Betta vulgaris

Beetroot is so simple to grow in your Yummy Yard, and homegrown beets tastes ten times better than the stuff from the can that they put on your “hamburger with the lot”. Read on to find out why “they can’t be beeten”.

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: All Year (not when too wet)
Temperate Areas: July to March

Cool to Cold Areas: September to February

Position, Position, Position

Position-wise, beetroots aren’t overly fussy. They’ll tolerate full sun to part shade and even do fairly well in dappled light under a deep rooted tree. Oh, and don’t forget that beets do beetifully in containers, especially the polystyrene fruit boxes you get from your green grocers… now that’s sustainable!

Talking Dirty

Like most root vegies (yup, I’m talking about carrots and parsnip) beetroots need a rich, well-drained soil, chock full of organic matter like compost and manures. Drainage is the key so, if you’re faced with a heavy, clay soil, improve its structure with lashings of delicious compost! And maybe consider putting in some raised beds!

Feeling Seedy

Just like carrots, beetroots tend to do best if planted from seed rather than seedlings. The seed itself is a weird looking “cluster” of a few true seeds in a corky coating. Unlike carrots though, these seeds will benefit from a soak in water overnight… you’ll get better results, trust me!

To plant the seeds, make a 2cm deep trench, and pop them in about 2cm apart. Cover the seeds lightly with seed raising mix or a fluffy compost. Keep the area damp (not soaking wet) and in about two weeks your baby beets will appear. You will probably find you need to “Jenny Craig” them ie thin them out. Do this by spreading and removing beets so that there are around 6 – 8cm between each beet plant. This will give them the personal space they need to grow!

Feed Me

The faster beetroot grows the tastier and more tender it will be. The key to this is feeding. At planting time, I’d be whacking in some organic chook-poo based pellets to give your beets a kick along. I’d follow this up periodically with a drink of seaweed-based fertilisers as these contain everything needed for good healthy roots.

As with all root vegies, fertilisers high in nitrogen are unnecessary and totally counter-productive. Nitrogen puts on top leaf growth but does nothing for the roots beneath.

What about the Water?

Water deeply and keep the soil around emerging seedlings damp. Regular watering will help keep the beets from going woody but don’t flood them.

Are We There Yet?

Beetroot, as root vegies go, is one of the most obliging in terms of letting you know when it’s ready to harvest. This is because you can see beetroot crown above the soil surface. This makes it dead easy to assess the size of your beets and harvest when appropriate. How good is that? As a rough guide beets grown from seed are ready to roll from about ten weeks onward, depending on the size of the beets required. Make sure you harvest them before they get too big – I generally remove mine before they are 6-7cm across, otherwise they can be really tough and taste rubbish!

Pests and the Rest

Beetroots are amazingly pest free especially in a diverse, well-monitored patch. The only thing that will really knock them for six is too much water at an early age. Really wet soil leads to what’s known as “damping off”, a highly technical term that explains why seedlings fail. Essentially it’s a fungal disease that thrives in cold, wet soil, and picks on the weak and vulnerable eg seeds and seedlings. As they say, timing is everything, so plant beets when soil is warming and the wet season has well and truly passed.

Hot Tip

I have a couple of dead simple hot tips for your bounty of beets. Firstly, when harvesting, leave a bit of stalk (about 3cm) attached to the beetroot. This makes them much easier to handle, especially when storing and cooking and means you won’t hurt their delicate skin and make them bleed. Second tip is that the leaves can be eaten! They make an awesome, colourful addition to really boring leafy salads! Go on, make your mates green with envy!

Eat Me

Fresh, homegrown beetroot just begs to be baked!

Wrap beetroot in foil and place in the oven. After about and hour, remove the beetroots and allow to sit for a while to cool. Use the foil to scrape off the skin so that your fingers don’t get stained!

Slice and place on sandwiches or in a salad with beans, potatoes, beetroot leaves, olives and your favourite vinigarette.

Here’s a good way to preserve those beetroots if you have harvested too many.

Pickled Beetroots

To make two 500 ml jars:
2 Cups vinegar ( mix and match using whatever you have in your pantry)
½ Cup water
¼ Cup brown sugar
6 cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns

Place all ingredients in a saucepan.
Bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Strain the liquid and pour over the baked beetroot which you have placed in your sterilised jars.

Hint: When your beetroot has been removed from oven, place your washed and rinsed sterilising jars in there to dry out while you prepare the pickling liquid.