Beets, Beta vulgaris, are herbacious biennial root vegetables in the family Chenopodiaceae grown for their edible root. The plant is usually erect with a long main root and a rosette of leaves growing on stems. The leaves are oval in shape, arranged alternately on the stem and grow 20–40 cm (7.9–15.7 in) in length. The roots are usually red in color. The plant produces sessile green flowers and can reach 1–2 m (3.3–6.6 ft) in height. Beets are usually grown as annual plants, harvested after one growing season. Beets may also be referred to as beetroot, garden beet or spinach beet and originated from the Mediterranean.
The roots are consumed after boiling and may be pickled in vinegar. The leaves of the spinach beet plant are consumed as a herb in Indonesia and Japan. Chemicals in the roots can be extracted and used as food coloring.
Beets are cool season vegetables with a long growing season. They grow best in cool climates but can tolerate some heat as well as some freezing. The optimum temperature for their growth is between 15.5 and 18.3°C (60–65°F). Beets grow best in a loose, well draining soil with a pH between 6.2 and 6.8 and should be planted in full sun for optimum development.
Beets are direct seeded and can be planted as soon as the soil is workable in Spring. The soil should be prepared for planting by first removing any large rocks and stones and then working in 2–3 inches of compost or well-rotted manure. Plant one seed every 2.5 cm (1 in) at a depth of 13 mm (0.5 in) in rows spaced 30–40 cm (12–16 in) apart. Keep the seedbed well watered. Seedlings should emerge in 5 to 17 days at temperatures between 10 and 24°C (50–75°F). When seedlings have reached between 7 and 10 cm (3–4 in) in height, thin to a final spacing of 7–10 cm (3–4 in) between plants. For a continuous harvest, plant seeds every 2–3 weeks as long as the daytime temperature stays below 26.6°C (80°F). Most beet varieties mature in 55 to 70 days.
General care and maintenance
Beets require plenty of moisture to develop optimally. Even watering will promote the development of good quality roots and prevent the formation of rings in the root. Soil moisture can be conserved by applying a layer of mulch around the plants. In addition to moisture, beets also require an adequate supply of nutrients, particularly phosphorus. Apply a complete fertilizer at planting to ensure optimum development. Remove any weeds around plants by cultivating shallowly to avoid damaging the developing roots.
Young beet greens can be harvested for salads when they are 2.5–5.0 cm (1–2 in) high and older greens before they reach 15 cm (6 in) in length. The roots are ready for harvest when they have reached 2.5 cm (1 in) in diameter and are most tender before the exceed 7.5–10 cm (3–4 in). Watering the soil the day before harvest or the day after rainfall makes pulling the beets easier. Pull beets out of the soil by firmly grasping the top and pulling the root out of the soil vertically. Alternatively, use a garden fork to dig the beets out of the soil. Cut the tops of the beets to 1.25–2.5 cm (0.5–1.0 in) above the root before storing the root. This helps keep the beets fresh.
Brown to gray flecks or spots surrounded by red-purple halos on leaves; yellow or brown necrotic leaves
Fungal spores spread by wind and rain; high temperatures and humidity promote infection; fungus overwinters on crop residue or in seed
Rotate crops every 2-3 years; apply a fungicide at first sign of disease; plow crop debris into soil immediately after harvest
Seedlings collapsing; blackened roots; constriction of plant crown
Warm, wet weather favors disease emergence; beet very susceptible
Treat seeds with fungicide prior to planting; plant in well draining soil; do not plant until soil is sufficiently warm
Feeding damage on stems; death of seedlings; seeds dug up; insect is a dull blue-black or brown beetle about 0.6 cm (0.52 in) long; tips of antennae are often enlarged, resembling a club
Beetles are generally active at night; during the day beetles hide in organic debris
Ditches filled with water can prevent spread of beetle to/from adjacent fields; remove all weeds from garden borders; if beetle is problematic then appropriate insecticides can provide control; insecticides are usually in the form of baits
Plant leaves appear lighter green; small, puckered, thickened leaves; fuzzy gray growth on both leaf surfaces
Fungus survives in crop residues over winter to infect new crop.
Plant resistant varieties
Thin, white, winding trails on leaves; heavy mining can result in white blotches on leaves and leaves dropping from the plant prematurely; early infestation can cause fruit yield to be reduced; adult leafminer is a small black and yellow fly which lays its eggs in the leaf; larave hatch and feed on leaf interior
Mature larvae drop from leaves into soil to pupate; entire lifecycle can take as little as 2 weeks in warm weather; insect may go through 7 to 10 generations per year
Check transplants for signs of leafminer damage prior to planting; remove plants from soil immediately after harvest; only use insecticides when leafminer damage has been identified as unnecessary spraying will also reduce populations of their natural enemies
Galls on roots which can be up to 3.3 cm (1 in) in diameter but are usually smaller; reduction in plant vigor; yellowing plants which wilt in hot weather
Galls can appear as quickly as a month prior to planting; nematodes prefer sandy soils and damage in areas of field or garden with this type of soil is most likely
Plant resistant varieties if nematodes are known to be present in the soil; check roots of plants mid-season or sooner if symptoms indicate nematodes; solarizing soil can reduce nematode populations in the soil and levels of inoculum of many other pathogens
Small round spots on roots that enlarge, turn brown and rupture the epidermis; raised corky spots on root surface that are gray, white or tan in color
Bacteria survive in soil; disease emergence favors dry conditions
Do not plant in soil know to be infected; avoid crop rotation with potato
CABI Crop Protection Compendium. (2010). Beta vulgaris datasheet. Available at: http://www.cabi.org/cpc/datasheet/8778. [Accessed 06 November 14]. Paid subscription required.
Harveson, R. M., Hanson, L. E. & Hein, G. L. (2009). Compendium of Beet Diseases and Pests. Available at: http://www.apsnet.org/apsstore/shopap.... Available for purchase from APS Press.
Schrader, W. L. & Mayberry, K. S. (2003). Beet and Swiss Chard Production in California. University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Available at: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/809.... [Accessed 06 November 14]. Free to access