Monday, December 14, 2015

Growing Beets Notes

Beets is another crop that I grow year around on my homestead. And they really grow well here. But beets are more difficult to grow at my seed farm location where it is drier, hotter, and windy. Rather than trying to overcome the obstacles at the seed farm, I only grow beets on the homestead. Besides, I've never gotten the beets to bolt to flowering, so I can't save my own seed. 

I don't have any problems getting beets to germinate. 

Types of Beets
    Because of the supermarket influence, I thought all beets were round and red. Even my grandmother only grew round red ones, so it was quite a surprise to see that beets came in other variations. Now, these variations came with an advantage. You see, hubby doesn't like the idea of eating purple veggies and he lumps beets into that group. But he will eat white and yellow beets. Ta-da! 
    Besides coming in different colors, they also come in different shapes. I've become a big fan of the elongated beets, but alas they only come in red. 

When to harvest a beet is easy. I pick them when they get the size I want, anywhere from ping pong ball size to large golf ball size. Many varieties can grow a lot bigger without becoming woody or pithy, but I like them smaller for tenderness, sweetness, and ease of processing. If beets are left to grow too long, they tend to become too fibrous to eat. 

Growing Tips 
     Beets don't require deep soil, so I take advantage of that and plant them in my shallow beds. These beds have 3-4 inches of soil atop the lava. That's just enough to get good shaped beets. Before seeding, I will till in a modest amount of compost but not extra manure. Plus I use my standard soil amendment mix (coral sand wood ash, etc). The beets seem to grow better when I've tilled those 3-4 inches of soil to make a light, aerated bed. I sow the seeds about 1 1/2" apart in rows 6"-8" apart. This is with the intention of eventually thinning the plants to 6" apart. The neat thing about beets is that the thinnings are edible. Good for using in stirfry and soup. 
     While I haven't had problems producing beets, I've heard of people who have. Beets require certain nutrients in the soil, and I guess I meet all their requirements via my soil building techniques. Thus I don't need to add boron, magnesium, calcium, or other adjustments. Guess I'm a dumb luck gardener! Or perhaps incorporating my wild, throw everything into the compost pile technique works for beets, 

The only problems I've had with beets are:
...overcrowding, thus no beets. I've learn to correct this by thinning the plants to 6" when they are young. 
...stunted and fibrous due to too warm soil and/or dry soil. I've corrected this by mulching the beets and watering regularly during a drought. Especially when growing in such shallow beds, I have to keep a close eye on the soil moisture. 
...flea beetles. These little pests have defeated me thus far. When the population is low, I seem to control them well enough by using a soap spray. But every once in awhile I get a monstrous ourptbreak of flea beetles. My only recourse thus far has been to tear all the beets out (feed them to the livestock) and don't grow beets in that same spot until the flea beetles are gone. Luckily I have plenty of space so I can reseed beets in a different location. 

Varieties I Grow
Albino (this white beet goes by several other names), Golden, Detroit Dark Red, Cylindra. I also grow some of the hybrids and other standards off and on, including Boro, Merlin, and Red Ace plus others. 

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