If you think beetroot is only good for boiling and pickling, it’s time to think again. Traditionally a rich purple root, this versatile vegetable comes in a range of beautiful colours, all bringing intense earthy flavours when slow roasted or added to soups and salads - boltardy beetroot for example brings a rich golden colour to the plate. All beetroot varieties have an underlying sweetness that also lends well to cakes and desserts too - if you’ve never tried, make sure to save some of your crop for a homemade chocolate and beetroot cake!
Packed with antioxidants, carbohydrates, potassium and folic acid, beetroot is one of the best vegetables you can add to health juices. Recognised as a superfood, it’s a secret ingredient used by many endurance athletes for boosting stamina. With a little bit of prep and planning it’s possible to have a year-round supply of fresh roots with minimum effort, all for the cost of a packet of seeds.
Great in the kitchen, but even better in the garden, beetroot is an easy to grow vegetable ideal for beginners. Originally a coastal plant, tough leaves and a hardy habit bring rise to few problems through the season on the vegetable patch. For those without the space, beetroot also grows well in containers, set close together in good quality multipurpose compost. Even if you do grow in the soil, containers can be used for an extra early windowsill crop or for a late season crop of young sweet roots.
Beetroot performs best in a sunny spot, grown in free-draining soil that is high in nitrogen and plenty of organic matter. Prepare soils two weeks ahead of sowing, digging in a high nitrogen feed and raking level. For an easy one off application, feed soils with incredicrop® for 7+months coverage. Alternatively use bone meal or chicken manure pellets, but make a second application midway through the season.
Beet root plants are best grown in rows spaced 30cm (12") apart, spacing plants up to 10cm (4") in the row. Seeds can be sown thicker in the row and thinned out - any plants thinned out of the row can be used as salad leaves.
Seeds can be sown every few weeks from March onwards for a regular supply. You can make an early start in late-February by sowing indoors and planting out under cloches in March. Beetroot seeds are relatively large and are easy to handle and space out along the row.
Roots are ready in as little as 7 weeks if picked young, but can be grown on for around 12 weeks for larger roots. If you want a crop for winter storage, make a sowing 12 weeks before winter frosts in your area so that roots have time to develop into a good storage size. The last sowing time for beetroot is usually some point in August for UK growers, in order to tie in with the first frosts. When sowing beetroot in August, make sure to keep on top of watering to prevent the young seedlings withering in the summer heat.
Roots can be lifted at any time from June to October once they have reached a minimum 2.5cm (1") diameter - they aren’t much use before then. As mentioned, plants can be grown on for around 12 weeks in order to pull fist sides roots for baking etc. Left much longer, the roots can turn coarse, so it is better to lift and store, than allow to keep growing. Roost should [pull easily from the soil by hand, on heavy soils a trowel may be needed, but be careful not to slice into the roots, reducing their straoge life. If surrounds roots are disturbed during lifting, simply firm back in and water.
Beetroot is shallow rooting and should easily lift with a pull to the foliage. Soil can be loosened with a fork or trowel if needed. Remove the foliage to prevent the roots from bleeding their juice. Place roots in a box of compost and store in a cool, frost-free space. In warmer areas roots can be left in the ground over winter, covered with a 15cm deep layer of straw before frosts arrive.
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.