should aim to pick the beetroots when they are about the size of a cricket ball. To harvest, pull out the roots by holding on to the foliage close to the root. Don’t cut off the leaves; twist them off about 5cm (2in) above the root instead to avoid breaking the skin by accident.
If your beetroots have white rings inside when you cut them, you’ve left them too long! Pick alternate plants as you need them, leaving the remainder a little more space to grow.
Once the leaves start to lose their fresh look and become limp, it means that they have stopped growing and that they are ready to harvest. If you live in a mild area of the country, you could leave the roots in the ground, covered with a layer of straw. But a hard frost will damage beetroots, so you may prefer to lift, cook and freeze them.
Although the best thing ever is to pull them out just when you start cooking. Imagine how tasty your honey-roast beetroots will taste, when you have freshly picked them before they go into the oven.
Pests And Diseases Affecting Beetroots
No guide about growing beetroot from seed would be complete without a section on possible pests and diseases that might cause a problem.
There aren’t too many pests you have to be concerned about when growing beetroot from seed, which is good news.
Birds tend to like seedlings, especially pigeons. So it is important to protect your seedlings and young plants from them.
The easiest way is to cover the bed you have sown your beetroots in with bird-proof netting.
- 20mm diamond mesh
- Keep out birds without harming them whilst allowing bees through to pollinate
- HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) Monofilament netting (37gr/m2 ).
Once your beetroot plants have reached a height of about 8-10cm (3-4in), you can remove the netting. As birds tend to like the really young plants.
Another pest that might nibble on your beets might be slugs and snails. To be honest, there aren’t too many plants these slimy guys don’t like.
However, slugs and snails are an important part of our ecosystem and, therefore, we should tolerate them. Many gardeners will use slug pellets or other traps that will kill them. We don’t recommend using anything that might harm them.
Instead, you can do the following to protect your young beetroot plants from slugs and snails:
- cut a round bottle, such as a squash bottle in half and cover your seedlings with the top half. Don’t put the lid on though, as this could kill the seedling. You can put some netting over the top to make sure that the slugs or snails can’t get in. Once the seedlings look strong enough, you can remove the bottle.
- If you find that mature leaves are eaten by slugs, then you could try growing your beets in pots or containers. This will reduce the amount of slugs and snails that will find them.
- Companion planting: grow plants that slugs and snails don’t like amongst your beetroots. This will keep them safe from these slimy creatures. Suitable plants include lavender or sage.
Aphids are another pest that might attack your beetroot plants. While beetroot plants aren’t attached very often by aphids, it is always good to know how to deal with them. That’s why we include them in our guide about growing beetroot from seed.
These tiny insects will suck the sap from the leaves and stems. A heavy infestation can stunt the growth of a plant. They are round and can have different colours, depending on their species. The colours range from green, whitish and dark.
Here are some measures you can take to keep your beets safe from aphids:
- one way to keep aphid numbers down in your garden is by encouraging predatory insects into your garden who will eat the aphids. These insects include ladybirds, lacewings, earwigs and predatory wasps. Plant flowers like yarrow or marigolds in your garden to attract these.
- If you spot any aphids on your beetroot plants, just pick them off with your fingers. This will ensure that they won’t become a big problem.
- Companion planting can also help. Plant your beetroots with lavender, onions, chives or garlic. These will repel the aphids and your beets will be safe.
- If you have a bad aphid infestation, you can wash your plants with soapy water or commercially available insecticidal soap.
- Pure organic cold pressed neem oil concentrate unrefined one 1000ml bottle
- Gentle biodegradable liquid soap derived from plant oils one 1000ml bottle
- Combine together with water to form a neem spray or drench
While beetroots are not very vulnerable to diseases, there is one that might affect them.
The disease that might infect beetroot plants is rust. This is a fungal disease, that mostly affects beetroot leaves. A sign that your beet plants have been infected are red/brown spots on leaves.
A heavy infection can stunt the growth of the plant and even die, in very extreme cases. A mild infection should not impact too much on your beetroot crops.
To prevent rust infecting your beetroot plants, you can take the following measures:
- Don’t overfeed your beets with nitrogen fertiliser, as this will encourage leaf growth, which will provide more surfaces for the rust to infect.
- Space out your beetroot plants to allow for good air circulation. This will ensure that any moister or rain on the leaves will dry off quickly, giving the fungus less chance to establish itself on the plants.
- Keep the bed weed free to prevent the fungus first infecting another plant.
- If you spot any signs of the disease, remove the infected leaf and destroy it. Don’t compost it.
- Practice crop rotation.
The above measures are useful in general to minimise the risk of fungal and bacterial diseases in your vegetables.
Now that we have given you the secret of growing beetroot from seed you are ready to try it yourself. Happy Growing!